I’ve come to a realization lately. One component of our human nature is a craving for success. If we’re not careful, we can attempt to fulfill this craving by being better than someone else, or accomplishing something on our own. As Christians, this human nature isn’t sin in itself, but we need to be careful to not allow it to become sin.
How many sinners have entered a church, only to realize that everyone attending that church is judging them? How many Christians have started to doubt whether God is real, because they are successful “on their own merit”? How many fresh, new, vibrant Christian souls are silently removed from Christian fellowship because of a difficult personality or lack of job, relationship, education?
Whenever I look at my own personality, which is somewhat fluid, the one standout marker is a big fat J for judging (if you’re using Myers-Briggs at least). Now, the Holy Spirit has convicted me over and over again not to use this personality trait against people, and this personality trait in and of itself is not a bad thing. It is a very useful personality trait in making decisions. However, if I’m not careful, that aforementioned human nature of mine can even take this minor success in not judging people and twist it around. My thoughts can sometimes be, Wow, that’s so amazing what God has done in my life. I’m so grateful that I’m not like those other people around me who judge each other all the time. Oops. There I go again, being the Pharisee and lifting myself up only to put others down inadvertently. The first half of my thoughts was exactly on target, so why did my thoughts lead me astray?
Sin is not a behavior issue, it’s a heart issue.
I can try and work and do and be as best I know how, but there are a few things to avoid, or my outward success is like filthy rags.
- Failure to listen to God's still, small voice. The Holy Spirit convicts, but doesn't change our behavior. We are responsible for that half of the equation. Yes, God has convicted me to change that one aspect of my thought life, but if I don't continue to work at it, if I think I've somehow arrived at success, sin will creep back into my life.
- Half-hearted faith, love, or obedience. You may have heard it said that the Crusaders were baptized with their sword arm out of the water, because they were not dedicating that part of themselves to God, but rather to violence and war. What part of your body, soul, or mind, do you try to leave out? Have you prayed for God's help with a sin, only to pick it up again a few minutes later, thinking that God hasn't helped you yet? Maybe the problem is not God's answer, but your attitude when you did pray. Did you not really want to give up this particular sin? Do you truly not believe it is wrong?
- Patting yourself on the back. There was one church we went to only once during our search for a church near our new home. The reason we didn't go back? The sermon wasn't about improving yourself or deepening your walk with Christ, it was a celebration of what had already been done. We raised 800 cans of food, look what we did! I have no problem with raising cans of food, or even celebrating what God has done, but when all our accolades are self-focused, then we've already received our reward. When we focus all our efforts on our own success and feeling good about ourselves, we completely miss what God has done and is doing in our lives.
- Relying on conviction rather than change. There is a school of thought in the church today that if we go to a good church service, get a good convicting sermon on what needs to change in our lives, and then continue in the status quo, we are still successful. If we're not careful, we can live off of those vicarious feelings rather than an actual change in our mindset.
- A broken relationship with God. Sometimes, the only thing that changes in our hearts is a broken relationship with God. Maybe we've been hurt and are taking our pain out on God. Maybe we have unresolved sin in our life. Maybe we've started to doubt. Maybe we've simply stopped talking to Him, because we've gotten to busy. Maybe we think He doesn't hear us, or we don't need Him. Whatever the reason, if you find your thought or heart life starting to stray towards self-centered thinking, check your relationship with God. Do you not trust that everything you have comes from Him originally? Do you not trust that He created you for good, and for a purpose? Do you not believe that He will answer your prayers and help to keep you from sin, if you ask with faith?
I hope that no one takes this article as me talking about what I have already done to find success in this arena. The reason for me writing this, is that it's exactly what I'm struggling with right now. All of the above apply to my current life. It's not enough for me to rely on the above for my success. I need to write off all my success as filthy rags, and work on the heart of the matter.
I need to listen when God's voice tells me to do what's right. I need be "all in" when He calls me, no matter my personal preferences. I need to ignore those well-meaning people who try to pat me on the back for the one or two things I've done right "on my own". I need to take the conviction I feel now and use it to create real change in my life, rather than just a blog post.
But the first thing I need to do is fix my relationship with God. I need to fall on my knees and confess my doubts, my pride, my open defiance of His will in my life. I need to ask Him to heal my brokenness and focus my thoughts back on Him. I need to pray over all these things with faith, trusting that He knows what is good and will not lead me astray.
So, when I think I'm on top of the world, what I have to realize is that my thinking is upside down. My position on the ladder of success in this world is not the prize at the end of the race. The prize for fighting, changing, and living a difficult life trying to stay on the narrow road, is the look in His eyes on that final day, and whether or not He will say, "Well done, good and faithful servant." I don't feel that's something we can earn by being on top of this world.