Success God’s Way

Proverbs 16:1-3

Is success a legitimate goal for believers? Is this something God wants for His children? The answers depend upon your definition of success. Many people define it as the achievement of wealth, prominence, or fame. If that’s what you’re seeking, then you are following the world’s definition, not the Lord’s.

In His eyes, true success begins internally—the first step is a relationship with Jesus, whereby you have trusted Him as Savior and are following Him obediently. His goal for you is ongoing growth in Christlike character and spiritual maturity, but that’s not all. He also has some work for you to accomplish here on earth (Eph. 2:10). God planned these tasks specifically for you and designed them with your personality, talents, abilities, and spiritual gifts in mind. You could think of them as your unique calling and responsibility in life.

Genuine success involves doing what the Lord has called you to do, not just occasionally but continually. It has to do with persistence rather than perfection. When this is your definition of success, you can know that the Lord wants you to succeed. And He’s committed to helping you become the person He designed you to be—and to accomplish the goals He’s set for you.

The ultimate evaluation of our success will take place when we stand before God and give an account of our life (Rom. 14:12). Any self-centered earthly achievements will be left behind. But if we’ve lived by His definition of success, our treasure will await us in heaven—along with the words “Well done!”



Following Christ

Matthew 10:24-42

Much of Christianity has a distorted view of discipleship. In our desire to see more people come to Christ, we may be guilty of offering a gospel that emphasizes the benefits of following Jesus while avoiding any mention of the cost involved.

However, Jesus didn’t shy away from speaking truth. He let people know that being His disciple would not be easy, because they’d be following in His footsteps. Since Christ didn’t sail through life without challenges, why should we? Our goal should be to become like our Savior, and that means we must be willing to suffer to one degree or another.

Contrary to what many contemporary sermons suggest, following Jesus may not make your relationships better. It could become a source of contention because a true disciple’s love, devotion, and loyalty to Christ supersedes every other relationship. If what a friend or family member desires contradicts what the Lord has commanded, then the choice must be to follow Christ rather than a loved one.

As Christians, we’ll frequently be tempted to compromise in order to avoid misunderstanding, criticism, rejection, or persecution. But as Christ’s followers, we are called to live a crucified life—and compromise undercuts the wholehearted nature of crucifixion. We cannot pursue the acceptance of the world and at the same time follow the Lord. Until we stand with both feet on the side of obedience, we forfeit assurance of God’s peace and blessings.  

Although discipleship is costly, the reward is great. Jesus promises to confess us as His own before God when we enter our heavenly home.



Living by Convictions

Romans 14:22-23

Have you ever had to take a stand against a barrage of opposing opinions in order to be true to Christ? Or has a group of friends or coworkers ever wanted to cut corners or participate in a sinful activity—and you were the only one saying no? When the godly voice is outnumbered, it can be challenging to speak up for righteousness.

We all have convictions that define who we are and determine our lifestyle and choices. We may like to think that these are a private matter, but in reality, they are constantly on display for all to see. That’s because we live them out each day with our words and actions.

Since convictions have a powerful influence, we should examine what ours are saying about us. Are they leading us to a righteous life in accordance with God’s will, or are they so weak that our life is dominated by the old fleshly nature?

God has given us principles from His Word to guide, protect, and help us lead godly lives. These standards are like guardrails that keep us from veering off track when temptations beckon. By holding firmly to these convictions, we follow a path that fits our identity in Christ. Instead of going along with the crowd, we’re to walk in God’s will and abstain from the sins that surround us in the world.

The time to establish our convictions is before we face temptations, not in the midst of them. We need solid, immovable biblical principles to shape what we believe and how we live.



Down The Hard Path

“Jesus commanded Peter, ‘Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?’”John 18:11

In Gethsemane, as Jesus agonized over the cross that awaited Him, He fell on the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me.” (Matthew 26:39). Jesus asked the Father if there might be some other way. But in the next breath, He also prayed, “Yet not as I will, but as you will.” Moments later, when the soldiers came to arrest Him, Jesus did not resist and told Peter not to resist either: “Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?” Knowing He could not avoid the cross, Jesus was now ready to embrace it.

If you find yourself facing stress in life that you just can’t avoid, by all means pray that if it’s God’s will, He will remove it. But once you’ve prayed, be willing to take up your cross and follow Jesus down that hard path.

Lord Jesus, show me how to embrace those hard things in life that I can’t avoid. But I also remember how many weights, worries, dangers, fears, and impossible situations—beyond count!—You have already removed from my shoulders. You remove far, far more than You leave. And then You give me strength to persevere.



Strength for the Fearful

Isaiah 41:9-13

I recommend that believers underline Isaiah 41 in their Bible and meditate on it frequently. When one of God’s people is seeking an anchor in turbulent times, this is the right passage for the job. Here, Isaiah writes about the source of Christians’ strength.

In Isaiah 41:10 alone, the Lord promises strength, help, and protection. Moreover, He gives two commands: “Do not fear” and “Do not anxiously look about you.” Among Satan’s subtle and successful traps is the art of distraction. The evil one knows that fear can choke faith. He works hard to make unsettling circumstances a person’s sole focus. Once a believer’s attention is diverted from God, natural human tendencies take over. In the absence of prayer and worship, anxiety and doubt grow unobstructed.

Staying focused on the Lord can be hard. The flesh prefers to seek security by thinking through all possible angles. Our tendency is to weigh what we think could happen against what “experts” say will happen, and then to evaluate possible ways of preventing our worst fears from coming true. Instead of becoming more confident, we begin to realize how powerless we are. Thankfully, we serve an almighty God who says, “Surely I will help you” (Isa. 41:10). We can count on Him.

By focusing on our circumstances, we’re actually choosing to feel anxiety and doubt. But these emotions don’t belong in a believer’s daily life. Instead, let’s decide to trust in the promises God has given us. He’s filled His Word with scriptural anchors to keep His children steady in the faith.



Thirsty?

Jesus answered and said unto her, “Whosoever drinks of this water shall thirst again: But whosoever drinks of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.” John 4:13-14

Have you ever been outside working in your garden or bicycling or playing football and become very thirsty? You go inside and perhaps grab a soda. It tastes great and seems to hit the spot.

You return to your activity; you get thirsty again and go for another soda. It’s satisfying at first, but just doesn’t seem to keep you quenched. Finally you fill a tall glass with water and you’re satisfied.

Why? If you look at the ingredients on the soda container, it says it’s artificially colored and/or flavored and/or sweetened. It doesn’t have that touch of authenticity.

Many are trying to satisfy their thirst with things that are artificial when what we all need is the water of life! When was the last time you quenched your spiritual thirst with the sparkling refreshment of time spent with God?



The Sacrificial Lamb

Hebrews 10:1-14

God’s grace has no limits. His mercy can reach the darkest part of our heart. What’s more, the forgiveness Jesus offered on the cross stretches back to earth’s first day and forward to its last. Christ not only erased our past, present, and future sin; He also paid for the wrongs of every generation.

When the Israelites brought a goat or a lamb to the temple for a sacrifice, they placed their hands on its head and confessed their sins. The priest then killed the animal and sprinkled some of its blood on the altar of atonement. The ritual symbolized a confessor’s payment for sin. But the lamb could not actually take on the sin and die in place of the Israelite (Heb. 10:4).

If an animal’s blood could actually erase a sin-debt, we’d still be offering those frequent sacrifices and Jesus’ death would have been unnecessary. Yet we must remember that though the act itself had no saving power, the ritual of sacrifice was God’s idea (Lev. 4:1-35). He established such offerings as a powerful illustration of the seriousness and penalty of sin. The practice also pointed to Christ’s perfect sacrificial death on our behalf and the salvation He offers. To use a modern metaphor, sacrifice can be thought of as similar to a credit card. God accepted the lamb’s blood as temporary payment. When the bill came due, Jesus Christ paid the sin-debt in full.

Modern believers do practice certain biblical rituals, but we are not pardoned through prayer, Bible reading, or even the act of confession. Like the Israelites, we must also look to a lamb—the Lamb of God. When we receive Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins, we are forgiven forever.



The Christ-Centered Life

2 Corinthians 5:14-15

If someone asked if your life is centered on Christ, how would you respond? Oftentimes a Christ-centered life is equated with going to church, giving, praying, reading the Bible, and talking to other people about Jesus. However, did you know that even if you do every one of these things, it’s still possible to live a life that is controlled by self rather than Christ?

This is because our motives may be self-centered. Religious activities can be done for a variety of reasons that have nothing to do with our love for Jesus. We could be seeking to relieve feelings of guilt or to make ourselves feel better or look more righteous. Perhaps we read the Bible to quickly find a verse that affirms us. Or prayer might be our attempt to get God to do what we want.

The answer is not to give up on these good activities but to shift our focus to Christ and what He desires. Our battle with self is one that will continue as long as we live in these earthly bodies. That’s why Paul tells us to “lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted,” and to “put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth” (Eph. 4:22; Eph. 4:24).

A Christ-centered life is fueled by love for the Savior, which flows from increasing knowledge of Him. And we learn to know Jesus more intimately through reading, praying, and quietly abiding in His presence. As Christ increases in our mind and heart, we’ll discover that our self-focus decreases and He becomes the delight of our lives.



Walk by Faith, Not by Sight

Matthew 14:22-33

Throughout His ministry, Jesus repeatedly commended people for faith and reproved others for a lack of it. Faith is of great importance because it’s required for salvation. It’s also essential after we’re saved, as we are to continue living by faith—that is, by the firm conviction God will do what He has promised. This requires us to stay focused on the Lord. If we take our eyes off Jesus and start looking at circumstances, our confidence in Him could begin to wobble.

A good example is Peter’s experience of walking on the Sea of Galilee. He started out confident, but as soon as he looked away from Jesus and saw the wind, human reasoning took over. The apostle thought, People can’t walk on water!—and his faith faltered. We’re just like Peter when we know what God has said but try to add our logic to His commands.

Another reason we falter is that when we focus on the circumstances instead of on Christ, little problems can seem huge and start to dominate our thoughts. That’s why we must consider every situation in the light of our great God, who can handle anything and everything.

Sometimes the problem is that we can’t see God in our circumstances. He’s promised to take care of us, but He may provide in a way other than what we want. Or, we may think the Lord couldn’t possibly be in the midst of a difficult or painful situation. But He is, and He works everything for our good if we belong to Him (Rom. 8:28).

Are you walking by faith or relying on your senses and reasoning? Walking by sight brings anxiety and fear, but faith produces peaceful confidence.



Why Do We Doubt?

James 1:1-8

How would you currently characterize your faith? Is it up one day, down the next? The short book of James contains practical advice for those whose faith fluctuates because of difficult circumstances. When we start doubting God and His Word, we’re driven and tossed about like the surf of the sea.

James says a double-minded man is unstable in all his ways and should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. To be double-minded is to go back and forth in our thinking. We may begin with strong confidence in God, but as time goes by and the difficult situation continues, we may start to doubt that the Lord will do what He’s promised.

Doubting and questioning are not necessarily the same thing. Questioning is seeking to gain further information in order to better understand what God has said. Doubting, on the other hand, involves believing what we think, see, or feel rather than what we know He has said.

It’s natural for us to question when we’re suddenly overwhelmed by a distressing turn of events. God understands our struggle and wants us to come to Him with our pain and confusion. Sometimes He has to sift our thinking by reminding us of His truth or His past faithfulness to us in a similar situation.

Even though we may not understand all that God is doing through our trials, we can rely on what He’s revealed: The testing of our faith produces endurance and spiritual maturity, and it supplies something we lack. Knowing this, we can trust the Lord to accomplish His good and perfect will through the situation—and rejoice in how He will transform us.