Success: Who You Know, Not What You Do

During a recent conversation, a friend mentioned that his favorite book of the Bible was Ecclesiastes. Though I found this a somewhat strange choice of favorites, I nonetheless rolled with it and found the subsequent conversation to be very helpful. It gave me a fresh perspective on the way that I should think about the upcoming year.

 

 “Ecclesiastes 12:13–14: 13 The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. 14 For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.

 

I have a lot of plans for 2013. I have so many because I love to make plans. To my detriment, I enjoy making plans far more than I enjoy carrying them out.  That being said, in 2013 I plan to (among other things) write my ThM thesis and graduate, learn more about world religions for the Air National Guard, create several series in this blog and read a great many books. While on the surface my plans appear good and honorable, it is deceptively easy for God to get sidelined by the very goals meant to bring him glory. I’m always looking forward to the next task, event or place, and I forget what I’m supposed to be about in my pursuit of God’s glory. I don’t want my earthly life to look like the man in James 4:13–14: planning to do “such and such” here and doing “what have you” there, but somehow forgetting to fear and obey God in my plans for tomorrow.

So what’s the corrective? Only this: Fear the Lord and obey him. But how does this correct?

“Success” is redefined.

The world wants to define success by climbing ladders. Or perhaps by exalting the number and quality of accomplishments one can claim on their resume. But this is not success for God. Rather, successful living is determined by fearing God (knowing and worshiping him above all else) wherever you find yourself and doing whatever it is that God has currently placed in your lap. So while you go here and sell there, are you seeking to fear God and obey him? If you aren’t, then you are living unsuccessfully regardless of your earthly accomplishments. But if you are fearing God, then your life is a success, even if the rest of the world might consider you a failure.

Do not envy the “unsuccessful.”

If this is true, then the trash collector who fears God is more successful in life than a Bill Gates type who does not. Think about that. Does that compute with how you view success and failure? Of course we think we can have it both ways (“God please let me inherit riches, so I can be intelligent or powerful AND godly, right?”), but God delights in taking the weak things of this world and making them successful right under the noses of the so-called wise and successful (1 Cor 1:26–29, cf. Luke 18:24–27). Humanly speaking, riches, wisdom and wealth tend towards deceiving those who have them (Mk 4:19). Thus, we shouldn’t become envious of the paths God has chosen for others, but maximize the effectiveness of God’s gifts to us for his glory. After all, God rewards those who faithfully fear and obey him in little or much (Matt 25:20–23). We are all on an even plane when it comes to true success.

Similarly, do not be discouraged in your circumstances.

Do you think that your life would be more successful if you “had it better” than you have it right now (a better job, a bigger paycheck, wider influence)? Maybe if you didn’t have cancer (2 Cor 12:8–9), or maybe if people actually responded to your ministry of the word (Jer 7:27), then you could really be successful at glorifying God? But perhaps God has put you where you are on purpose. Maybe when he saved you he had plans for you to do good works exactly where you are (Eph 2:10). If he followed your plans you might become more successful in the world’s eyes, but less successful in his eyes. God sovereignly puts us where we can best glorify him—our duty is to fear and obey him in that chosen spot. It is good to want more and to attempt great things for God, but it is a foolish thing to become discouraged about circumstances out of our control. Rather, let us humbly say, “if the Lord wills we will go there and fear God and obey him, but if not, we will fear and obey him right here for as long as he desires” and really mean it.

And this brings me to my final point: make plans to fear God wherever you go.

This is the crux of my whole post. As I make plans I want to have observable and measureable results. But how can I measure “fearing God and obeying God.” I can’t use a worldly measure. My plans shouldn’t look like an accomplishment portfolio. Instead I need to make plans for a relationship—at the end of whatever I planned, did I know God better? Did I live for his glory? So in this coming year my plan will be just that. In fact, whatever my hand finds to do, I will do it heartily as to the Lord (Col 3:23). Let God sovereignly direct the earth, and let our hope be treasure in heaven. That way we will have all the good we can possibly want (Luke 12:32–34). Let us fear and obey him, always, and forever as an overarching principle, and while we’re doing that, “go here” and “go there,” and “buy and sell.”

 

So, as we make plans for 2013, let’s make plans differently. Let’s make plans to interact in reverence, worship, love and obedience to the one “in whom we live and move and have our very being.”

 

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