True Success

January 11 Day 11

True Success

How to Be a Huge Success is a little book of quotations and tips from a variety of well-known ‘successful’ people. The back cover asks, ‘Are you on a collision course with fame, fortune or greatness?’ This is so often how ‘success’ is perceived in our society.

Perhaps because of some of its negative connotations, sometimes in the church we are a little wary of the word ‘success’. However, ‘success’ is not a dirty word in the Bible. It occurs at least five times in our Old Testament passage for today (Genesis 24:12,21,40,42,56) – each time in a very positive light.

Success is a blessing from the Lord (vv.31,50). Success is a good thing. However, the ministry of Jesus and the message of the Bible redefine success.

1. Praise God for the success of his creation

Psalm 8:1-9

In our galaxy there are probably over a hundred-billion stars like our sun. Our galaxy is one of a hundred-billion galaxies. When we consider the vastness of the universe it is easy to feel small and insignificant.

David starts and ends this psalm by worshipping God for the success of his creation (vv.1–2a,9).

As he stares into the night sky, David says, ‘I look up at your macro-skies, dark and enormous, your handmade sky-jewellery, Moon and stars mounted in their settings. Then I look at my micro-self and wonder, Why do you bother with us? Why take a second look our way?’ (vv.3–4, MSG).

David marvels at the fact that human beings are the pinnacle of God’s creation – a masterpiece – made in his image. Not only does God love you and care about you (v.4), but he has given you extraordinary privileges: ‘You made them a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned them with glory and honour. You made them rulers over the works of your hands; you put everything under their feet’ (vv.5–6).

We have been put in charge of everything God has made. Knowing this, Christians should be at the forefront of the protection, preservation and care of God’s amazing creation.

Of course, God’s original plan for our dominion over creation has been distorted. However, in the New Testament, we see these verses are also applied directly to Jesus (Hebrews 2:8). In Christ, creation is restored (Ephesians 1:19–23; 2:5–6), and one day it will be complete and we will see everything under his feet (1 Corinthians 15:24–26).

Lord, as I look at the vastness, beauty and success of your creation I can only praise and worship you: ‘O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!’ (Psalm 8:9).

2. Pursue success modelled on Jesus

Matthew 9:14-38

Jesus redefines success. If you want to know what true success looks like, study the model of Jesus – his vision, life and teaching. It is the kind of success that is not universally recognised as such.

Jesus was both admired and hated. Success does not necessarily mean popularity. Some admired him: ‘There’s never been anything like this’ (v.33, MSG). Others hated him. The Pharisees said, ‘It’s nothing but hocus-pocus. He’s probably made a pact with the Devil’ (v.34, MSG).

As followers of Jesus, you also may be both admired and hated. For example, because of his campaign to end the slave trade, it was said of William Wilberforce that he was the most admired and the most hated man in England.

In his Gospel, Matthew sets out the success of Jesus’ ministry (ch.5–9). He summarises, ‘Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and illness’ (9:35).

In word and action Jesus ushered in the kingdom of God, bringing the reality of God’s rule and presence into the lives of those around him. This is what Jesus-style success looks like and this is what you and I are called to emulate.

To achieve Jesus-style success you, like the twelve disciples, need to model your life on Jesus and share his vision:

  • The need is urgent
    Jesus saw that ‘they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd’ (v.36). Today, we see millions who don’t know Jesus and are spiritually lost. In addition, we see millions who are starving, homeless, suffering from preventable diseases and without even the most basic education.
  • The motive is love
    Jesus had compassion (v.36). This is the strongest word for love in the Greek language (derived from the Greek word for ‘guts’). It is used only of Jesus. It could be translated ‘he was gutted’ – his heart broke.

    Jesus was unconcerned about worldly categories of importance or success. Here we see him helping two very different classes of people – an important ‘ruler’ (v.18) and a woman whose menstrual bleeding would have made her unclean and left her on the fringes of society (v.20). Yet Jesus had compassion on them both.
  • The trigger is prayer
    Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field’ (v.38). Pray for more people to be raised up who will follow Jesus and reap the harvest.
  • The potential is vast
    Jesus said, ‘The harvest is plentiful’ (v.37). Jesus has modelled what success looks like – proclaiming the kingdom and demonstrating its in-breaking into history. Now he calls you to follow his model – to share in his mission, multiplying its reach.

Lord, there is so much need in our world yet it seems that the workers are few. I pray that you would raise up and send out more workers to go out into the harvest field and change the world.

3. Pray for success in guidance

Genesis 24:1-67

Abraham’s servant was not embarrassed to pray for success. He prayed a prayer that we can all emulate: ‘Give me success today’ (v.12). It was not a selfish prayer. It was a prayer that God would bless someone else, ‘show kindness to my master Abraham’ (v.12). He asked to be guided by God.

This is one of the most remarkable stories of God’s guidance. On Alpha, we talk about five ways in which God guides us, under the heading of ‘the five CSs’. In this passage we can see an example of all these working together and especially the fifth one, ‘Circumstantial Signs’.

  • Commanding Scripture
    Obviously, Abraham did not have the Scriptures that we have – but he did have the commands of God that later became part of the Scriptures. God commanded his people to only marry other believers in him. Abraham told his servant he must not get a wife for his son from the Canaanites, but from his own people (vv.3–4).
  • Compelling Spirit
    The Holy Spirit leads us as we pray. Although the words ‘Holy Spirit’ are not used in this passage, it is clear that all the participants are in a position to be guided by God, listening to him and being led by the Spirit. Abraham’s servant prayed from his heart (vv.12,45), Rebekah appeared ‘before he had finished praying’ (v.15), and when Rebekah appeared, Isaac was out in the field where he had gone to meditate (v.63).
  • Common Sense
    The choice of Rebekah made sense. She was clearly someone who was appropriate for Isaac. It so happened that she was ‘very beautiful’ (v.16). She was also ‘a virgin; no man had ever lain with her’ (v.16). Most importantly, she was clearly generous, gracious and kind. Her immediate response to the request for water was not only to offer it, but also to say, ‘I’ll draw water for your camels too, until they have finished drinking’ (v.19).
  • Counsel of the Saints
    One of the ways in which God guides us is through godly advice (‘saints’ is used here in the New Testament sense to describe all God’s people). Although Isaac and Rebekah’s marriage was very different from the modern western marriage, in that it involved a large element of arrangement, there was also an element of choice. Rebekah was asked, ‘“Will you go with this man?” “I will go,” she replied’ (v.57). Isaac chose to marry her and ‘loved her’ (v.67). They were following the counsel of the saints in the sense that everyone around, especially their parents, recognised, ‘This is from the Lord’ (v.50).
  • Circumstantial Signs
    This is one of the clearest cases in the Bible of God guiding through circumstantial signs. The servant asks for a sign and was given exactly what he asked for (vv.12–26). However, as we have seen, the sign was not random. It was a test of Rebekah’s character, which she fulfilled.

As a result of being guided by God, not only was their meeting a great success, but more importantly, so was their marriage.

Lord, I pray that you would multiply this wonderful example of successful guidance amongst us. May there be more and more examples of couples coming together and being able to say, ‘This is from the Lord’ (v.50).

Pippa Adds

Genesis 24

I have always loved this story. It is very romantic. Isaac was heir to so much, but he was possibly rather lonely. His half-brother had been sent away. His mother had died. God provides this brave woman. She leaves her family. She marries someone miles from home whom she has never met. God answers very specific prayers to guide them. And Isaac loved her.

 

Verse of the Day

‘Lord… give me success today’ (Genesis 24:12)

References

How to be a Huge Success, (Lagoon Books, 2003)

Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version Anglicised, Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 Biblica, formerly International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica. UK trademark number 1448790.

Scripture marked (MSG) taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.