Last week Sam opened our series called ‘Success.’ Sam did a great job kicking the series off. He opened his talk and addressed how people outside the church, who oftentimes have been hurt, label church people as hypocrites or judgmental. The reality is church people are people, too. We are just as messy and hurt as everyone else. Sam challenged us to remember, going to church doesn’t fix our mess. In fact, there is work to be done in our hearts. Do you remember when Sam pointed out, oftentimes we accept Jesus, experience Jesus, go to church and think, ‘I have arrived.’ Sam said, ‘No, you have just begun your journey. There is work to be done.’
Sam set me up so well for this week. He ended his talk with this question, ‘What is spiritual success to you?’ That’s what we jump into today. To begin, let’s quickly look at what success looks like in our world.
Real quickly, I want to give you context about the subject of success. Do we want you to succeed at life? Yes. We want you to work hard, be competitive and win trophies. We want you to work hard, study and get great grades. We want you to go into business and make a great profit. Yes, we want you to succeed on this world. However, the greatest success, Jesus taught, is being fully surrendered to Him.
The problem we face is that many people pursue the success of this world because that is what people see. Success in sports, music, grades, business, etc. The greatest success is what people don’t tend to pursue because it is what people can’t see. So as successful as we my seem to those around us, we may be empty inside. For example, if you are successful in sports but not surrendered to Jesus, it will leave you empty.
Do you see what we mean when we say context for success? Let’s talk about how our world views success.
First, in our world we measure success by what we own. We then compare ourselves with others to see how we are doing. This way of living becomes so normal to us, we begin to believe our self-worth is wrapped up in the stuff of this world. Money. Beauty. Titles at work and the perks. Degrees we have earned at school. Talent we have in sports or music.
In our world, we look to wealthy people and say, “They have it made.” And that is what we pursue to find self-worth.
Second, in our world we measure success by what others think of us. As shallow and empty as that is, it has an enormous pull on our hearts. We really do care, too much, about what others think of us. What will others think about me? What career should I have? What school will my kid go to? What if I don’t start for my team – worse – what if my kid doesn’t start? What clothes do I wear? What car do I drive? We can live this way for so long something terrible happens. When someone gives us a compliment, our self-worth skyrockets and when someone criticizes us, our self-worth is shattered. This is a sign that we are not centered.
In our world, we look at the lives of people that appear to be perfect and say, “They have it made.” And that is what we pursue to find self-worth.
Third, in our world we measure success by what we do or how we perform. We want achievement to prove our self-worth to ourselves and to others. We believe something awful. “I am valuable if I achieve. I am worthless if I fail.” If that isn’t bad enough, then we can’t stop achieving. We struggle to believe we have achieved enough, we must achieve a little more. How do we treat others? How do we view our kids? We weigh and measure them through their achievements.
In our world, we look at those who have achieved and say, “They have it made.” And that is what we pursue to find self-worth.
Then God enters our world through Jesus. Jesus taught what spiritual success looks like.
3 They are blessed who realize their spiritual poverty, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to them. 4 They are blessed who grieve, for God will comfort them. 5 They are blessed who are humble, for the whole earth will be theirs. 6 They are blessed who hunger and thirst after justice, for they will be satisfied. 7 They are blessed who show mercy to others, for God will show mercy to them. 8 They are blessed whose thoughts are pure, for they will see God. 9 They are blessed who work for peace, for they will be called God’s children. 10 They are blessed who are persecuted for doing good, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to them. NCV Matthew 5:2-10
The way our world defines success is in complete conflict with how Jesus defines success.
Let’s talk about what spiritual success is. Spiritual success is a life fully surrendered to Jesus. And because that can seem fuzzy, let’s be a little more detailed. Five possible gauges in our lives to see spiritual success.
Gauge 1. I spend time with Jesus and it leaves me content, non-defensive, and free from the approval or disapproval of others. We call that courage. In my time with Jesus, voices that push in on me that say, ‘I am stupid,’ ‘I am worthless,’ ‘I am rejected,’ are drowned out with God’s love and approval of me. Because of my relationship with Jesus, I don’t enter my world with fear, I enter my world with courage.
Gauge 2. Because I am with Jesus, I am able to bring out the best in those around me, and that starts at home. We call that love. In my relationships I no longer try to leverage people to get what I want, I now see my role as joining Jesus to bring out the best in them. And when people disappoint me, and they do, I remember how much Jesus loves me when I disappoint Him.
Gauge 3. I want to be who Jesus created me to be and I am willing to wait for His timing. We call that patience. I am willing to be faithful, serve unnoticed as Jesus develops me. As frustrating as it can feel at times that nothing is happening the way I want, I trust God’s timing.
Gauge 4. I trust Jesus so much, I am able to allow life to unfold because I give up control and ego. We call that peace. I control what I can control, my character, my work ethic, my plans for the future. However, when things outside of my control happen, I trust that God is in control, and I can relax in Him. This includes being able to give up outward appearances of success to others.
Gauge 5. I am comfortable dealing with the reality of who I really am in my emotions and actions. We call that integrity. The things that pop up in my life, I deal with, I don’t stuff and ignore. I understand that it’s okay to not be okay and it’s okay to do something about it. And in dealing with the things that pop up, I am transparent, non-defensive, and give it the time it needs to find healing.
These gauges might be a great way to see if you are walking in spiritual success. If I were to wrap all this up in one word, I would go back to where we started and say, ‘Surrender.’ Spiritual success is surrender. And we can’t hide it. If we are fully surrendered, people see it and your family experiences it. If you are not fully surrendered, no matter how hard you try, you can’t fake it. People see it and your family experiences it.
38 As Jesus and the disciples continued on their way to Jerusalem, they came to a certain village where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. 39 Her sister, Mary, sat at the Lord’s feet, listening to what he taught. 40 But Martha was distracted by the big dinner she was preparing. She came to Jesus and said, “Lord, doesn’t it seem unfair to you that my sister just sits here while I do all the work? Tell her to come and help me.”
41 But the Lord said to her, “My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! 42 There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.” NLT Luke 10:38-41
How many of you have heard this story before? If you have heard it before, how many of you hate this story? Okay, because Mary and Martha were women, how many of you ladies hate this story? How many of you secretly think, I’m team Martha! The girl got stuff done! If everyone was like Mary, nothing would get done – right – just sayin? So, the follow up question has to be, ‘Did the disciples get food?’ Let’s face it, we think life would be better if we had more Marthas to get more things done. You need a Martha to get the kids on the bus. When the bus showed up at Mary’s house, she would be praying, her kids would miss the bus, and she would have to drive her kids in late.
This story is a little bigger than guys vs. girls. It’s a little bigger than who got fed that day. And it has nothing to do with who was right, who was wrong, who was good or bad. This story is about surrender. Let’s begin with this. Martha loved Jesus and Jesus loved Martha, they were friends. In fact, when Mary and Martha’s brother Lazarus died, Jesus came and raised Lazarus to life. They were all friends.
However, as much as Martha loved Jesus, she wasn’t surrendered. How do we know? Martha was in control. She knew a lot of guys were coming over. She knew a lot had to get done. So, the tasks that needed to be done became more important than spending time with Jesus. Martha’s way of living had become touchy, irritable, and anxious. As my girls like to say, ‘You don’t want to shake that soda.’ What is really interesting about this story is that Martha was so in control, and so stress filled, she was comfortable telling Jesus what He needed to do to get her sister to work more. Notice, everyone, including God, had to get on her page.
How about you? How do you live out your faith? Are you in control? Do you see all the things that need to be done, so much so, you don’t have time for Jesus? As much as you don’t want to admit it, are you constantly touchy, irritable, and anxious? And let’s be honest, people around you who are relaxed, they bug you don’t they? Your spouse, your kids, your co-workers. What are your prayers like, are you telling Jesus what He must do to get on your page?
Mary is different. She has surrendered her life to Jesus. How do we know? She was at peace. She was enjoying hanging out with Jesus. Yeah, a lot of guys were coming over. Yeah, a lot needed to get done. However, the tasks that needed to get done were not as important as being with Jesus. It is a special moment to have Jesus in your house. Mary chose to sit quietly and enjoy Jesus. She never tried to control others. She didn’t show signs of being touchy, irritable, or anxious. She didn’t demand that God and others had to get on her page.
How about you? How do you live out your faith? Are you at peace? Do you see all the things that need to be done and realize, I need Jesus before I do anything? Are you centered, are you relaxed? What are your prayers like, are you enjoying His presence?
What is similar between Mary and Martha? They both loved Jesus. Jesus loved them both. What was different? One wanted Jesus to do what she wanted. One of them was surrendered. Can you connect with what I am saying?
Is this a story about being lazy when tons of people are coming over for a party? If you have a party and have 25 people coming over, are we supposed to just do a Bible study and not go to BJs for supplies? It’s bigger than that. What we need to pull out of this story is simply, how are you living out your faith? Are you struggling to get God to do what you want Him to do? Or, are your fully surrendered?
Before His death, Jesus said;
24 I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat is planted in the soil and dies, it remains alone. But its death will produce many new kernels – a plentiful harvest of new lives. 25 Those who love their life in this world will lose it. Those who care nothing for their life in this world will keep it for eternity. 26 Anyone who wants to serve me must follow me, because my servants must be where I am. And the Father will honor anyone who serves me. NLT John 12:24-36
Same scripture in The Message Version
24-25 Listen carefully: Unless a grain of wheat is buried in the ground, dead to the world, it is never any more than a grain of wheat. But if it is buried, it sprouts and reproduces itself many times over. In the same way, anyone who holds on to life just as it is destroys that life. But if you let it go, reckless in your love, you’ll have it forever, real and eternal. 26 If any of you wants to serve me, then follow me. Then you’ll be where I am, ready to serve at a moment’s notice. The Father will honor and reward anyone who serves me. MSG John 12:24-26
Jesus, before His crucifixion, was explaining to His disciples, He must surrender His life and die. When that happens, Jesus will be resurrected and break the curse of death. Because of that, we are able to experience God’s resurrection power. If Jesus never surrendered His life, we would never be able to experience God’s resurrection power.
Jesus continues to explain what it means to be His disciple. You must die to your life in this world and love others. If you don’t die to your life in this world, you will only exist. You will pay the bills, mow the lawn, and shuffle through an empty life always looking for purpose and never able to find it.
Here is the point. Only what dies can God resurrect.
Now obviously Jesus was not talking about us dying physically or anything weird like suicide. He is talking about us surrendering our lives in this world to Jesus.
What area in your life do you struggle to surrender? Just to be clear, God can’t redeem that area until you surrender it. Let’s list a few areas. Money. Relationships. Sex. Wounds. Addiction. Jealousy. Anger. Greed. Control. Stress. Anxiety. Fear. Etc.
What is spiritual success? Jesus taught, spiritual success is a life fully surrendered. Five possible gauges to help us take that fuzzy thought and make it more practical.
Gauge 1. I spend time with Jesus and it leaves me content, non-defensive, and free from the approval or disapproval of others.
Gauge 2. Because I am with Jesus, I am able to bring out the best in those around me, and that starts at home.
Gauge 3. I want to be who Jesus created me to be and I am willing to wait for His timing.
Gauge 4. I trust Jesus so much, I am able to allow life to unfold because I give up control and ego.
Gauge 5. I am comfortable dealing with the reality of who I really am, emotions and actions. It’s okay to not be okay and it’s okay to do something about it.
What is spiritual success to you?
Let’s end with the words of Jesus and a few questions.
24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me. 25 If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it.” NLT Matthew 16:24-25
What has Jesus asked of you?
Remember, God can only resurrect what dies.