The dangers of success
is a deep hunger in human beings to succeed. The hunger inside
and the marketplace outside work together to determine the way
we live and spend our days. And yet many people who "succeed"
and are the envy of others, find that their deep hunger remains.
Why is this so? Perhaps it is because we have a very limited
view of what success is. Our culture takes our need to succeed
and points it to a narrow vision of success. Singaporeans have
talked about the 5 Cs. This idea is grossly limited to a materialistic
notion of success.
The thirst for fame and fortune distracts us from the real thirst
that lies deep within our human hearts. We need God. We need
to be related to God, and experience it by being reconciled to
Him. We need to discover that God is love and order our lives
on that basis. We need to discover our true worth and dignity,
and our authentic identity and calling. We need to discover others
as fellow human beings and treat them as such.
Perhaps we all know this instinctively, as our thirst for authentic
living emerges once in a while in our unguarded and lonely moments.
But the influence of the world is too strong. We take the easy
way out and march to the tunes of the marketplace (which cares
not for us), instead of listening to the depths of our hearts
where God often speaks and leads us on His path. We become distracted
by what Christian thinker Brian Mahan calls "the social
scripts of mere success", and fail to find true success
here on earth.
Children are trained from young to be ambitious, to be thirsty
for success. And this ambition is defined in very materialistic
terms -- houses, cars, luxurious living, wealth, and the like.
Education then becomes a servant of this ambition. People use
education to seek fame and fortune. The phenomenon of the proliferation
of people seeking doctorates (however it is obtained) is a sign
of this distorted vision of success. People continue to seek
this form of success even when their hearts quietly warn them
of their folly. Even in old age, people persist in this futile
trip to transient success. What does one do with the wealth one
has spent a lifetime to gather?
Christians must be careful that they too are not distracted by
limited and distorted notions of success. It is easy for Christians
to live out the ambitions they have imbibed from the world and
fail to nurture their true vocation which they received at their
The apostle Paul wrote to young Timothy towards the end of his
life. Imprisoned and facing an uncertain future, he declared
"I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race.
I have kept the faith." (2 Tim. 4:7). One who is pursuing
a worldly form of success must be challenged by these words.
Remember the rich young man who came to Jesus and asked Him about
eternal life? Jesus told him to sell all his possessions, give
the proceeds to the poor, and then come follow Him (Mt. 19:16-24).
The young man was too steeped in the social scripts of his world
to be willing to give up the signs of his "success".
When approaching death in his old age, he would not have been
able to echo Paul's glorious words. He would be a stranger to
the real fight, the real race, and the real faith, and so much
the poorer for it.
Perhaps we might be saying that we are different. Christians
who are active in church and trying their best to live pious
lives may also have to be challenged by Paul's words simply because
the world's notions of success are deeply ingrained in us and
can easily be dressed in Christian costumes. Take for instance
how a pastor's or a church leader's ambitions to grow his church
may hide the same entrepreneurial ambitions of corporate players
in the marketplace. Or how many Christians link God's blessings
and favour with earthly wealth and fame. Earthly success is identified
with spiritual vigour and vitality. They want to be successful
on earth and have heaven's blessings on their fame and fortune.
But God may have other plans. In his poem entitled "Prayer
answered by crosses", 18th century English hymn-writer
John Newton puts it so well. The poet complains to God that He
does not seem to be answering his prayers for happiness and well-being.
Instead he suffers from intense struggles. God answers that His
plans may be different from Newton's. He announces His plans
break thy schemes of earthly joy
That thou mayst seek thy all in me."
Imagine God breaking our schemes of earthly success! A man who
thinks that earthly success and heavenly vocation are one and
the same will have great difficulty understanding this. God's
ultimate aim is to redeem us completely for Himself. His plan
to succeed is often pitted against our plans to succeed. If He
wins, we win. If we win, we lose. Did not the Lord say "The
man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates
his life in this world will keep it for eternal life."
The greatest danger is when a man (or a woman) pastes the template
of earthly success on his religion. He would be greatly deceived
into thinking that all is well, that he is in the right battle
and race, and that he possesses the true faith. Paul was one
such person in his youthful days, until the risen Christ encountered
him on the road to Damascus. His religious passion was mixed
with personal pride. After his conversion, he gave up what were
signs of his earthly success, for something far superior.
We do well if we consider this carefully. The relentless pursuit
of fame and fortune, even in church, must be challenged by God's
truth. That is to say the pursuit of earthly fame and fortune
should not be the primary concerns of our lives. Even if fame
and fortune fall on our laps, we should hold them lightly. We
must remember that they have no value in heaven and that true
success is often clothed in suffering, deprivation, simplicity
and love. True success is measured not by how much we own but
by how much of us God owns. And may we all be blessed as we discover
this more deeply in our lives.
'The relentless pursuit of fame and fortune, even in
church, must be challenged by God's truth ... True success is
measured not by how much we own but by how much of us God owns.'