Leaving the Lure and Lie of Earthly Success


I hear it all the time on television, radio and in my local coffee shop: “So-and-so is successful because he makes a lot of money, owns a big company, can jump higher, throw harder or sing a sweeter tune.”

These are the kinds of accomplishments that are considered successful. We often end up tying our identity, value and worth to something that will rust, decay or die. The question we have to ask ourselves is, “If I was asked by God to walk away from whatever form of success I have achieved, would I be willing to do so?”

The late Christian author Thomas Merton wrote: “If I had a message to my contemporaries it is surely this: Be anything you like, be madmen, drunks ... of every shape and form, but at all costs avoid one thing: success ... If you are too obsessed with success, you will forget to live. If you have learned only how to be a success, your life has probably been wasted.”

Don’t fear failure. Instead, fear succeeding at something that doesn’t matter.

It reminds me of the rich young man in Matthew 19 in the New Testament of the Bible. Jesus challenged this up-and-comer to sell all his possessions and give them to the poor so that he could then be free to wholeheartedly follow him. Instead, the man walked away because he had great wealth.

Imagine: This man had an opportunity to physically live and walk with the Son of God – the creator of the universe – and he threw it all away. His temporary earthly success was a competing loyalty and dependency that kept him from enjoying God’s spiritual and eternal riches. What is your competing loyalty?

Don’t fear failure. Instead, fear succeeding at something that doesn’t matter. Success that matters is eternal and is found in a “who” – Jesus Christ – not a “what” – money, power or prestige. Many spend their whole lives climbing the ladder of success only to find it was leaning against the wrong wall.

If we believe that temporal rewards (wealth, position, privilege) are the true measure of success, then we must say that Jesus and his followers were the greatest of failures. Yet they were clearly successful on an eternal scale.

When I was 9, my dad and mom sold everything we owned and moved our family to the Nevada desert. There they spent the next 38 years working and ministering among Native Americans. We had lived in a middle income house, drove a middle income car and served in a middle income church. By all standards we were doing well. Family and friends thought my parents had gone nuts moving our family to the desert to serve our Native American brothers and sisters.

Years later I asked my parents why they did it. My dad simply smiled and said, “Eternity is a very long time. You can’t take it with you but you can send it ahead.”My parents had no temporal wealth but they were the most fulfilled people I have ever met. My dad, who passed away in 2010, is already experiencing ultimate fulfillment in Heaven.

Beware of valuing temporal success. It comes to kill, steal and destroy your true potential and destiny. Jesus said that he came to give us life to the fullest.

Imagine the possibilities!