Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Success: Discovering the Real Meaning of Success by Kevin Probst

What is the real meaning of success?

Do you ever feel like you are spinning your wheels? The wheels turn faster and faster but the vehicle doesn't move. I remember a few times my father sliding into a ditch on snowy, rural roads in western Pennsylvania. The more he gunned the engine, the further into the ditch his car seemed to sink. There are so many in our society today who believe they are very successful simply because their wheels are moving so fast.

There is a great dialog between Alice and the Red Queen in Lewis Carroll's story Through the Looking Glass. It goes like this:

“Well, in our country,” said Alice, still panting a little, “you’d generally get to somewhere else — if you run very fast for a long time, as we’ve been doing.”

“A slow sort of country!” said the Queen. “Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!”

There is a great difference between being successful and doing successful things. There are many people who are great at doing things but are not successful people. You may be great at throwing a baseball. You may be great at cooking meals or singing. But just what does it mean to be truly successful?

Many think success will confer greatness. They will dedicate their lives to climbing the ladder of 'success' in order to satisfy a deeply ingrained desire to be significant. Alexander the Great achieved 'success' by conquering most of the known world but then died very young before he could enjoy his status as one of the greatest conquerors of all time. Hannibal was a renowned military genius who filled three bushels with gold taken from his enemies but then committed suicide by drinking poison. Julius Caesar was said to have "stained his garments in the blood of one million of his foes" on his way to conquering 800 cities only to be betrayed and stabbed to death by those who would call themselves friends. These found no satisfaction in their lives because they failed to define success properly.

History is littered by those who committed suicide after they had achieved 'success'. Multimillionaire George Washington Vanderbilt III killed himself by jumping from a hotel window. Kurt Kobain reached the highest rungs of musical success before shooting himself in the head as did the great American author Earnest Hemingway. Adolph Hitler was adored by the German people but shot himself in the mouth rather than be captured by the Soviet army.

Christ told the story of a rich man who was very successful by the standards of the world. He had accumulated so much he decided he must build more barns to store his wealth. This man said to himself, "You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry." (Luke 12:19) But God defines success differently than men do. God said to this man, "You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?"

Christ didn't condemn success but he did condemn those who make success their god. When men bow at an altar to pay homage to success God is offended. Christ asked the question, Why do you "store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy , and where thieves break in and steal." Why not "store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there is your heart also." (Matthew 6:19-21)

Why do we consider ourselves successful if, in the end, everything we've worked our whole lives for gets burned up? Jesus suggests another way of measuring success. Why not make deposits for the next world? Why not lay up treasure in heaven?

Success according to Christ is developing a Christian character. When we give to the poor we make a major deposit in heaven. When we help the downcast and make sacrifices for others we invest in an eternal retirement fund. Jesus summed up success by saying it can be achieved in two steps: Love God and demonstrate that love by loving others.

Jesus tells another story about a man who was lying in a ditch. A man sees him but walks on by. Another man sees him but continues on his way. The Good Samaritan sees him and stops to assist. He gives him his coat. He buys him a meal and provides lodging for him. The sacrifices he made that day are the treasures he will one day enjoy in heaven.

Here is the irony. In order to climb the ladder of Christ-defined success, you must actually come down instead of climb up. Christ demonstrated this by humbling himself and submitting to the Roman soldiers as they abused him and finally hung him on the cross. He didn't look too successful hanging on that cross, but wait until you see him split the eastern sky!!

Beware, if you answer the call to success as defined by your culture, you will put forth great effort to climb the rungs of the ladder. Your life will be filled with the whining sound of spinning wheels. Those you see descending the ladder are the truly successful ones. It's what Christ was referring to when he said, "The first shall be last and the last shall be first."

Kevin Probst - Is a teacher of Apologetics and History at Calvary Christian School and Associate Pastor of Crosspointe Nazarene Church church in Columbus, Georgia.

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