“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts” – Winston Churchill
The Chief priests, Scribes and the elders of the Jewish Council assessed the success of the mission of the Lord with these words, “He saved others, Himself He cannot save” (Matthew 27:42). As far as their view was the Son of God was an abject failure as the Messiah and probably for a while the twelve had also formed the same opinion. Israelites were eagerly waiting for Him for years but when He came not only did they not accept Him but they considered Him a failure. How do we assess success of a person or a mission that we undertake? Is it to have a large amount of wealth and worldly possessions that are tangible and visible to the eye or something not seen?
What is the meaning of success? – By worldly standards achieving goals, acquiring great amount of wealth, prestige, recognition and power define success. Successful people are seen to be enjoying the ‘good life’; being financially and emotionally secure; being surrounded by admirers and generally enjoying the fruits of their labors- at least as seen by all others. If this standard is applied to the famous multi-billionaire Warren Buffet, then he will probably be considered a failure too for he still lives in the same house that he had bought in 1958 in Omaha, does not own an aircraft and travels by commercial airlines despite having a net worth of more than $39 billion. It is essential to define success and its true meaning to the life of each of us for my definition may not match yours. In fact true success would be much more than the common ideas of success that is a few earned professional degrees from reputed institutes, wealth and many tangible possessions and in many circles a beautiful partner is also counted as part of being successful. They are leaders, trendsetters, opinion makers with many aspiring to emulate them.
True measure of success would be the impact that we make on the lives of others to help them lead a better and contented life through our achievements. As per this measure the Messiah is the most successful man that ever lived on this planet for He brought us back into the lost relationship with God and empowered us to triumph over our sinful nature by living in our hearts with the Holy Spirit. In this Warren Buffet would also be considered successful for he donates much of his wealth for the good of others. If we apply worldly standards of success to most characters of the Holy Bible they would be termed as failures and Jeremiah. The “weeping prophet” is one of the most successful people in God’s eyes. “You are not of this world” is the identity given to us by our Savior Lord (John 15:19) and the measure of success of this world should also not be applicable to us. Our uniqueness is in our different lineage that was changed to be the ‘children of God’ the day we accepted the Lord Jesus as our Lord and this changed our status and “our citizenship is in heaven” (Philippians 3:20).
What is the meaning of success in heaven? – Conclusion of any successful event brings great rejoicing and in the ancient world the Roman general after winning a war marched into the capital city at the head of a gala parade with the plundered wealth on display and the prisoners/slaves following in chains. In like manner each successful act of ours is applauded in heaven for “there is joy in the presence of the angels of God (in heaven) over one sinner who repents” (Luke 15:10) for this is fulfillment of an act in obedience to the “Great Commission”. God measures success not with the obvious result only but by obedience and faithfulness regardless of personal cost and opposition. The different traits that have defined success in the lives of some of the heroes of the Scriptures are necessary to be understood by us to be successful in our lives and be eligible for “the crown of righteousness” in heaven.
Obedience of Abraham – Abraham was living in Ur of the Chaldeans when the Lord said to him, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you” (Genesis 12:1). To obey such a command when one is neither aware of the destination nor about the final outcome and that too at an age of seventy five when consolidation of the holding would be the prime concern. Abraham obeyed God and was called “friend of God” and was finally blessed with an heir at the age of a hundred years. And it was not all smooth sailing for him and his nephew Lot separated from him and laid claim to the valley towards Zoar, that was most suitable for the cattle that they had, for that was their wealth. Abraham accepted the decision and still rescued Lot from the four kings who had taken him captive.
Finally when all was settled Abraham was commanded by God “Take your son, your only son, whom you love- Isaac- and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you” (Genesis 22:2). Isaac was well aware of the system of offerings to the Lord for he enquired about the ‘lamb for the burnt offering’. It is difficult to imagine what must have been going on in Abraham’s mind when he ‘built the altar on the mountain and bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar on top of the wood’. Isaac would definitely have pleaded with his father after realizing that he was the ‘sacrificial lamb’ but Abraham did not flinch. We know about the way the Lord provided the sacrificial ‘ram in the thicket caught by its horns’ but God branded Abraham as a successful person and he is called a ‘hero of faith’.
Humility of Moses – The life of Moses is another story of a very successful man and despite his ‘standing up to God’ to intercede for the Israelites, God accepted him as his very own successful person. Moses was not permitted to lead his people into the Promised Land for having hit the rock twice instead of speaking to it for the rock was a ‘Symbol of Jesus- the Rock’. Despite this God “buried him in Moab, in the valley opposite Beth Peor but to this day no one knows where his grave is” (Deuteronomy 34:6).
The timing of birth of Moses was when the Pharaoh had issued a decree “to all his people, Every Hebrew boy that is born you must throw into the Nile, but let every girl live” (Exodus 1:22). He was rescued by the Pharaoh’s sister from the river Nile and brought up as a prince by her as her own son. But Moses, who was likely to be the next Pharaoh, learnt of his ancestry and killed an Egyptian on seeing him harassing an Israelite. This endangered his own life for the Pharaoh tried to kill him for the crime and the Israelites also did not accept him as their leader or as their own. Moses fled into the region of Midian without anything of his own. Definitely a failure by worldly standards to become a nobody after declining to be the ruler of Egypt.
Moses the prince became Moses the shepherd, married Zipporah, the daughter of Jethro, a priest and named his son ‘Gershom’ saying “I have become a foreigner in a foreign land” (Exodus 2:22). It was in this state that the Lord finally decided to visit him in the ‘burning bush’ to assign him the task of becoming a leader of the same people who had earlier rejected him. Forty years of solitude had humbled Moses to such an extent that he did not consider him worthy of the same task that he attempted to do fort years before. He replied to God “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” (Exodus 23:11). Eventually Moses humbly surrendered himself before God and he not only became the first person to whom God revealed His name “I AM” but successfully led his people out of Egypt after performing numerous miracles in the power of the Lord and wrote the Pentateuch- the sacred Scriptures and gave the Law of God in the Ten Commandments to the world.
Moses understood the life principles of God for successful people and strictly followed the same. He declared the “Golden Rule” for success in the world “You may say to yourself, “My power and strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me. But remember the Lord your God, for it is He who gives you the ability to produce wealth” (Deuteronomy 8:17-18). A very successful man indeed who left an indelible mark on the worldly and spiritual life of all.
Surrender of Saul of Tarshish- God uses even those who are seen as enemies of God to achieve His Divine purpose and this is evidenced in the Old Testament by the invading kings to bring about punishment to the Israelites and in the New Testament by Saul, a known Christ hater working with an unusual zeal to persecute the believers. On his conversion the message of the Lord to Ananias was “I will show him how much he must suffer for My name” (Acts 9:16). This cannot be termed as an assignment for success in the world but towards the end of “the race” Saul renamed Paul declared “I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race….Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge will award me” (2 Timothy 4:7).
And what were the credentials of this good fight of Apostle Paul which again he himself identified “in labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequently, in deaths often. From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep” (2 Corinthians 11:23-27). And the list is long about his getting caught for preaching the Gospel and being punished. Media and society often conclude that living a successful life is to be wealthy beyond measure with a long list of followers. But Apostle Paul cannot claim ant of this, he survived on meager resources earned as a tentmaker, and most people had deserted him when he was in prison and “Only Luke is with me” (2 Timothy 4:11) and he wanted his ‘cloak that he had left with Carpus at Troas’ for the damp and cold interiors of the basement prison cell were becoming unbearable for him. Probably he had only one cloak and nothing more to escape the cold but this same Apostle Paul is the writer of most of the New Testament and next to our Lord it is he who has left such a mark in the world- above all other disciples.
He accomplished a lot but can he be called successful by today’s standards- definitely no. But he accomplished so much for the spread of the Gospel and accomplishment is the process and the path to be successful for each achievement takes us closer to the final goal, another step closer to the top of the ladder of success. Success is to lead a happy and fulfilling life helping many others also live successful lives by making a difference in their lives. Judged by this yardstick all three, Abraham, Moses and Apostle Paul were very successful people and Abraham was wealthy beyond comparison but Moses and Paul neither demanded nor received anything for themselves nor for their legal or spiritual heirs.
The Messiah whom the Jewish leaders mocked after crucifying Him received “all authority over everything on earth and heaven” after having defeated Satan, death and all powers of darkness” and is seated at the right hand of God the Father. Success beyond measure achieved!
How can we be successful – King David is known as a man of God’s heart and history records him as the best king that Israel had. He had many opportunities to kill King Saul who was pursuing him to kill him without any reason but he did not for Saul had been chosen by God. He suffered himself but surrendered himself to the will of God and “The Lord gave David victory wherever he went” (1 Chronicles 18:13). Since all power is vested in the Lord Jesus and He gives us blessings to succeed, it is imperative that we surrender all our plans- both business and personal to Him and seek His hand of guidance.
“Commit to the Lord whatever you do and He will establish your plans” (Proverbs 16:3) is the advice given by the ‘wisest man’ king Solomon. The Lord judges our words through the hidden intentions behind them and nothing can be hidden from Him. In execution of our plans we must maintain that balance: trusting God in humble submission as if everything depended on Him while working as if everything depended on us. And David has identified the blessed person as one who neither joins the wicked in their schemes nor has close companionship with them. He then stresses upon the benefits of such actions for that man as “a tree planted by streams of water which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not whither- whatever they do prospers” (Psalm 1:3). Such persons bring blessings for their entire household/business and their partners and children also become successful in whatever they do. Elisha prayed to the Lord to open his servant’s eyes to show him the heavenly forces on ‘the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around” (2 Kings 6:17). We are ‘children of God’ and our Father is willing to provide all His forces to those who seek Him.
David went with confidence to face Goliath for he claimed the fight to be controlled by the Lord and he would be victorious for he was fighting in His name. The moment we submit our plans to our Lord then and only then He assumes control of everything and deploys heavenly resources for and with us to assure success in all ventures that we undertake.
Humbling ourselves before the Almighty God in obedience to His will is the key to be successful!!