Saturday, August 6, 2011

What Is "Success", to God

This is going to be one of those dangerous, off the top of my head posts. Ever thought about what God would see as success? Our culture and some Christians definitely point toward affluence and comfort as the epitome of success, but, really?

To be sure, Scripture is replete with followers of God who were prosperous and powerful: Abraham; Isaac; Jacob (don't talk about the goat stew incident or those years in Haran!); Joseph (don't talk about his years as a slave or his years in prison!); Job 1.0 and Job 2.0 (don't talk about Job 1.5 who argued with his "friends" while scraping his sores with a potsherd!); David (try to ignore that incident in Gath - 1 Samuel 21!).

Then there are other successful followers of God who don't quite fit in the "(Wealth + Comfort) = Success" equation.

Abel's sacrifice was accepted by God ... and his jealous brother Cain "helped" Abel meet God face to face earlier than would be allowed by Abel's natural life span.

Isaiah was one of the most prolific of Jewish prophets. He prophesied the fates of many nations and confronted his own nation and several of its kings. The last king he so served, Manasseh, had (traditionally) Isaiah beheaded.

Jeremiah, similarly prolific, similar in confronting his evil nation and its wicked kings, was pretty much ignored. Jeremiah urged his nation, Judah, to repent and turn to God as the one way to avoid horrible defeat and exile. At one point, his warnings led to Jeremiah almost drowning in a quagmire of mud. In the end, Judah was defeated, many slaughtered, and many survivors were forced to a distant exile. Jeremiah did not go to Babylon, but was instead taken, involuntarily, to Egypt.

Want to talk about Jesus and success? His ministry only lasted some 3 years. He almost got killed more than once and was rejected by those to whom he ministered ... so totally that a mob of his people intimidated the Roman governor to kill Jesus. And Jesus wasn't killed swiftly, mercifully! The crucifixion process was designed to allow sadistic torturers to extract the most agony possible for the longest time possible from their victim.

Paul was successful, right? Soon after becoming a Christian, Paul had to escape being murdered in Damascus by being lowered from the city wall in a basket (history's first basket case!). On the first of his itinerant preaching trips ("Missionary Journey" sounds more grand, doesn't it?), Paul got stoned, and I don't mean intoxicated! He almost died (or maybe did and was resurrected?). Later, Paul had to flee Thessalonica, again to avoid would-be assassins, spent a night in jail in Philippi (after being beaten severely), spent a couple years in prison in Caesarea, almost lost his life when the prisoner transport on which he was embarked shipwrecked, was imprisoned in Rome at least twice, and finally was beheaded.

There's an old joke about a rich man who was allowed to bring whatever he wanted into heaven with him. So he brought a bag of gold. As he entered heaven, the angels at the gate asked each other, "Why is he bringing paving stones into heaven?" From God's point of view - He's our Creator, so He might have some understanding of such matters - wealth and power are incidental to success. When we die and stand before God, all we had and "achieved" have been left behind. Even those of our accomplishments that survive our death will not ultimately endure. What will matter will be who we were in life and what we did with the life - "rich" or "poor", "powerful" or "obscure" - God gave us. In eternity, before God, many who had been great successes will be people who were obscure even in their own countries and generations. Their love for and relationship with God, their service to God where He placed them was what had made them great.

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