Posts tagged success
Today, we have a very short, but interesting talk from a former “rising star” in the Missouri Senate who found himself behind bars with plenty of time to contemplate his future. As I listened to his talk, I was struck by the fact that each person is created in God’s image and that we all have incredible potential hard-wired into us. The difference between us, so often, comes down to the opportunities we’ve had in life. The family we are born into, the circumstances of our life, the education we have access to and the chance encounters that we have along the way all play a factor into whether we end up in the penthouse, the big house or some house in-between.
Jeff Smith’s challenge is simple. Let’s work together to ensure that others get to have some of the same opportunities that we’ve had, in business and in life, and we might just see some of their potential begin to bear fruit.
People tend to think of Paul as this incredible speaker and larger-than-life character who had people in the palm of his hand every time he opened his mouth. We think of him as a great evangelist and missionary who was responsible for laying the foundation for the global Church. And he was all those things, yet, many of the people around him has the same kinds of gripes that people have about their pastors today.
From afar, Paul is a great communicator, but the Corinthians complained about the way he spoke to them. According to them, he was too heavy-handed in his letters and too passive in person. He wasn’t as good of a speaker as some of the other preachers who had come through town. That was to be expected though. After all, he was just a “volunteer” and not a paid member of the clergy.
Isn’t it amazing how familiar all of those criticisms sound? As someone who has been in the ministry for the better part of 15 years and has been in church for 30+, I’ve heard just about every criticism of a pastor that exists (and many of myself). Either the pastor is “too aggressive” in challenging the church to holiness or too “timid” – extending grace to people who some would rather chastise.
Likewise, every word that comes out of his or her mouth is scrutinized and compared to the pastor down the street, the one on TV or any of the great orators of history. And not only should the pastor be an incredible communicator, but he or she should be successful in every way! After all, if they were really doing a good job at God’s work, wouldn’t he see to it that they have as much money as the TV preacher has?
We want our pastors to somehow be Winston Churchill, Ghandi and Donald Trump all rolled into one. We don’t have grace for the fact that pastors are just ordinary people who have been called to an extraordinary profession. A modern pastor is expected to present what is essentially a term paper on the world’s most-read, but least understood collection of literature each and every week (and to do it in a captivating way) while also investing personally into the lives of dozens or even hundreds of people, while also writing a book, blogging and doing a radio show. And we wonder why so many people just don’t make it.
As a pastor, let me just say that I don’t mind critique. In fact, I like to get feedback – positive and negative – that is given to me in a way that says, “I thought this would be helpful for you to hear.” To disagree on a point or to long for a slightly different delivery is perfectly acceptable. To have that conversation, you will have to have put some though and perhaps research into your statements.
What is unacceptable, however, for me or any pastor (or anybody) is to simple make off-hand remarks about how “he’s no (fill in the blank with a preacher person you think is the stuff)” or “he’s too (this) or too little (that).” As Paul basically says, we are all nothing without being empowered by the Holy Spirit. And what we are (or aren’t) is still nothing compared to Jesus.
And so, while your pastor may not be the next Billy Graham, neither your pastor nor Billy can hold a candle to the perfect man Jesus who was the greatest communicator, greatest caregiver, greatest teacher and most successful (by God’s standards) person to ever walk the face of the earth. We’re all in the same boat here. Let’s stop trying to capsize each other.
Success and failure. For any leader, there is a double-edged sword. You make decisions – calculated, but risky – and, when they work out in your favor, you are hailed as a hero. When they don’t work out, though, there is hell to pay. For Joshua, his honeymoon period as leader of the people of Israel came to an abrupt halt when the troops were routed at Ai.
Understand that just prior to that pummeling, Joshua and the Israelites had enjoyed an incredible victory at Jericho using one of the strangest military tactics in history. It was a plan that could have only worked if God was in it. And so, armed with new confidence in God’s ability and willingness to route their enemies, Joshua sent out his men to make quick work of Ai.
There was only one problem. There was a key piece of information that Joshua didn’t have. He didn’t know that one of his own people had defied the command of God when they conquered Jericho. One man had messed it up for everybody by stealing what was to be devoted to God. As I read this, I couldn’t help but think of Gene Wilder’s rant toward the end of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971).
“It’s all there, black and white, clear as crystal! You stole fizzy lifting drinks! You bumped into the ceiling which now has to be washed and sterilized, so you get nothing! You lose! Good day, sir!” – Willy Wonka
God basically says the same thing in Joshua 7:10-12:
The Lord said to Joshua, “Stand up! What are you doing down on your face? Israel has sinned; they have violated my covenant, which I commanded them to keep. They have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen, they have lied, they have put them with their own possessions. That is why the Israelites cannot stand against their enemies; they turn their backs and run because they have been made liable to destruction. I will not be with you anymore unless you destroy whatever among you is devoted to destruction. (Joshua 7:10-12)
You lose. Good day, sir!
And so, armed with this new information, Joshua slinks off to find out who made him (and, in his eyes, God) look like a fool. Of course, he finds that person, a man named Achan, and “takes care” of him. The Israelites then go on to route Ai with the help of God and some of Joshua’s military prowess.
And then, we get this great scene of all the people of Israel coming together between two mountains and reading the law of Moses – just as God had commanded. The series of events is an incredible reminder of how God’s plans can work, if only we follow them. Sure, Joshua and the people of Israel had a bit of a hiccup when they failed to follow God’s instructions, but when they corrected their error, God’s path was still there for them – waiting for them to come back.
He does the same for us – marks out a path and waits for us to walk down it. Sometimes, we stray, but the path is still there. We just have to get back on it in order to go where God wants us to go. And, once there, we’ll realize that his plans were always better than ours anyway.
It is not because of your righteousness or your integrity that you are going in to take possession of their land; but on account of the wickedness of these nations, the Lord your God will drive them out before you, to accomplish what he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. (Deuteronomy 9:5)
Sometimes it’s easy to forget how we got to where we are. Even the smallest successes in life have countless parts that contribute to the whole. Every milestone is the combination of our efforts, the efforts of others, fortunate circumstances and maybe a little luck. Every achievement requires us to realize that we didn’t do it alone. Whether you’re the president of the United States or the president of the neighborhood soccer league, you should give credit where credit is due.
And so it is with success for God’s people, too. Moses led the Israelites through the wilderness (and through plenty of tough times) and, along the way, they fought and won many battles. But the biggest battles would lie ahead – battles with the nations that inhabited the land and with the pride that would inevitably creep into the hearts of the people of Israel as they began to conquer those nations.
You see, that’s the down-side of being on God’s team. When we’re truly playing by God’s playbook, we’re going to win. But when we win, it’s easy to forget who the victory truly belongs to. When a team wins the Super Bowl or World Series, how often do they give credit to their strength and conditioning coach? How often do they sing the praises of the equipment manager? And yet, without having been conditioned for the game and without having properly maintained equipment, they would have never achieved what they achieved.
The same is true for us. God is the ultimate equipper, the ultimate coach and the ultimate fan. He gives us what we need when we need it, shows us how to go about using what he has given us and cheers us on to victory. Then, as we bask in the glow of success, we so often leave him behind – confident in our own skills and knowledge.
Moses’ charge to the Isrealites was a warning to not allow their own pride to disguise what was truly going on. They had done absolutely nothing to deserve this incredible land. There was no reason in the world for God to give it to them. The only reason that they could escape from Egypt, survive in the wilderness, defeat other armies and take possession of this incredible land was that God had made it so.
And the same applies to us today. God has made some incredible promises to us and we have no right to claim them. We don’t deserve anything from him. We haven’t earned anything. And so, Moses’ words to the Isrealites are as relevant today as they were thousands of years ago. It is not because of our righteousness or our integrity that we accomplish anything in life. All of our successes, all of our possessions, all of our strengths are God’s to give and take away. May we always see the blessings he gives us and, more importantly, be gracious when we fail – knowing that sometimes we get what we deserve and sometimes we get far more.
Isaiah 33; Isaiah 34; Isaiah 35; Galatians 1; Psalm 107:10-22 NIV
You conceive chaff,
you give birth to straw;
your breath is a fire that consumes you. - Isaiah 33:11
For those of us who have tried and failed to achieve things of significance on our own, we are acutely aware that we “give birth to straw” – that the things we try to create are often worthless. For others, they may have had a lot of success building things on their own. They may have a harder time swallowing these verses. You see, the chaff and straw were the parts of the wheat fields that were leftovers – the useless part.
Of course, to someone looking for a good deal on straw, I suppose the straw has value. And that is what we find so often in this life. We have redefined success to be those things that we are good at. In other words, on our own, we can build buildings, make money, have political or business power, etc. Therefore, we look at those things, gather them together and then call them success. That way, when we achieve any of these things, we can feel successful.
The problem though, with success as with straw, is that no matter how we define it, the “best” of the wheat (and of life) is not found in the straw or “successes” that we dabble in. The best is something other – something only found when we leave the straw behind and run to catch up with the harvester. God, the great harvester is working hard in this world. His definition of success is very different from ours. His understanding of the wheat field is much greater than ours. Therefore, it’s only when we decide to move past the straw of this world, that we get a real glimpse of the best that’s out there.