Success is sweet. Expectations are powerful. And when we meet our expectations, we feel successful. This past New Year’s Eve found me singing and praying in the new year with a dear group of friends. It was after one o’clock when I stumbled into bed. I was exhausted, but could not sleep.
I finally got out of bed early the next morning. This was the day many people were setting new goals, cultivating bright expectations for the next year. But the pain and confusion pulsing through my mind made the thought of setting any goals – even good spiritual goals – seem like a cruel joke.
My mind wandered back to a time five years before. I was just out of high school and I was ambitious. I had some big goals. My five-year plan was to multiply the customers in my lawn care business by three and have two employees. Of course, I would be married and happily serving God in rural Indiana. These were my goals. I was fully expecting to accomplish them.
Then came God’s call. I felt God calling me to full time service and everything changed. The goals I had became relics of the past. The ambition for business was burned in the fire of resolute determination to follow Christ. And yet in the surrender, in the giving up of goals, I subconsciously set new goals. Jordan Ruby said: “You worship what you find your worth in.” I no longer found my worth in material success, but in what I was doing for Jesus.
This January first, I cried out to God. I asked Him, “Why do I have this empty feeling? Why do I feel such disappointment?” I thought I had surrendered all and had given God all my expectations. And yet I was terribly dissatisfied with where I was. And then I began to see that I had not changed as much as I thought. I had traded one idol for another, material success for spiritual success.
This is what I wrote in my journal that morning: “I had plans. Big ideas in this world. To grow a big successful business and have respect from many people. To have my cake and eat it too. To live my life ‘on fire’ for God, while doing what I enjoyed. I heard the voice of God gently calling me to leave behind the plans I had made. Like a dutiful soldier, I surrendered ‘my’ rights, and gave up so much, that I felt I had lost my identity. Now with a nobler, more spiritual goal, I set my mind to serve the Lord. I now viewed success as influencing people, winning souls to Jesus, and stirring Christians to live with passion. Now today I come – a broken, needy man. Feelings of failure sweep over me in waves. Confused, I ponder why I’m not the success I thought I was. And slowly I have come to see that success is not in what I do, or what people think of me. I have come to see my need of Jesus and His grace. If I can know Him in my life, I know I have succeeded. I smile today with deep contentment, knowing I have succeeded. I am where God wants me, not because of my greatness or position, but because of Christ’s free gift. I have had many expectations that I failed to experience, but today my full expectation is met. I am more than a conqueror through Jesus Christ. Now, I continue on with a settled peace that this is the path God has for me, and the promise of His continuing presence. I have found success!”
Friends, our labor for Christ is wonderful. Our surrender to Him is necessary. But it is not what makes us successful. Paul’s words in Philippians 3:10 ring in my mind over and over: “But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, that I may know Him.”
Oh, that we may know Him! May that be the cry of our hearts. Not primarily that we may serve Him, but that we may KNOW Him. And when we know Him, we are satisfied. Our toil ends, and we can rest. As Christ is in us, and we in Him, we are successful. God bless you!