Success. What Americans dream of: accomplishing one’s goals, attaining _____ (wealth, power etc). Many consider it to be a prerequisite for happiness. It is not necessarily considered a biblical virtue, but it is a societal virtue and one that I feel requires examination. Success is not necessarily bad, and in the proper context can be a good goal to have. The key is to have not only the proper context but also the proper view of it. How does the Bible view success?
In our capitalist economy, we expect the economy to continuously rise steadily. Because we have this as our economic background, we also expect everything else in life to do that as well. We forget that life has seasons. We were not made to receive everything good without encountering any draw backs. We forget the natural flow of life.
Our bodies do not continue to grow and improve. We have periods of sickness, and our lives usually end with a season of decline. Nature has seasons of growth and seasons of dormancy. Consumerism has seasons of growth and seasons of decline based on the demand and availability of different resources. These are all natural and even healthy. Fighting them only leads to frustration, and sometimes disaster.
For example, it is impossible for us to fight age. We do not have the secret to endless youth and beauty. Trying to chase that and make ourselves perpetually young and beautiful can actually harm our bodies through taking chemical supplements and applying however many creams or surgeries (see the affects of steroids, botox, plastic surgery etc). Our bodies were made to eventually deteriorate. We can either accept that and age gracefully or waste our time and money trying to deny the inevitable. It reveals that we are focused on the wrong kind of beauty. We care more about our appearance than our hearts. And this drive for perpetual youth and beauty will degrade our souls.
In agriculture, many farmers push to find a plant that is resistant to insects and weeds, one that has a higher yield and less prone to disease. The result is modified products that are harmful to our bodies. The push to cultivate more plants in a growing season or grow faster and stronger is a strain on the land and damages the soil and the product. Plants and soil were made to produce a certain way and trying to change that creates problems. This push for greater “success” leads to greater problems, greed not the least of which.
Wildlife has a natural ebb and flow as well. Game populations rise so that there is a surplus of food for the predators, as a result the population of predators rises. But then the predators surpass the prey and populations decrease. Over time, the prey population recovers and begins to increase again and the cycle starts all over. It is natural.
Supply and demand has a natural ebb and flow of which any economist is aware. Our need for something grows so the producers make more, but inevitably that need plateaus or declines so there becomes a surplus of product. The result is that the price fluctuates based on this very process. That does not mean there is a problem or recession, it is the natural course of the economy similar to that of wildlife.
My point in all this is that life was made to go up and down. We were not made to have everything easy and abundant.
John 16:33b New American Standard Bible (NASB)
In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.
Jesus promised that we would have trouble. We will fall. We will sin. We will be sick. Like peace, the point of success should not be an absence of trouble, but trust in God to overcome it. We should not strive for our own prosperity so much as God’s holiness. Of course we should be diligent in our work and strive to do well, but our goal should not be fame, wealth, eternal youth, or anything else that is self motivated. Our goal should be to glorify God no matter what happens in this life. Spiritual “success” is more important than earthly, and the two usually do not coincide.
So when the inevitable fall comes, be it health, finances, moral, etc, we need to respond by turning to God. Rather than bemoaning “why did this happen to me” we should accept it as a course of life and strive for God. He has something to teach us in every “back-step” and if we will seek to learn it we will grow and gain true success.