You know what I’m tired of lately?
I’m tired of hearing and reading about how to succeed in life.
What is success anyway?
Dictionary.com defines it as 1) the favorable or prosperous termination of attempts or endeavors; the accomplishment of one’s goals and 2) the attainment of wealth, position, honors, or the like.
Everyone has the answer, it seems, on how to be successful, what it takes to get ahead, how to make our millions. So many people are consumed with the idea of worldly wealth — living their dream life and obtaining everything that comes with it — the fame, fortune, possessions, prestige, popularity, and of course, the ultimate happiness that comes from having it all.
In this age of social media, we’re encouraged to build a platform, gather a following, speak up, say our piece, make a name for ourselves, make money doing what we love to do — and there’s no shortage of people with ideas on how to do that.
Many messages, it seems, are about having a success mindset, sending out positive vibes and energy, telling the universe what we want in life, and then whatever we’ve ordered up will be sent our way, because, according to the law of the universe, positive attracts positive. When it doesn’t show up, it’s because there’s a negative thought or self-limiting belief that’s blocking it or because we’ve confused the universe by not being specific enough about what we want.
Sounds like a religion where the universe is substituted for God (so as to be all-inclusive and not offend anyone) and then we treat him like a genie. All we have to do is make our wishes known, manifest our future into reality through our thoughts and proactivity, and all our dreams will come true because, apparently, the universe wants to give us everything we want.
The implication is that the whole purpose of life and in life is to get what we want. It’s all about us, all up to us, and all for us.
I hate to tell you this people, but it’s not all about us.
We are reminded of this in Philippians 2:3-4, where it says, “³Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. ⁴Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.” That so goes against worldly standards these days where true humility (not thinking less of ourselves, but thinking of ourselves less) is seen as a sign of weakness and real service (where’s there’s no hidden agenda) is for the lowly.
We’re encouraged to chase material wealth thinking that’s the whole point to life because that’s what everyone seems to be doing. The thought is that if he/she can make it big, then surely I can, too! We need to ask a couple of questions in that case, though. One is, “At what cost have they gained that worldly wealth/status?” And the other is, “How important is it, if we’re thinking in light of eternity, to be wealthy/famous/successful?”
King Solomon, known for his wisdom, says in Ecclesiastes 4:4, “Then I observed that most people are motivated to success because they envy their neighbors. But this, too, is meaningless—like chasing the wind.” We live in a competitive world where the emphasis is on looking out for #1, winning is everything, and the most important thing is doing whatever makes you happy.
I’ve been listening to the audiobook version of The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren, pastor at Saddleback Church in California, and he says that instead of using the Bible as the benchmark for all our decisions, we make our choices based on unreliable sources:
- culture—everybody’s doing it
- tradition—we’ve always done it
- reason—it seemed logical
- emotion—it just felt right
Now, I’m not saying there’s not a grain of truth to all that positive mindset teaching and I admit, I started getting caught up in it myself. I definitely think there are benefits to thinking positively — relationally, emotionally, and physically. It’s when I find myself relying more on my own positive thinking for my future than on God’s love and good plan for my life that I realize I’ve gone against what it says in 1 John 5:21, which is, “Dear children, keep away from anything that might take God’s place in your hearts.”
There’s nothing wrong with setting goals and working towards them, so long as we remember what Proverbs 16:9 says, “We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps.” Goal-setting, when based on the Lord’s leading, is a good thing — better than drifting through life, goalless and directionless, wasting the talents and opportunities God gives us to help others and glorify Him. Trouble is, many people are either aimless drifters or they’re so focused on their own agendas that they’re oblivious to God’s plan for them. I know I was for much of my life 😔.
When we’re striving to do everything in our own power, through our own positive thinking, that we need to be reminded of what it says in Romans 12:2 (NLT) about letting God transform our thinking: “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.” What’s not to be optimistic about there?
Trusting that God has a wonderful plan for our lives, based on Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope,” should make us excited to see what He has in store for us and help us think positively. So, then all we need to do is combine it with faith, as defined in the first verse of Hebrews 11, the faith chapter, where it says, “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”
Also, it’s documented that our negative thought patterns can limit what God can do in our lives. We prevent Him from doing great things when we don’t believe He can do them or don’t think He will do them for us, as it says in Mark 6:5, “And because of their unbelief, he couldn’t do any miracles among them except to place his hands on a few sick people and heal them.”
There are so many examples in the Bible of miraculous healing, for the blind, bleeding, and crippled, that happened because of their faith, like Mark 10:52, “And Jesus said to him, ‘Go, for your faith has healed you.’ Instantly the man could see, and he followed Jesus down the road.” And Luke 8:48 says, “’Daughter,’ he said to her, ‘your faith has made you well. Go in peace.’”
In the book of James, we’re reminded that our faith needs to be wholly in God, not ourselves, not the universe (which God made anyway), not our talents, education, or bank account balances (all good gifts given to us by God) . Even though James is talking about asking God for wisdom in James 1:5, it applies to anything we ask of God, where he follows up in verses 6-8 saying, “⁶But when you ask him, be sure your faith is in God alone. Do not waver, for a person with divided loyalty is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is blown and tossed by the wind. ⁷Such people should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. ⁸Their loyalty is divided between God and the world, and they are unstable in everything they do.”
We’re also told in Hebrews 11:6: “And it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him.” The rewards referred to in that verse are not necessarily monetary or material rewards in this life, although there may be some of that, too. There are definitely eternal rewards in heaven though, plus, if we’re obedient, we get the satisfaction of knowing we are fulfilling our purpose in His plan while here on this earth. James 1:22 tells us: “But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves.”
Obedience has negative connotations in our culture. It conjures up thoughts of servitude and lack of freedom to do our own thing. It makes us think of a dog with its owner or a child in relationship with his or her parent or teacher. None of us, as adults who have been taught to be independent and self-sufficient, relish the thought of returning to a position where we aren’t in control of our own lives and, instead, have to do someone else’s bidding. A lot of us don’t even like to be told what to do by our boss at work. Obedience implies surrendering our will to someone else’s.
Surrender is an ugly word, too, that nobody likes. It’s equated with giving up a fight, losing a war, backing down from an argument, giving in to a bully, relinquishing control of the future. Nobody wants to be a loser. Nobody wants to admit defeat.
Therein lies the problem, though.
Both Matthew 6:24 and Luke 16:13 tell us, “No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and be enslaved to money.” Luke 12:21 reiterates that sentiment with: “Yes, a person is a fool to store up earthly wealth but not have a rich relationship with God.”
When we chase after false gods (self-worth from our own accomplishments, power, fame, fortune, prestige from our possessions, all our wishes fulfilled by a genie-universe) and buck against God’s sovereign leadership, we are the ones who lose out.
When we give up the good fight of faith in God, we think we’re taking over control of our lives, but really we’re relinquishing it to whatever else is taking our time and attention. Some of the things that draw our focus can be good—getting an education, raising a family, pursuing a career—but they needn’t be at the expense of our relationship with the Lord.
When we become lured into the pursuit of money and all its false promises, it’s the devil who’s laughing all the way to the bank. He’ll even give us some successes and put shiny objects in our sights to keep us blinded to the narrow road we need to be on, because there’s nothing the devil loves more than someone who can’t see beyond their own goals to the real source of all blessings, including eternal ones—except a distracted, ineffective Christian who’s more concerned with personal power and worldly wealth than glorifying God in their lives or sharing the Good News of salvation through Christ.
It is in our surrender to God’s leading that we gain the power of the Holy Spirit working in us and through us. That’s when we’re truly blessed.