Christians are sometimes suspicious of success. We are far better at failure. We can be “spiritual” about our own failures, but we can feel guilty when God blesses us with success. We can even process it pretty well when someone works hard and nearly succeeds. But when a fellow Christian really succeeds, many Christians start to get a worried expression. Some feel the need to express the warning, “Be sure this doesn’t go to your head.” Others may assume immediately that the person must have already compromised the faith simply because of the success.
Some Puritans had the view that if you were not being afflicted, God must not love you. Some even prayed for affliction because they felt left out. I know that’s hard to believe! But it seems so spiritual. So sometimes our natural instinct is to assume success and blessing must be the result of some compromise.
But God takes a different view. As my husband pointed out in a recent sermon (when we were in Virginia) some Christians want to stay on the Cross. They understand sin and that they are the chief of sinners, but they can’t get past that. They wallow in their own sinfulness and failure, and they stay there.
But Jesus saw the exaltation ahead of Him while He endured the Cross. We must realize that we are not just crucified with Him, and buried with Him, but we are also raised with Him and share in His exaltation at the right hand of the Father, where we are seated with Him. He is no longer on the Cross, and neither are we. He has triumphed over the grave, and we are in Him.
Other Christians have a different tendency. They want to skip the Cross all together and go straight to the crown. (Doug calls this “blab it and grab it.”) These believers can look at sickness or failure as the result of sin. So on one hand, we have Christians who are suspicious of success, and on the other hand, Christians who are suspicious of failure. But we must follow Jesus to the Cross before we can follow Him to heaven. Both are necessary.
Christians are often afraid of succeeding. They are not afraid to die, but they are afraid they might succeed and ruin their testimony (!). We can see this in evangelism, where we don’t expect many conversions. We can see this in our callings, where we don’t expect to really prosper, but just get by. And we can see this in our spiritual lives, when we don’t expect to really grow in grace and become strong in the Lord. We don’t expect God to bless us. The prodigal son returned home, hoping for a place among the servants. He was not expecting a ring, a robe, and a party with a band!
God loves His people. He wants to bless us. When some are granted surprising success, we should rejoice with them. We don’t need to feel that it is less spiritual to succeed than to fail. That’s not true. Success has its own set of temptations, just like everything else. We don’t need to get annoyed like the elder brother in the prodigal son’s story. Nor do we need to fear success.
Humility can receive success and rejoice in the deliverance and exaltation, in whatever form it takes. Paul learned to be content in plenty and in want, not just in want. He could do all things through Christ who strengthened Him. So we need grace for our afflictions and failures, and grace for our blessings and successes. But in all, we must remember we have the victory in Christ, who endured the Cross and now reigns at God’s right hand.