The drive for Success is a an underlying theme in almost every area of todays life. Even as young as pre-kindergarten, children are being geared towards being ’successful’! Our children are now the youngest and the most tested generation in history. The fact that you can fail kindergarten is a testimony to this.
Of course success is not a bad thing. We are to use the gifts and talents given to us to the very fullest. Christians should never be afraid or ashamed of success personally or professionally.
The issue I would like us to consider, meditate and seek God on this morning is how do you define what success is. What are the parameters by which we can determine that something is successful. It is vital that we define the meaning of success, because if we do not then success almost certainly becomes a problem.
How can success become a problem? In a number of ways. Firstly, without defining what success is you will never be able to determine when you have become successful. Also, success is not limitless, nor endless. There is a time when you have to say – “This is as successful as it can be – and we are happy with that.” Without understanding a definition of success people are pushing for more, and more, and more success. What I find really interesting is that you hear a lot about being successful but you rarely hear of people having succeeded. But as Christians we should be able to know when we have succeeded – and be content int that.
Also, the more successful you are, the bigger you become, the more likely it is that you will face temptations. What type of temptations? Well, temptations such as pride, arrogance and the belief that you and you alone are responsible for the success. Pride, arrogance and the belief you did it all leads people and organizations to make bad decisions – decisions which can not just harm you but harm others as well. As I heard someone say once – the danger is you become a legend in your own mind!
Humility, self awareness, concern for others, and very often justice and truth can be the casualties of success.
That is the point Ezekiel is making this morning in his prophecy to Egypt. They had become hugely successful – a powerful and great nation – in conquest, in ability and technology. The Egyptian empire was utterly impressive. But that did not mean they were truly successful.
Ezekiel tells the Egyptians that as with all mighty empires there is a lesson to be learned. The one vital ingredient for true and lasting success is God at the center. Without that – regardless of how big you become – how great you may think you are or how successful everyone acclaims you to be, you they will fall. Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Rome – all great empires – at times untouchable and invincible were all eventually brought down.
So, we must learn to define what success is – and then we will be able to recognize it. What does success look like when it has God at the center.
There are two issues I want us to consider from this mornings readings:
Firstly, unless we partner with God we cannot experience or reach true or lasting success; secondly, and this follows on from last weeks sermon, success is not gauged just by what we see physically.
So, first, Unless we partner with God we cannot be successful.
We must understand and recognize that God is the source and sustainer of all our success. The gifts we have received – the abilities we have – the entrepreneurial attitude – all comes from God. It’s is more than just saying God has blessed me. It is a real, deep recognition that ALL we have and ALL we have achieved is by and through the grace of God. When we recognize God’s role in the success of our life it stops us from becoming prideful and it makes us grateful to God. When we acknowledge God’s role in what we achieve we are partnering WITH God in HIS purposes.
We see this in Jesus. What was Jesus’ mission? How did Jesus define success?
John 5:20 says “I can do nothing on My own. I judge only as I hear, and My judgment is righteous, because I do not seek My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.”
John 8:28 “I do nothing on My own. But just as the Father taught Me, I say these things”
Jesus was never, ever an individualist. Jesus never seeks to take the credit for himself. He does only what the Father tells him to do. His success comes because he partners WITH God. Jesus knew who he was, where he came from, where he was going. It was all in and through the Father.
The gospel reading this morning reminds us that spiritual growth is like growing crops. The farmer sows the seed into the ground but he cannot MAKE anything grow – that is out of his hands. He does his part and then he waits. He has to trust the natural process. And the seed grows WITHOUT the continuing work of the farmer! The framer partners with God in the growing of his crops. The farmer does his job – and then the Lord works and the harvest comes. This is why God asks for the firstfruits of the harvest every year in the Old Testament. It is a reminder that the crops grow only through and by the grace of God. The farmer does not take all the credit for the harvest – he must give God his due.
This is so vital for us as a church. We must recognize that the success we have or the ‘growth‘ we have is not just about us. We can and we must do our part – use our gifts – but then we wait just as the farmer waits. We do what we must do and then we await for God to do his work. When we partner WITH God, and do what we must do then we can trust in and rely on the Father to grow the seed.
The growth is never our responsibility nor our success. We are to sow. God will grow it.
The second issue for us to remember is that success is not gauged just by what we see physically .
Jesus goes on to emphases that what appears to be very small, is not necessarily insignificant.
When Jesus began his ministry he announced that the Kingdom of God was at hand. Now, how did it LOOK when Jesus said this? The Romans were still there. The Israelites were still occupied. Where was this kingdom? To what could you point to to say “yes Jesus, I can see that the kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”
The beginning of the kingdom was small and discouraging. So insignificant was Jesus in terms of the wider culture there are only 3 (and these are disputed) possible brief references to Jesus by 1st century writers outside the Bible. Jesus experienced rejection and left this world as an apparent failure. Last week we saw that we need to look spiritually at situations. Jesus says that the very small can become very large when God makes something grow – when we leave it to the Lord. The mustard seed was a very small seed and yet it’s growth, it’s end result belies it’s small beginnings. A mustard seed could grow into a small tree some 10 to even 15 feet tall! This is why bigger is not necessarily better when it comes to God.
We all know that when Jesus died he had 120 or so followers. Compared to the Sanhedrin; or the local zealots; or probably countless other organizations it is probably quite pathetic. Only 120. Was Jesus not capable of attracting more people?
Do not judge a book by its cover. What may appear small and unimpressive may, in partnership with God, become large, fruitful and useful.
Paul says in our epistle reading that we have been given the Spirit as a down payment. The Holy Spirit – the presence of the living God in each of us, the Spirit that hoovered over the creation, that raised Jesus from the dead is right now in you and I.
And yet we look around and maybe we think that the spirit does not seem very impressive or even a very convincing guarantee or downpayment.
Again we must stop in our judgment of success.
We must not judge the significance of results by the size of the beginnings.
We saw last week that the same spirit which raised Jesus from the dead is in each of us. He is in the church. We may not LOOK like a group of crack spiritual warriors – but in the spirit we are! We may not appear to be massively successful from the world’s standpoint – but if we are partnering with God to fulfill his purposes – and to do the things he is telling us to do then by definition we are successful – and therefore we know that God will grow us and bless us and provide for us.
When we realize that our success is from God, we are able to hold the success in perspective – perspective which allows us to 1. not grow in pride, or arrogance or boastfulness, thinking we are the ones who did it and 2. we are able to recognize the true success behind success .
For all of us our earthly success will diminish. In every area of life, whether you are the head of your field, or company, or division, or church eventually someone else will take over. We may get a portrait in a gallery or a plaque in a wall or even maybe a building named after us but our earthly success is temporary and temporal. When we know our success is from God, then we know that our success is eternal – for when we desire His purposes we know that we desire eternal purposes.
Let me end with the Psalmist.
Those who are planted in the house of the LORD * shall flourish in the courts of our God;
They shall still bear fruit in old age; * they shall be green and succulent;
That they may show how upright the LORD is, * my Rock, in whom there is no fault.