Success: Once Given, Not Given Up Easily
Written By Leslie Koh
After spending a number of years in the media, Leslie finally decided to move from working with bad news to good news. He believes in the power of words (especially when they’re funny). He works as an editor in Our Daily Bread Ministries.
It would be all too easy for me to sit here and say, “Give up everything for God. Don’t chase the success of the world. Don’t be so career-minded.” That’s what I used to imagine myself telling others—until I faced the dilemma myself.
For a long time, I used to decry the pursuit of worldly success. High salary? Money isn’t everything. Promising career? Nah, don’t need it. Fame? Not interested. Sacrifice career to serve God? If He calls me, sure. Anytime.
But as the years passed, my career grew in tandem with my age and experience. Moving from rookie to veteran to supervisor, I saw my career—and pay—advance better than I ever expected. (Okay, admittedly, I’ve got low standards.) In my own eyes, I was successful: Nice title, bright career prospects, decent pay. I had never sought these actively, but since they came—hey, why not enjoy them?
Then the opportunity came, like a bolt from the blue, to join Our Daily Bread Ministries full-time. To cut a long story short, it was simply this: Come join us and serve God with your skills and experience, but be prepared for some sacrifices.
The offer stopped me dead in my tracks. Suddenly, all my “principles” were put to the test. And, I’m ashamed to say, I was very, very, very reluctant to give it all up. The promise of a good career, good pay, and a nice position was hard to drop. I had once dismissed the lure of worldly success, but having attained a measure of it, I couldn’t imagine living without it. As I struggled with the decision, I realized that besides trying to find out whether God was calling me, I had to first answer the question: Was I even willing to give up my “success” for God?
The Coolness of Success
I believe that there is nothing wrong with being successful in the worldly sense. God may bless us with good grades, a promising career, wealth, and influence. The Bible gives many examples of men who were richly blessed, literally. King Solomon enjoyed great wealth and a sterling reputation. God told him: “I will give you what you have not asked for—both wealth and honor—so that in your lifetime you will have no equal among kings” (1 Kings 3:13). So did Job, who had livestock in the thousands. They were the Warren Buffett and Bill Gates of their day.
But they kept their perspective. Solomon was blessed so much because he had asked only for wisdom, a request which pleased God greatly. Until he lost the plot later, he was known for his desire to love God and to be a just king. Job too didn’t base his faith in God on his wealth. Even when he lost it all, he continued to worship God. I believe that if God has given us the privilege of being successful, it is for a reason. Perhaps it is to bless others in return. Perhaps we can use our position and influence to help others, and be a light for God. And certainly, in leading a godly life, we would be an example to others. Solomon, for example, brought great honor to God with his wisdom (while he was still walking with God).
The trouble with success—as I found out—is that once given, it isn’t given up easily. If we are overly focused on building a good career, growing our wealth or building our reputation, it gets very difficult to keep God at the center of our lives. We will start to trust in our hard work, our talents, and our intelligence, and not in God and His provision. That’s why Jesus challenged the rich young man who sought eternal life to give up all his possessions. When the man couldn’t, Jesus told His disciples, “Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 19:23). Likewise, He stressed that we cannot serve both God and money at the same time, only one or the other (Matthew 6:24).
Jesus didn’t condemn wealth or power outright; He was looking at how much value we put on these. The Roman centurion who asked Jesus to heal his servant was a man of power. He commanded many well-armed soldiers. But he was fully aware of the limits of his power. He recognized Jesus’ power as even greater, and sought His help with the greatest humility. It won the ultimate accolade from Jesus, who said, “I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith” (Matthew 8:5–13).
Another Kind of Success
What if we’re not “successful” by worldly standards? What if we’re not good in school or work, in the pool or on the running track? How can we still be “successful”—for God?
The Bible has many examples of people who could have been said to have “failed” in the world, but whose lives, actions or words are recorded for posterity. Many of the Old Testament prophets didn’t get very far before they were killed by their own people, but played critical roles in turning Israel back to God. Many of the twelve disciples were poor fishermen and didn’t get any richer, but will surely receive the highest honor from God. Or how about the poor widow who donated two small coins to the temple? We don’t even know her name, but Jesus noticed what she did, and her one action made her an example that continues to encourage us today.
These men and women were successful in one thing—obeying God and fulfilling His purpose. It didn’t matter whether they ruled one million people with kindness, or brought a drink of water to one person. It didn’t matter whether they built a temple, or contributed two pennies. What was important is that they did what God wanted them to do, and they did it with their hearts and souls.
As I pondered over whether I should move, I too realized that I had to change my definition of success. It wasn’t about doing well at work. It was about finding out God’s purpose for me, then trying to fulfill it with the skills and talent He had given me. Perhaps He had made me successful at my workplace so that I could be an influence there. Or, perhaps this worldly success was meant to prepare me for service someplace else.
I prayed over the matter, but to be honest, I didn’t hear a Voice giving me an answer. What I did feel was that maybe, just maybe, while I was focusing intently on whether to move or not to move, God was more interested in the motivation behind the decision. Either way, I realized, I had to learn not to hold on to the success I had enjoyed, and to recognize that fulfilling God’s will was the only thing that should matter. (In the end, I did move, and that’s why I’m writing this.)
Perhaps you’re going through the same thing today. Maybe you’re successful by the world’s standards and enjoying its perks. Are you holding on dearly to it for its own sake? Or are you using it for God’s purpose, whether in business, school or ministry?
Or maybe you’re not doing so well, as far as the world is concerned. Does this worry you? Does it make you hanker after more? Or will you focus on carrying out God’s purpose, and be assured that God’s delight in your obedience is the best success of all?
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