No one gets up in the morning or goes to into their workplace calling and says, “I hope I’m not successful today.”
Success is something inherently desirable but equally dangerous, depending on your definition of success.
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We know that God desires to give us life to the fullest. He has plans and purposes for our lives that are far beyond our wildest dreams. He has good works that He created for us to do before He even formed the earth. God also has His own definition of success (read more on that here), that can look very different from our own.
- God loves to take the insignificant and make them important to His plans.
- God loves to take nobodies and make them into somebodies in His Kingdom.
- God loves to take nothing and make it into something for His glory.
You see it time and time again in scripture where God took the unknown and made them great. God alone gives success to us. In John chapter 3, John the Baptist is approached by his disciples and other Jews who tell him that Jesus, the Messiah, is now gaining all of their followers. John says something interesting that we need to take note of:
John answered, “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven.
(John 3:27 ESV)
Success doesn’t come from you and your abilities. Success comes from God and God alone. You make think you are the source of your success, but God knows the truth. And if you look at your success, and how you got to your place of blessing, you will see God’s hand in it every step of the way.
That is what happened in the lives of Gideon, Saul and Solomon. God took them from nothing and gave them success beyond themselves. He took their obedience and blessed it and made them great.
But then something happened. The success God brought into their lives ended up becoming their idol-the thing they valued above God-and their success became their downfall. Let’s take a look at those individuals, and how we can avoid their mistakes.
God took Gideon, from the least of the tribes and the least of his family and he used him and only 300 others to defeat a vast horde of enemies. (Read the full story here)
After Gideon’s victory, the people of Israel wanted to make him their king. So Gideon went from hiding from enemies to ruling over the whole land. I call that an overnight success!
But then Gideon does something, he asks for gold earrings from the spoils of the battle and made an ephod out of it. A trophy of his success. Look what God says about that trophy:
“Gideon made a sacred ephod from the gold and put it in Ophrah, his hometown. But soon all the Israelites prostituted themselves by worshiping it, and it became a trap for Gideon and his family.” (Judges 8:27)
Gideon’s success became a trap, not just for him, but for his whole family. Gideon valued the victory over the One who gave it to him.
Saul never wanted to be king of Israel. In fact, when God had the prophet Samuel anoint Saul to be the first king, Saul was hiding with the luggage instead of parading around with a crown on his head. God gave Saul overnight success. He went from looking for donkeys to ruling the nation. (Read the full story here)
But soon enough, Saul’s instant fame went straight to his head. He decided that he no longer needed to obey the God that brought him his success. He took the place of the priest and sacrificed to God before a battle; he disobeyed God’s instructions to destroy a people group; he lost God’s Spirit anointing; he tried to kill his own son; he was consumed by jealousy; he ended his own life in battle.
The bigger they are the harder they fall, right? God made Saul successful, and Saul turned his back on God.
The name alone gives us a definition of success. The wisest man who ever lived, but he didn’t start out that way. He was one of many sons of king David, the product of an adulterous relationship, and yet God chose to give Him success like no other king in the history of Israel. (Read the full story here)
Solomon had wisdom, peace in His kingdom, vast riches, and unparalleled influence. He was success with a capital “S”!
Yet, all of the riches and success given to Solomon became his undoing. He accumulated many thing, but felt empty inside. He gathered chariots, horses and had 300 wives and 700 other women on the side. He had it all, and had no satisfaction as he himself laments throughout the book of Ecclesiates.
Solomon took his eyes off God, and focused on his success instead.
What can we learn from these three men?
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1. Success can make us soft
Success is great, but once you have some of it you tend to relax. Trials and hardship keep us dependent on God, but success can make us independent, prideful and disobedient. Success can make us careless, because our worries and cares are diminished. Success can cause us put out less effort and rely too much on what we think are our own victories.
2. Success can make us blind
All of our success can blind us to our own impending doom. People can warn us, friends and family can express their concern for our detour away from God and towards our success, but we won’t listen to them. They are sounding the warning bell and we accuse them of just being jealous.
Success can make us blind to our own faults, and poor decisions. Success can cause us to be blind to the bigger picture of God’s Kingdom purposes.
3. Success can make us fall
Add together the softening and the blindness and you have a recipe for failure. Without heading the warnings from God and others; without being vigilant to maintain humility and focus on God, our success will only result in failure. And when successful people fail, they fail big. Either the failure will be big in a public way, or big in the number of people affected by it. Success left unchecked can ruin more lives than just your own.
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Success in the rights hands, heart, and head can be a great thing. God can use success to build His Kingdom, and carrying out His plans and purposes in awesome ways. Success doesn’t have to be your downfall. Here’s how to keep it in check.
The source-remember that the source of your success is God and God alone. Thank Him for it daily.
The heart-do a daily heart check. What is your motive in every action? Does your heart align with God’s?
The head-think straight by renewing your mind daily with God’s word. Are you listening to the warnings and concerns of others when they point out areas where you may be slipping?
The hands-keep serving others. Serving others keeps you from thinking too much of yourself.
Don’t let your success become your idol.
What about you?
Has God given you success?
What are you doing with that gift?
What other lessons can we learn from those who let success become their idol?
What other tools do you use to keep it from happening to you?