Modern society is success oriented. But toward a success which is always measurable, provable, and often enviable. Successful businesses earn more money. Successful parents turn out children who become professionals, who in turn climb to the top of their profession. And successful writers publish best sellers.
But what does success mean in God’s upside down kingdom? The kingdom, which in natural terms, makes no sense whatever. Just take a look at some of his prominent messengers — the prophets. If I started seeing the things the prophet Ezekiel saw, in Ezekiel 10:1-13, I’d wonder if I was losing my mind! Wheels inside of wheels, with faces, and bodies, and arms?!
And God sometimes called his prophets do crazy things too:
- Isaiah walked around naked 3 years, (Isaiah 20:3). Read verses at Bible Gateway.
- Ezekiel cooked food over a fire from human excrement while lying down for a year, (Ezekiel 4:4-5).
- Jeremiah went about naked, after hiding his underwear under rocks (Jeremiah 13.1:11), and later wore a yoke around his neck, (Jeremiah 27:2).
- And John the Baptist lived off honey and locusts, wearing animal skins out in the desert, (Matthew 3:4).
We tend to think of God’s call to ministry as a call to success.
But living by God’s principles — which turn everything around — could instead make us seem as crazy as the prophets!
- We find by losing, (Matthew 10:39).
- We live by dying, (Galatians 2:20).
- We become exalted by humbling ourselves, (Matthew 23:12).
- We receive by giving, (Luke 6:38).
- By serving we become great, (Mark 10:43-44).
- Our weakness is our strength, (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).
- We labor to find rest, (Matthew 11:29).
- We become great by becoming small, (Matthew 18:4).
To the natural mind this makes no sense.
In forgiving our enemies, we’re seen as weak. Walking away from great success, seems foolish. And if we teach our kids that any simple honest job is more noble than a corrupt high level position, others think we’re senseless. Just as they do with countless other “upside down” choices.
- You’ve got a degree — and “only” work in a factory?
- You quit a high-profile job — to stay home and be “just” a mother and homemaker?
- You sold your big fancy house — to live in a tiny cabin?
- Or you got rid of your luxury car — to drive that old jalopy?
Questions asked, usually in disbelief, with a hint of disdain. Implying that we’re surely not be quite right in the head.
Society constantly pushes toward the bigger, better, on-top lifestyle. Trying to convince us not only that it is the most desirable, but that we deserve it.
But what does God think of it?
In his kingdom does success mean bigger churches, larger crowds, famed teaching, big names, best-selling books, or the largest followings on blogs and social media?
Not according to Christ. Because, to him the great and successful are those who:
- Are poor in spirit, and see their need of God.
- Mourn their own sinful, carnal nature.
- Are meek, because they see their own faults and failings.
- Hunger and thirst after righteousness.
- Have pure hearts.
- Are peacemakers.
- Are willing to face persecution for doing right.
“Greatness in the kingdom of God is measured in terms of obedience,” (John Stott).
Without obedience, faith remains nothing but a good theory. Platitudes made meaningless by ineffectual, or even hypocritical, lives.
But disciples who have joyfully obeyed, giving their all to follow the Lord have, down through the ages, left their mark. And turned the world around them upside down.
Like Mary, whom the Lord used to birth our Savior. The apostle Paul who brought the gospel to the Gentiles, and thereby to us. Martin Luther who dared defy established religion’s heresies. William Wilberforce who brought about the end of slavery in 18th century Great Britain. And Elisabeth Elliot who lost her husband in taking the gospel to an unreached people.
Men and women, who in one way or another, in the eyes of the world, seemed like failures. And who, clinging to the upside down kingdom, faced maltreatment, insults, being misunderstood, and even death.
Failures in the eyes of the world. But of whom the world was not worthy.
Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated—of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect, (Hebrews 11:35-40).
Which success are we worthy of? Which success do we want to be worthy of?
[Image ©The Scorziellos-Mario]