Today we are going to talk about success.  Now I want you to understand something that is really important as we get started here today.  How you define success on a personal level really matters.  So, why would your definition of success matter so much?  Let’s just sit in that thought for a moment, think about this, what is success to you?  What does it look like?   Even as I say those words, you are probably picturing a successful person in your mind…who is it?  What makes them a success?  For some of us, we may picture a professional athlete, holding up their championship trophy at the end of the season or a Gold Medal at the Olympics.  For some it may be a RockStar, with people chanting their name in a packed arena!  For others it may be someone extremely wealthy, with giant mansions, amazing cars, and a big boat or a private island.  Others may see someone who has risen to the top of their company or built their own company…maybe to some they see someone with a healthy and large family.  For a lot of pastors maybe they would see success as someone with a large church with lots of people in it…who and what do you picture when we talk about success.    This is really important, because how you view success is directing your life in many ways.  Think about what I just said.  Behind your motivation and getting out of bed in the morning is this desire to succeed…I don’t know too many people who wake up, get out of bed, and set the goal to be a failure…we want to succeed in life.  So how we view, and define success is a really big deal because it’s another big driver or motivator behind the direction your life is headed.  If your view of success is wealth, what do you think you will spend your time going after?  If your view of success is winning at whatever it is you do or interests you, that is what you will be devoted too.  If your view of success is popularity you will spend your days working towards that goal…do you see it?

This is why so many leadership trainings for an organization brings leaders and organizations back to how they define success…because it’s what they will end up striving for.  In a church, if the Pastor views success as how many people come to their church, they will have very different motivations and values and communications than someone who would define success as Spiritual Growth, or someone who defines success as placing God’s word His Truth in their communities’ hands.  And speaking just organizationally a lot of teams and organizations struggle and have tension because not everyone inside the organization defines success the same way.

So, how you view success is really important because in many ways that viewpoint or definition of success becomes the goal of your life and drives the way you live…and today we are going to look at how we define it personally, how Scripture defines it, which may change the way we view success moving forward, and also, we will look at our survey and how we people respond to Scripture’s definition of success.  This is going to be a lot of fun, and really leads us into our next Truth Statement in this big spring series called The Christian Atheist.  I think by now you know that this is a whole series really centering on Truth.  Truth isn’t necessarily something people are looking for these days and in many ways God’s word, His Truth, is so challenging…it makes me think of this Scripture in Hebrews.

Hebrews 4:12-13 For the word of God is alive and powerful.  It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow.  It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires.  Nothing in all creation is hidden from God.  Everything is naked and exposed before his eyes, and He is the one to whom we are accountable.  NLT

This is what truth does, it divides, and penetrates, it exposes who truly are, and forces a response, and we love you enough to press in on Truth and the reality of God’s word and what it can mean to our lives here with our church family.

This series really has centered around a study done last year by the Cultural Research Center of Arizona Christian University which surveyed 2,000 U.S. adults from four major groups: Evangelicals, Pentecostals, Mainline Protestants, and Catholics.  They surveyed them on a lot of different topics and the results were something we wanted to discuss with you, and to do that we are walking through the different Truth Statements, each Sunday.  It’s given us an opportunity to press in on many different important topics from truth and where it is and where it’s found, to theology and the importance of our belief system, to last week Ken pressing in on us about the importance of the Holy Spirit, so let’s look at our truth statement of the day.

Truth – Success is consistent obedience to God.  What do you think about this statement?  Is that anywhere close to how you would define or picture success?  I want you thinking about this.  While you are processing this truth statement, let’s go to our survey and see what the 2,000 Christians surveyed had to say about this.

Over 2,000 people surveyed said the following. Evangelicals 47% agree, 53% reject.  Pentecostal 52% agree, 48% reject.  Mainline Protestant 23% agree, 77% reject.  Catholic 16% agree, 84% reject. [Source:]

So around 60% of the Christians surveyed reject the idea that success is consistent obedience to God.  Now, remember we have already established how important our view of success is because it really is setting the goal of our lives.  So it’s huge on a personal level, but if you remember I also said it’s very important organizationally to teams, companies, and Faith Communities to be on the same page here as how we define a win or success…and what is interesting to me is that when it comes to Christians, you know The Body of Christ, we are not on the same page with what success is…it’s around a 60-40 split.  In a company or team this builds tension and doesn’t allow the organization to run at it’s best or most efficient or productive rate…so imagine what this 60-40 divide on what a win or success is, can do and is doing to God’s Kingdom work?  You know it’s a bummer for a company to not operate at its peak efficiency but it’s devastating to think that God’s Church would be split like this and unable to operate at peak efficiency in expanding God’s Kingdom…why is it devastating?  Well because when it comes to the Church, we aren’t talking about profit margins but eternal destinies!  Do you see why this is such an important conversation?  It’s a very personal one that has huge ramifications on your own life, but also on all of those around you too!  So, the enemy is doing a great job here, I mean think about it!  What a great way for a church family to spin its tires, and never get in sync with one another…just keep everyone having a different goal, and idea of what success is and then the church is not as good at reaching those who need God as we all do!  It’s interesting, because while we see us people kind of all over the map on our view of success, Scripture is actually very clear.  So, let’s turn to our Bibles and read about success.

The first place that we look at today comes in a defining moment for Saul, who was the first King of Israel…it’s actually the moment that the Kingdom is going to be taken from him…so not a great moment for the poor guy.  If you remember or know Saul’s story, he was a pretty reluctant King, hiding in the luggage from the Prophet Samuel, who eventually found him and anointed him king.  I often feel for Saul, we see him as the guy who resented, hunted, and tried to kill David but he was really thrown into leadership to run a nation and there weren’t exactly leadership seminars and trainings for him to attend to do so…but in a big moment, he has a big win, but doesn’t follow through on all that God asked him to do.  He defeats the Amalekites but was told to wipe them out completely by God…instead he spares the King’s life, and the best of the livestock and plunder…which breaks God’s heart and leads the Prophet Samuel to this big moment here, explaining what God is after for us all.

1 Samuel 15:22 But Samuel replied, “What is more pleasing to the Lord: your burnt offerings and sacrifices or your obedience to his voice? Listen! Obedience is better than sacrifice, and submission is better than offering the fat of rams. 23 Rebellion is as sinful as witchcraft, and stubbornness as bad as worshiping idols.  So, because you have rejected the command of the Lord, he has rejected you as king.” NLT

This is an intense moment, where Saul did a lot of what God asked, not all of it, and God speaks through the Prophet Samuel and explains what really matters to God…let’s read it again in the Message version.

1 Samuel 15:22 Then Samuel said, Do you think all God wants are sacrifices — empty rituals just for show?  He wants you to listen to him!  Plain listening is the thing, not staging a lavish religious production. 23 Not doing what God tells you is far worse than fooling around in the occult.  Getting self-important around God is far worse than making deals with your dead ancestors.  Because you said No to God’s command, he says No to your kingship.  MSG

This is such an intense moment, a heart breaking one for Saul for sure, where he learns the hard way what success really is to God, and it wasn’t making the troops happy, or looking that important to those around Him, or making a big religious show about things…no, success to God is obeying God’s will and commands for our lives.  I wonder how many of us would close our eyes and think of a King in a Castle as successful…but to God, the shiny crown, the nice throne, all the things that look successful to human eyes are nothing, success is following God’s will for our lives.   You know this makes me think of something in 1 John 5 that I have brought up from time to time with you in the past…it’s a really big deal and has a lot to do with obeying God’s will for our lives.  We will read a bit and then really focus on a verse or two.  Check this out.

1 John 5:1 Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. 2 This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. 3 This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, 4 for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. 5 Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.  NIV

So let’s really focus on verse three here, this is the key.

1 John 5:3 This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome. NIV

I have always loved the way the Message phrases this, calling this our proof, or our reality test on whether we love God or not.

1 John 5:2 The reality test on whether or not we love God’s children is this: Do we love God? Do we keep his commands? 3 The proof that we love God comes when we keep his commandments and they are not at all troublesome. MSG

So, before we dive back into success, I think we need to stop and just talk for a moment, because this really is the key to our lives and finding that life we talk about all the time that we all want and know Jesus came to provide.  Personalize this for a moment, what is your relationship with God like?  Is it marked with passion, freedom, energy, and joy?  Or is your relationship with God kind of a pain?  Getting up and doing the church thing is kind of a pain.  Striving to live a holy life, so opposite of those around me is kind of a pain.  It’s tiring not life giving.  It’s one more thing to do in a long list of things to do that probably ends up opposite of what you would like or those around you would like to be doing?  Is your relationship with God, your church experience, your life in Christ life giving or is it troublesome?

I want you to see something that is so important…if this God stuff is a burden, if it is troublesome…you need to understand something…the reason things are so hard for you is that you are still wrestling with God for control of your life.  Your view and goal of a successful life is very different from God’s…and I’m going to tell you the only way through, is to do the one thing we human’s struggle and wrestle with each day…and that is to submit and obey.  This is the struggle.  You want to do life your way, but you are starting to see that God may have a better way…the struggle is over consistent obedience.  This is why you struggle to worship, or serve, or enjoy life with Christ…because in the end, you still want to do what you want to do, when you want to do it…and can I tell you something, you are not alone in that.  Many of us struggle with this battle of God’s will vs our will in our lives…

So how does it make you feel to know that the proof that we love God comes when we obey His commands and when this God stuff isn’t troublesome or a burden to our lives?  If you are sitting here thinking good grief Sam, I’m really not doing well in this area, and I’m constantly wrestling with God, that should not discourage you, that should encourage you because now you know, and now you can invite God in to do something about it…and He will if you invite Him all the way into your life.  Not just as the Savior to keep you out of Hell, but as the Lord of your life, surrendering your life to Him and giving all of your heart over to Him.  Ask Him for a new heart, after all, it’s what God does!  He gives us a new heart and a new spirit, remember what that new heart is and what it is not?  That new heart is God-willed, not self-willed.

Ezekiel 36:26 I’ll give you a new heart, put a new spirit in you. I’ll remove the stone heart from your body and replace it with a heart that’s God-willed, not self-willed. MSG

So let’s get back to our Truth Statement today.  Do you remember what it was?

Truth – Success is consistent obedience to God.

Around 60% of the Christians surveyed don’t believe that is what success really is.  We turned to Scripture and saw that God is after obedience above religious shows and sacrifices, and that not doing His will is worse than messing around in the occult!  Those are some very intense words that God spoke through the Prophet Samuel.  We also saw that in the end, the reality test or proof that we love God is that we obey and follow His commands, and that if we love God then His commands for our lives aren’t work, they aren’t frustrating or troublesome…they are life giving.  It’s all about God’s will for our lives, and He even let us know through the Prophet Ezekiel that He will replace our hearts of stone with a heart that is God willed not self-willed.  So while 60% of Christians do not agree with this statement, I believe Scripture is so clear, success is consistent obedience to God which leads us into the abundant life Jesus told us that He came to provide for us all along.

So, I wanted you to really see something about success, in many ways how you define, or picture success is the goal for your life.  It’s the direction your life is heading and it’s the reason you do what you do.  So, whether that is to become very wealthy, or powerful, or popular, or retiring to a beach home somewhere, or having a big family, or building a mega-church, that vision of success is really the goal of your life.  It is so important then to really look at what success is because it becomes the goal for you, just like it does for an organization.  Do you know what a win is for you personally?  I am hoping by now you know what a win is for us here at MRC!  Do you know what a win or success is for the teams and organizations you are part of?  This is very important because that definition of success is directing the team, the organization, the church, and your personal definition or view of it is directing your life.  It’s the goal.  Jesus also talked about his goal for His time on this Earth and it’s really where I want to land the plane today.  He says that His goal…his nourishment is to do His Father’s will.

John 4:34 Then Jesus explained: “My nourishment comes from doing the will of God, who sent me, and from finishing his work. NLT

I want you to understand something about success.  Your view of success really is your goal…and anytime you set a goal for yourself, it’s important that the goal is realistically achievable.  If you can’t ever achieve the goals you set for yourself, well, that would be a really frustrating and defeating way to live life, wouldn’t it?  But if success is about consistent obedience to God’s will for our lives, it is absolutely achievable.  I love the idea of Jesus showing His disciples and all of us where His nourishment, His fulfillment…His success comes from here because He is setting us up to achieve success in our lives.  Where did it come from again?

John 4:34 Then Jesus explained: “My nourishment comes from doing the will of God, who sent me, and from finishing his work. NLT

There is a peace and a true contentment in this idea of consistent obedience, doing the will of God as the true definition of success in our lives.  There is also such a discontentment and restless way to go through life when success is beyond anything you could ever achieve.  Or when success is a race to things that are valued here on this Earth which are often so opposite of what God values.  You may never be a professional athlete, or a rock star, with crowds chanting your name.  You may never run a large company or sit on millions of dollars and have fancy cars, mansions, and yachts to float around on.  You may never achieve all you think your organization should achieve…which is tough if you are looking at those around you that maybe have a little more of this or a lot more of that.  But you and I, we can surrender our lives to Christ, and find true nourishment and delight and contentment and success in doing God’s will for our lives.

You know, I have an opportunity to sit and talk with people from time to time, and I will just tell you that most of our stress, anxiety, and tensions that we feel in life come from not understanding what success is in God’s eyes and living in it.  So much of our lives are spent wrestling with God’s will and what God is doing in our lives…even though we would all acknowledge He is doing what He does…He spins this world the way He wants…He sets the stars in the sky and all that is, we would agree with this Psalm here…

Psalms 115:3 Our God is in the heavens, and he does as he wishes. NLT

The interesting thing is that while we would all agree with this statement, we also struggle with the way life goes at times.  Look, as someone with four teenagers, and two churches I can honestly say, that I know I do.  I can tell you many times where I know confidently that what I am doing is exactly what God wants me to do, which I should see as success, but the outcomes aren’t quite what I want them to be!  I know they don’t sneak up on God, but this can be I can struggle when things aren’t going my way, I can struggle with defeat, depression, frustration, and anger internally even as I do God’s will because in the end it didn’t look like I thought it should.  I know our God is in the heavens and He is doing as He wishes.  I know I’m doing exactly what He asked me to do, I also know this is how God would see success for me, but the outcome still gets between me and peace in my own life!  I wonder if it does for you too.  I just still sit in the tension of having an idea of what everything should and could look like if it would just go the way I know it should and could go!  Do you see it?  Does this happen to you?  I think each and everyone of us has an idea of what life is supposed to look like in our minds.  But most of the time life doesn’t seem to go the way we plan or envision that it should…and we struggle, we complain, we get angry, and all of it is beyond anything we can control.  Do you see where the tension can be found here?  It’s in the wrestling match between my will and plan for my life and God’s will and plan for my life.  So, I would like to close with a series of questions today because I think it’s that important…and can lead us from anxiety and tension and restlessness to peace and contentment if we can track with this and personalize this today.

What is your definition of success?  Do you understand how important that question is?  If you have never asked yourself this question, I really want you to do so today.  Think it through.  How do you view success?

Is that view of success something that is attainable?  Do you understand that success is really the goal for your life?  If you set a goal that is unattainable it makes for a really frustrating existence.

Where do you line up on the truth statement of the day?  That success is consistent obedience to God?  Do you agree with that statement or disagree?  Do you see how maybe there would be some peace and life in that being true success, because we can all achieve it?  Does this concept excite you?  Or does it disappoint you?

When you take the reality test on whether or not you love God, which we found in 1 John 5 how do you test out?  Do you remember the test?

1 John 5:2 The reality test on whether or not we love God’s children is this: Do we love God? Do we keep his commands? 3 The proof that we love God comes when we keep his commandments and they are not at all troublesome. MSG

Do you find God’s commands for your life troublesome?  Is this God stuff hard?  Do you wrestle with God’s will versus your own will?  This is so important to see.

Do you believe Psalm 115:3 which states that Our God is in the heavens and does as He wishes?  Is that statement easier to believe when life is going as you planned than when things aren’t working out the way you would like?  How do you reconcile that statement when things are just not going well in life?  I will be honest and tell you for me it’s easier to buy into that when life is going the way I want!

When you think about Jesus’ statement to his disciples here in John 4 how do you feel?  What does this say to your heart today?

John 4:34 Then Jesus explained: “My nourishment comes from doing the will of God, who sent me, and from finishing his work.” NLT

Can you see this as a successful life?  Finding fulfillment and contentment in doing God’s will?  Isn’t there peace in that?  If you think about it, Jesus didn’t come to this Earth to impress people and build something flashy and exciting…in many ways he was a disappointment to Earthly eyes…he was nothing like what they hoped the Savior would be.  He didn’t build a major following at the time in fact most people walked away from Him…even the people paid to identify The Savior when He came to this Earth didn’t recognize Him because He was so opposite of what they wanted Him to be.  But Jesus was at total peace with who He was, and what He was doing because His nourishment…His success came from doing what His Heavenly Father wanted done…even when it was going to be as difficult as the Cross…even when no one responded to him the way He would have liked.

You know, there is a peace, and a joy, and a contentment, and an abundant life waiting for us when we wrap our minds and hearts around this idea, that success is consistent obedience and not all these things the world would view as success…and you get there as God transforms you, and replaces your heart of stone with a soft, new heart that is God willed not self-willed.

Truth – Success is consistent obedience to God…when that is true of your life, you find peace, joy, energy, freedom…and that life to the full that we have been searching for all along.  I find it so refreshing that Jesus makes success possible for us all by what He did for us on the Cross, and by modeling for us where true success is found!  It’s not found in the things of this world, but by finding our nourishment in doing God’s will for our lives…regardless of the world’s response, or any outcome we see…it’s found in consistent obedience to God.  There is peace, hope, freedom, and a joy found in understanding and having the faith and the Kingdom eyes to see true success in consistent obedience and a real restlessness and discontentment, and frustrating life that is found in looking for success in any other place other than in consistent obedience to God.