by Steven Chan
5 December 2010
We seek for success in all that we do and yet sometimes we fail to achieve the success that we hoped for. Why is that the case? Could it be because we fail to heed God’s instructions? Let’s consider what the Bible says about the success that is from God.
1. In Psa 127:1, the Bible declares: “Unless the LORD builds the house, they labor in vain who build it” It highlights the fact that we need God’s blessings for all that we do. So, the Psalmist urges us: “Commit your way to the LORD, trust also in Him, and He shall bring it to pass.”(Psa 37:5). In Luke 5:4-6, we read the interesting account about Simon and his effort to be successful in catching fish. “When Jesus had stopped speaking He said to Simon, “Launch out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” But Simon answered and said to Him, “Master, we have toiled all night and caught nothing; nevertheless at Your word I will let down the net.” And when they had done this, they caught a great number of fish, and their net was breaking.” This incident shows that when the Lord instructs us and we obey Him, success is assured regardless of our past experiences and what others may say – for with God all things are possible (Mark 10:27).
2. Consider the example of Nehemiah: When Nehemiah saw the ruins of Jerusalem after having been captured by the Babylonians in 586 BC, he spoke to those who were with him in Neh 2:17-18: “You see the distress that we are in, how Jerusalem lies waste, and its gates are burned with fire. Come and let us build the wall of Jerusalem, that we may no longer be a reproach.”
a. Nehemiah’s decision to re-build Jerusalem was done with God’s blessings. He sought God’s help from the very beginning. When he first heard that “the wall of Jerusalem is also broken down, and its gates are burned with fire”, he “sat down and wept, and mourned for many days; he was fasting and praying before the God of heaven. And he said: “I pray, LORD God of heaven, O great and awesome God, You who keep Your covenant and mercy with those who love You and observe Your commandments, please let Your ear be attentive and Your eyes open, that You may hear the prayer of Your servant which I pray before You now, day and night, for the children of Israel Your servants, and confess the sins of the children of Israel which we have sinned against You. Both my father’s house and I have sinned. We have acted very corruptly against You… O Lord, I pray, please let Your ear be attentive to the prayer of Your servant, and to the prayer of Your servants who desire to fear Your name; and let Your servant prosper this day, I pray, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man” (Neh 1:3-11)”
b. It began with his confession of sins and then a request for God to listen to his prayer and for God to prosper him in his plan. The Psalmist says: “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear.”(Psa 66:18) Our sins separate us from God so that He will not hear our prayers (Isa 59:1,2). So it is important that we confess our sins and ask for forgiveness from the Lord so that our prayers will be heard.
c. When faced with those who sought to discourage him, Nehemiah replied: “The God of heaven Himself will prosper us; therefore we His servants will arise and build”( Neh 2:20). That’s the proper approach: We need always to ask: “Will God prosper us in this thing that we seek to do?” If so, then “we His servants will arise and build!”
d. Even though God will prosper them, the people still needed to have “a mind to work” (Neh 4:6). “Lazy people stay at home; they say a lion might get them if they go outside” (Prov 22:13, GNB). Lazy or slothful people cannot expect God’s blessings. The Bible says: “If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat…” for such would be walking in “a disorderly manner, not working at all, but are busybodies”(2 Thess 3:10-11). So, those who pray for God’s blessings but refuse to go out and work cannot reasonably expect God to bless them with success.
3. In order to have God’s blessings, we need to pray with motives that will glorify and honour God. Some pray but do not receive. The Bible provides the answer in James 4:3: “You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures.” Our motivation for wanting God’s blessings should be re-examined. Is it merely to spend it on our pleasures? It is not uncommon to hear some say: ‘I want to be a millionaire by 30 years old so that I can then say to myself: “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry” (Luke 12:19) or financial independence and freedom from work.’ Is that the attitude that Christians should have?
Let’s consider what the Bible says about why we need to be gainfully employed:-
That we may provide for ourselves and for our own family: 1 Tim 5:8: “But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”
This providing for the family is:-
i. not only downwards (i.e. for our children) but
ii. upwards (for our parents) as well as for
Iii. all our relatives or family members who are in need: in 1 Tim 5:16: “If any believing man or woman has widows, let them relieve them, and do not let the church be burdened, that it may relieve those who are really widows.”
One commentator, Albert Barnes, observes thus: “Nothing can be more unreasonable than to leave those who are properly dependent on us to be supported by others, when we are able to maintain them ourselves”. Family members should not contravene their God-given responsibility of caring for their own, by passing that responsibility to others, such as the church.
b. Probably as part of (a) above, we also engage in gainful employment so that we may also save some money for our children: 2 Cor 12:14: “For the children ought not to lay up (save up) for the parents, but the parents for the children.”
In case children think that they have no responsibility towards their parents, consider the 4th commandment: “For God commanded, saying, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death.’ But you say, ‘Whoever says to his father or mother, “Whatever profit you might have received from me is a gift to God”– then he need not honor his father or mother.’ Thus you have made the commandment of God of no effect by your tradition.”(Matt 15:4-6).
God requires us to honour our parents – and that involves more than just saying “I love you” or “I honour you”; it requires us to take care of them and to provide for them when they are old and/or in distress – including monetarily. We cannot possibly get out of this God-given responsibility towards our parents by arguing that we have given our funds or efforts toward serving God. To fail in this responsibility is “to deny the faith and is worse than an infidel” (I Tim 5:8)
c. So that we can share with those are in need: Eph 4:28: “let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need.” God expects us to always remember the poor and needy (James 1:27). Prov 14:31: “He who oppresses the poor reproaches his Maker, but he who honors Him has mercy on the needy.” Prov 19:17: “He who has pity on the poor lends to the LORD, and He will pay back what he has given.” 1 John 3:17-18: “But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him? My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth”.
Paul summed it up very clearly in Acts 20:34-35: “Yes, you yourselves know that these hands have provided for my necessities, and for those who were with me. I have shown you in every way, by laboring like this, that you must support the weak. And remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’
Brethren, what is our motivation for gainful employment? Is it 100% self-centred? Should we not consider what we can do for the needy, for the Cause of Christ, as well as for the support of full-time gospel preachers?
4. We need to have God’s Word as our daily guide and His Word must guide our steps. In Joshua 1:8-9, after the death of the great leader, Moses, God assured Joshua of how he will have success: “This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.” Although spoken to Joshua, the principle is equally applicable to us today as was also stated in Psalms 1:1-3: “Blessed is the man (whose)… delight is in the law of the LORD, and in His law he meditates day and night. He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also shall not wither; and whatever he does shall prosper.”
5. We need to acknowledge that “the blessing of the LORD makes one rich”(Prov 10:22) and the Israelites were reminded always to “remember the LORD your God, for it is He who gives you power to get wealth” (Deut 8:18). Isa 48:17:”I am the LORD your God, who teaches you to profit, who leads you by the way you should go.” James 1:17: “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights.”
In striving for success, one should remember what the Lord taught in Luke 12:15: “And He said to them, “Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses.” Ultimate success as defined by God is not the abundance of our possessions. In 1 Tim 6:7-12; 17-19, the apostle Paul wrote thus: “For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. But you, O man of God, flee these things and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness. Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life…Command those who are rich in this present age not to be haughty, nor to trust in uncertain riches but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy. Let them do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to give, willing to share, storing up for themselves a good foundation for the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life.”
Hence, the ultimate success that we need to strive for (and which would be given by our Lord) is to “fight the good fight of faith, and lay hold on eternal life”(1 Tim 6:12). Mark 8:36-37: “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?”
Whether we are blessed with many abilities or few, our ultimate success is to hear Him say: ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.’ (Matt 25:21-22,23). Our Lord says: “be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life”.(Rev 2:10)