God’s Idea of Success

Come and be a part of one of the fastest growing churches in the nation. Those were the words on an advertising billboard along a major highway in Atlanta, Georgia. As I pondered this marketing appeal, it occurred to me how powerful a hook it really was. We live in a success crazy society. Success and the prestigious symbols that let others know of our success are important in many of our lives. And churches. There are entire ministries built on the teaching that God wants his people to be successful in the most materialistic and worldly sense. It was no accident that the church billboard on that Atlanta highway was located near subdivisions with houses valued at a half million dollars and more.

As a young man, success was high on my list of priorities. My father was a member of that generation of Americans that journalist Tom Brokaw labeled The Greatest Generation. Dad, together with others born in the early twentieth century, survived The Great Depression. He also saw the world change greatly as a result of World War II. For that, he literally had a front row seat, serving as a co-pilot bomber flying off Navy aircraft carriers in the Pacific. Like many Americans who served in World War II, Dad lied about his age and signed up for the Navy at fifteen years of age.

When my father left the Navy after nine years of service, he earned a college degree in business and later a law degree focusing on business law. He did all of this while moving rapidly up the ladder in his company, marrying my mother, starting a family, and beginning two companies of his own. When I turned fifteen, Dad sold one of those companies, and began to spend a lot of time with me that neither of my older brothers experienced. Perhaps that is why my father and I connected and understood each other so well.

I mentioned in a previous chapter my business degrees and time spent working for a Fortune 500 company in Orlando, Florida. My plans were to join my father’s business, but I wanted to prove myself to him and everyone else first. When my brother from Scotland visited me in Orlando things changed rapidly. In less than one year, I was back in church, married, and accepted as a student in a major seminary in Texas. Some things, however, did not change.

I may have left the business world for the church world, but worldly ambition and a prideful hunger for success was rooted deeply in my life. I was blind to this reality, but everyone else around me was very aware of it. I remember meeting a former student and friend many years after we graduated from seminary together. God, the Divine Sculptor, had chiseled away some major pride from my life by this time, and my friend noticed. He made a simple comment to me, You’ve changed. I responded, You mean I’m not the prideful guy you knew in seminary? He smiled and shook his head in the affirmative, Yeah, that’s what I meant.

I may not be as prideful as I once was, but I still have plenty of rough edges that need to be chiseled away. I have learned, however, that there is a big difference between God’s idea of success and the world’s idea. In the next several chapters, I want to share with you the joy that is found when we passionately and ambitiously seek success in the kingdom of God as opposed to the kingdoms of this world.