Success is highly valued in the world today no matter what country, culture, faith, company, ministry, or person. Only the criteria for what would constitute success varies in the list noted. Even as believers we are tempted to chase that illusive benchmark. Some look at quantity as evidence while others insist that quality is the most important. In both cases, we get stuck because how much is enough and what does quality look like?
I wonder why success matters so much to us. If I were to survey a group of people, I would likely get a variety of answers. The real answer might not appear in the list, however, because success is often sought in order to confirm to ourselves that we are enough or we are valuable or we are important. If those roots are true, then success will likely be always just beyond our reach since we will never achieve enough to be certain of who we are, why we are, or what we have done.
Clearly, none of us set out to pursue failure or mediocrity, but the desire for success can be a fickle lover that tempts us to forget the source of our value and purpose if we ever knew it. It can also seduce us into believing that if we achieve anything that somehow it came from us rather than from a gracious God who blessed us and whatever efforts we used to reach some goal set before us. That is but one hazard of success.
Success can also lead us into greater temptation to compare ourselves with others. This is always full of snares. We either determine we are less than or not good enough compared to some other mortal who has as many flaws as we do or we fall prey to seeing ourselves as better than the model we chose to compare ourselves. It points to another example of a hazard.
When success is the primary goal, we make relational choices that are often based on whether or not these persons will add to or help us get to the target goal. In doing so, we may well ignore or overlook a host of warning signs that let us know the relationship may not be good for us. Without consciously acknowledging it, we use the other persons for our own benefit without much regard for him or her. We also expose the reality of our own selfish self-centeredness.
All of these hazards and more can cause us to place our trust in the wrong things and people. If we have read very much of nearly any part of the Bible, we see how common it is for us to fall prey to such hazards. In the Old Testament despite God’s favor and provision for his chosen people, time and again foreign cultures are hired to provide protection and God needs to allow His people to discover their faulty choices. In the New Testament we see the religious leaders of the day trusting in the law and phylacteries when the fulfillment of the law stands in front of them.
Too often we can be tempted to look to someone or something other than the Lord to lead us to success and save us from calamity. We are not so different than our Old Testament brothers and sisters who didn’t seek a personal relationship with God as central/primary and see Him as their leader and source and instead chose flawed earthly kings. They forgot (as we often do) that they were to be citizens of an eternal heavenly kingdom above an earthly one they were trusting.
I recently read a Bible commentator who put it this way:
“Cut off from God’s kingship, the people of God are left with only private religion and personal ambition. God is the king, however, and will not long tolerate seeing his people destroy themselves.”
When we get weighed down by the headlines around the world or our own personal lives and hope for a solution and peace, perhaps the psalmist still says it best in Psalm 20:7-8 ESV:
“Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.
They collapse and fall,
but we rise and stand upright.”
And, by the way, only the Lord’s standard will determine the criteria for success in our lives!