A good friend once asked me, “Isn’t it true that the person who lives in accord with the will of God, and patterns his life after the teachings of Scripture, can expect to live a successful life?”
My answer was, “Yes, but I am not sure that the kind of success which will be delivered is exactly what you have in mind.”
Too many people believe that faith in God and adherence to His laws will deliver wealth, power, and status. They have heard sermons, on radio and television, which suggest that faith in God and obedience to His Word guarantee social success. They imagine that they will move up the socioeconomic ladder by virtue of their goodness. They assume that when the Apostle Paul promises that God will “do exceedingly abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us” (Eph. 3:20), he means believers will prosper in miraculous ways and lack for nothing in the way of the world’s goods.
Will Herberg, a contemporary Jewish social philosopher, claims that Americans have “faith in faith.” They think believing in God assures them of economic prosperity and personal achievement. He may be right. But this kind of “faith” makes God a means to our own personal ends and declares that He is there to help us achieve things which society tells us are important.
The eternal God does not exist to serve our ends. He is not an instrument for the fulfillment of our wishes. We exist to serve Him. We are called to be instruments of His will.
Many sociologists differentiate religion from magic by pointing out that in religion people submit themselves to the will of a higher power; in magic, people try to manipulate a higher power to get things for themselves. Many people who think thay have true religion transform the Christian faith into a primitive form of magic, treating God as though He were the genie of the magic lamp. Prayer becomes a litany for manipulating God into delivering what the petitioners want. Jesus’ name becomes a magical incantation that must be blasphemously uttered at the end of the prayer if God is to deliver the desired results. For many, prayer reflects the kind of immaturity that my little boy expressed one evening when he came into our living room and said, “Before I go to bed, I’m going to pray. Does anybody want anything?”
I believe that the Christian lifestyle does deliver success to people, but not the kind of success that is understood by society. Jesus never promised wealth, power, and prestige to those who would follow Him. He warned that while foxes had holes and bird had nests, the disciples were following One who would not have a place to lay His head (Matt. 8:20). He was scorned and rejected by the people of the world. Then as now, the social establishment would crucify Him. Jesus warned His followers that what happened to Him would happen to them.
“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated Me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greather than his master.'” ~John 15:18-20
~Tony Campolo, The Success Fantasy.
How do you measure success?