Sunday, July 13, 2014

Success on God's Terms, Not Ours

God wants us to succeed. But what we call "success" isn't exactly what God thinks of as succeeding.

We learn what God wishes us to be as human beings from the life, teachings and example of Jesus, whom He chose to be our Moral Standard.

Many who do not recognize Jesus as our Teacher and Moral Standard - and many who claim they do - believe God is in the business of showering us with material goods, that he is secretly manipulating the universe to make us wealthier, healthier and have better job and dating prospects, often by throwing roadblocks in front of others.

But God isn't a master manipulator, a "Mob Boss" who "fixes" our lives for those who say the right magic words in His name.

Jesus and the rest of the Hebrew Scriptures tell us it rains on both the righteous and the unrighteous (Matt. 5:45) and that God has no favorites upon which he grants "wishes," nor can He be bribed or cajoled as if he was a genie - or one of the pagan deities (Deut. 10:17.) God simply doesn't work that way.

In truth, Godly success means that we follow God's Moral Laws, and that our lives conform to Him, not to the material things and pleasures we believe we want, desire or covet.

Jesus tells us specifically that we must not focus on the acquisition of material goods.

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." (Matt 6:19-21)

Jesus says clearly that salvation will not come from becoming extremely rich (Mark 10:23.) How different this is from today's Christian pastors, many of whom teach their flocks that "God wants you to be rich."

What Jesus preached was consistent with the Wisdom of hte Hebrew Scriptures.

"Whoever trusts in his riches will fall, but the righteous will flourish like a green leaf." we learn from the Proverbs (11:28.)

The Pslamist writes, "Though your riches increase, do not set your heart on them" (Psalm 62:10.) And warns about those who, "trust their riches and brag about their abundant wealth" (Psalm 49:6.)

Sirach the preacher says whoever pursues money will be led astray by it, and wisely notes that obsessing over acquiring wealth "wastes away the flesh" and drives away sleep." (Sirach 31.)

Jesus and the Hebrew Bible instead both call us to be rich in Righteousness, even if we are poor in our finances. They both preach that riches are judged by what we accrue in Heaven, not on earth. And both teach that poverty in spirit is worse than poverty in material wealth. In fact, material wealth often gets in the way of spiritual wealth.

So, the question may arise: Can we be "successful" if God isn't manipulating the Universe for our personal gain and benefit? Yes, we can. But success must not be defined by our earthly conquests or our purely selfish desires.

God's Will for us is that we conform ourselves according to Godly Righteousness, relying on God's grace and help to grow closer to that ideal every day as we confront whatever happens to us. In that way, as Jesus' brother James says, our tested faith makes us spiritually perfect (James 1:2-3.)

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