"I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed" (Revelation 3:18).
Nobody wants to be a failure. Everybody wants to succeed. But just what constitutes success? How can we know when we have it? And how can we keep it once we've got it?
First, we must define success:
To the athlete, success is winning. To the sick, success is healing. To the frustrated, success is fulfillment. To the poor, success is an increase in salary. To the selfish, success is having what the other fellow hasn't. And to the rich, success is having more ... and more ... and more ... and more! What is success?
Different people use different measuring sticks in determining what success is. In some cultures, success is having fifty children and five wives. In the colonial days, success was measured by territory controlled and peoples subjugated ... not an acceptable measure today. Some use money and material benefits to prove their success. A thief considers himself successful when he avoids arrest and gets away with the loot. Many politicians promise what they know they cannot deliver and consider themselves successful when people believe them and vote for them. A "successful" drunk is a sot with a bottle of whiskey in each pocket... while a successful movie actress is one whose name draws thousands to the box-office!
So, what is success?
For the believer, the answer has to be found in the Scriptures. There is no Scripture that specifically says, "Success is this ... or that." Therefore its meaning must be found by deduction. Any honest reading of the Bible ... providing we don't approach it with a preconceived notion ... will clearly indicate that success is OBEDIENCE TO THE WILL OF GOD.
Obedience to the will of God has its rewards ... but we must remember that the rewards themselves are not success. Success sometimes brings victory ... but victory is not success. Success sometimes brings wealth ... but wealth is not success. Success sometimes brings healing ... but healing is not success.
I am a very successful man. I was a success when we lived in a three room mud house in Africa, and I am a success now while living in a comfortable eight room house in Springfield, Missouri. I was a success when I was a healthy football player in high school, and I am a success now that I am a sixty-two-year-old asthmatic field director!
My success has nothing to do with money. It has nothing to do with health. It has nothing to do with position. I am successful because I am in the will of God ... and I will continue to be successful so long as I walk in the will of God. No man or devil can take my success from me. The world didn't give it to me, and the world can't take it away!
Now, I challenge anyone to be happier than I am. I like my job, and I am fulfilled doing it. But I am not successful because I am happy, and I am not successful because I am fulfilled. I am successful because I am doing what God has asked me to do ... and I only pray that He will help me do a good job of being successful!
I would dearly love to be delivered from my asthma. God knows I hate those inhalers and the pills I use every day. I still haven't laid my finger on the "why" of it all, and I pray that God will teach me all He wants me to know through my sickness. But don't call me a failure just because I am sick. And don't think for a moment that I would be a success if I were miraculously healed. Success has nothing to do with healing. Success has to do with the will of God. I am in the will of God. Therefore, I am a success!
A brother ... a successful brother ... came to me the other day. He said, "I've put in my application to be a missionary." Now, why in the world would a "successful" brother leave his "success" to be a missionary? He said to me, "God is leading me to resign my position and go overseas. I don't know where. I only know that I've got to go." Praise God! That man knows the meaning of success. He knows you can't have it outside of the will of God. He knows you cannot improve on the will of God. The brother may end up in a desert. He may have to adapt to a lifestyle totally foreign to what he now enjoys. He may face sickness and even death. But he is, and he will be, a success because he is obedient to the heavenly calling!
I love the successful man who wrote, "I would that ye prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth." What a success story! John had walked with Jesus. He had been singled out for our Lord's special favor. He had proclaimed the gospel boldly ... so much so that the Roman authorities had removed him from society and had put him on the lonely island of Patmos. But they couldn't take his success from him. He carried it with him ... and there in that rocky prison, with seagulls his only companions, he wrote to impoverished people who measure their success by the things they can touch and see, and said, "I would that ye prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth." Wow!
John was as successful on Patmos as he was the day he laid his head on the bosom of our Lord!
I think of another successful man who wrote, "My God shall supply all your needs according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus." Paul knew what he was talking about.
It wasn't starry-eyed self-deception. Sure, he was in prison. Sure, he was shivering from the cold. But that icy cell could not negate the fiery zeal of his successful soul! His was not an exercise in mind over matter. Neither was he saying, "I wish you could have what I don't have." Not at all! What he was saying was that the One who was supplying his needs could supply their needs as well. Paul successfully separated the important from the unimportant... and he wanted his hearers to be as successful as he!
I wish people would quit measuring success by their bank accounts ... or by the size of the car they drive ... or by the home they live in. I wish our "success testimonials" were not centered around ourselves ... or on how much our faith has gained for us. It is true that we need to be thankful. We need to give God the glory for the great things He has done. But shouldn't we put more stress on the success of being in God's will? Have we nothing to say to those who successfully suffer for Jesus' sake? Are we ashamed of the martyrs who laid down their lives for the gospel? Do we actually believe that death is a faith failure ... that those who refused to be delivered in the eleventh chapter of Hebrews were unsuccessful? Do we listen with skepticism when a person in a wheelchair tells how he successfully copes with his affliction? Do we delight in the testimony of a million dollars "made" ... more than in the report of a single soul saved? Have we joined Peter in saying to our Lord, "Sons of God don't suffer"? Has the cross become synonymous with failure? Is success the "art of detour"... the avoiding of the unpleasant... the closing of our minds to the two billion without witness? Are we selfishly "living it up" in the name of Jesus?
The church needs successful men ... men who are successful in submitting their wills to the will of God. The mission field needs successful men who, prompted by God's Spirit, will leave father and mother, houses and lands, for the gospel's sake. God is looking for men who will successfully take up their cross, deny themselves, and follow Jesus.
So, let's get this "success" thing straight. Success is not the domain of the rich. It is not for the "top ten" only. Success is within the reach of every believer, because success is obedience to the will of God!