Success Rediscovered


Success is measured in different ways. Interestingly, success at age 16 and age 80 is roughly the same. It’s having a driver’s license. Success at age 4 and age 90 is roughly the same. It’s not wetting your pants. My sweetheart had some surgery on her eye today. It was successful. But then again, I may have missed the window of opportunity for a wedding when she can see clearly.

Somewhere in between, the world defines success as achieving goals or attaining wealth, position, or honor. There’s evidence of that in the Bible. The following things are all labeled success by the biblical characters and writers:

  • Servant finding a wife for Isaac (Gen. 24:12)
  • Attained status even as a slave (Joseph, Gen. 39:2)
  • David killed enemies (1 Sam. 18)
  • Getting permission to build the wall (Neh 1-2)
  • Building the temple (2 Chron. 7)

But isn’t it interesting that we all know that money, position, or achievement (or the lack thereof) doesn’t always spell success? It’s something else. And some of the greatest heroes in the Bible don’t look successful much of the time by the worldly definition of success:

  • Moses (didn’t even make it into the promised land)
  • David (morally wasn’t a success. Family was a train wreck. Caused a plague that killed 70K)
  • Peter (was called Satan. Sank in the water when Jesus called him out of the boat. Denied Jesus and wasn’t around for the crucifixion. Lost a race with John to the empty tomb)
  • Paul (was beaten, imprisoned, shipwrecked, couldn’t get along with people, was arrogant, sexist, and easily annoyed)

I. WHAT IS SUCCESS? Encountering God

  • Success = encountering God. If you just deal with information, you’re never transformed.
  • If you don’t encounter God, you will actually try to protect yourself from God.

Does the Bible narrative point this out? I believe it does:

  • Moses in Exod. 33:15-16. Then Moses said to him, “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. 16How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?”

  • David in Psalm 27:4. One thing I ask from the LORD, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple.

  • Jesus in Luke 10:40-42. 40But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” 41“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42but few things are needed—or indeed only one. f Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

  • Peter in John 6:67-69. From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. 67“You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve. 68Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.”

  • Paul in Phil. 3:7-8. 7But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ

  • Jesus in John 5:19-20: “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. 20For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does. Yes, and he will show him even greater works than these, so that you will be amazed.

  • John in 1 John 2:6. Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.

  • If we don’t encounter God throughout our lives, we are stuck in things that are merely human, material, temporary, and weak (at best). And perhaps we are stuck in things that are outright evil.

Jesus himself asked the question in Matt. 16:26. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? The best definition of success is when someone encounters God. Jesus said in John 6:45, Everyone who has heard the Father and learned from Him comes to Me.


  • In a word, if we don’t trust in his basic character and trust in the basic nature of the Kingdom, we will have trouble encountering God.
  • To encounter God, you need to understand who he is and the world he has made. Fortunately, this isn’t complicated. There are only 2 world views to choose from. (Separation or Connected)
  • Unfortunately, we almost always choose the wrong world view.

A. Separation World View

  • Believes (consciously or subconsciously) that separation from people not like me is a good thing (politics, race, age, gender, nationality, opinions, news source, car you drive, neighborhoods, denominations, rank at work, teams, etc.).
    • Believes that getting rid of the competition would be good.
    • Scarcity: There’s not enough ____.
      • Hebrew Slaves coming out of Egypt: Not enough hours, not enough time, not enough straw.
      • Harvard: Undergrads have an IQ roughly 40 points above the average person. But there are just a few who can get in. The competition is so tough that no one can have fun or a good experience. Students are miserable.
      • Growing up on a farm. My parents were influenced by the Great Depression and WWII. We had to ration everything including water when we brushed our teeth. Waste not, want not. We didn’t get rid of old farm equipment because we might need a part of it.
    • Certainty: I have to do it just right.
      • Hebrew Slaves: Lived in a world of chaos. They had to be certain of what their taskmasters wanted. They didn’t control their own destiny at all.
      • Harvard: Kids felt pressure from their earliest memories. Had to get into the right schools. Had to have the right things on their resumes. Even had to be the right ethnicity to fill the limited spots available.
      • I had to be right in what I did to get approval. I couldn’t disappoint anyone. I had to be certain because God is certain. He had one decision in mind for me to make. And I had to seek him out to make the right decision.
    • Perfection: I can’t make a mistake or I’ll never have this chance again.
      • Hebrew Slaves: Failure didn’t lead to being fired. It led to beatings and even death.
      • Harvard: You have to have the highest scores. Parents would consider themselves failures if the students didn’t believe this and try to achieve it.
      • My mom and report cards. Came home with all A’s and she said, “couldn’t you do better than that?” Tried to be better than what I really was. My reputation became more important to me than character, and I learned to hide my flaws and get mad when people pointed them out. I took on an identity that God never asked me to take on.
    • Self-Interest: I have to beat ___ and get what’s mine. Take care of #1. Self-protect and self-promote. If you take advantage of me once, shame on me. If you take advantage of me twice, shame on me.
      • Sound familiar?
      • Some of the people at Harvard starting crying when my mentor pointed out how this world view shapes us. They came face to face with the reality of their lives and the lack of joy they had.
      • Every human being is living in a separated world view, and they don’t know it. It’s creating their fear of not being enough, isolated, alone, powerless.
    • This is the world view for a poverty mindset as well as for perfectionists and over-achievers.

B. Connected World View

  • Do you know why Moses wrote the account of creation? It wasn’t so that thousands of years later we could have a debate about creation vs. evolution. It was to help a bunch of slaves (people who had not experienced freedom for 400 years) to see God’s original heart and the world he made. All they knew about God was that he didn’t care enough about them to set them free. He did nothing when they were beaten or abused. Their identity was slaves, and their value came from the production of bricks. They were in bondage to the empire. When they failed, they got killed (not get a different profession).

    • Connected: We have to stick together or we die. Take the wolves out of Yellowstone and the fish die. Creation and nature scream out that we’re all connected.
      • Day 1: Darkness was already there. Is darkness bad? We think of it as bad, but is it? Where was the Spirit of God hovering? Over the darkness. He works in the chaos. Is he good? YES! Why are we afraid of our worst darkness and believe we have to get it fixed before we can come to God? The Spirit is hovering right there. Moses knew they were afraid of darkness. He creates the light and the light overcomes the darkness. God is connected to our chaos and darkness, not separated from it.
    • Abundance
      • Creation was teeming with life. Everything was abundant. There was order out of chaos. There was power and light and life.
    • Mystery. We all love the mystery of love, beauty, suspense, exploration, and plot twists and turns. We don’t like the boredom that comes with certainty. We settle for it because we fear the unknown when we don’t trust the one who walks with us. But if he’s connected, we can have endless knowability and discovery. We get up each morning and can’t wait to see what the day brings.
      • Fallibility
        • Failure isn’t an identity. Each one is a learning opportunity. And if we’re connected and not in competition, I can help you, and you can help me.
        • Flaws are special. It makes you one-of-a-kind. People of means don’t want mass-produced works. They want an original. God gave me a new name a couple of weeks ago. (Lamb Skin Jacket – uniquely and beautifully flawed). We don’t talk about the manicured hands of Jesus. We talk about the beautifully flawed “nail-scarred” hands of Jesus!
      • Common Good
        • Harvard student: Can you name one person who has every done this? Ghandi, MLK, Nelson Mandela, but I’m sure if you asked them, they’d say Jesus. When the people at Harvard recognized that all those people were killed, they walked away sad. One person said, “You have messed me up forever.” That was the win.
  • I beg you not to walk away from this, because you will have a much harder time encountering the God who loves you and created a world that is connected and bountiful. That’s where you find your true identity and value.


  • Carry his presence like Moses’ face shining. You and I don’t have much to offer in comparison.
  • You can’t give away what you don’t have. So it starts with being connected. It starts with your own encounter. It’s not what you know or what you can do. It’s the person you’re connected to. What goes on in your closet powers what happens in public.
    • Worship (get exclusive with Jesus)
    • Experience how much he delights in you
      • Friend who got a phone call from God (worried about hanging up). Perfect love casts out fear. I’m sure 1) God has tried to get his attention before; 2) God will try to get his attention again; 3) God is laughing at this incident and just wants him to

B. Be like Jesus

  • Seems impossible to be perfect, but identity can’t be stopped. He wants you to be perfect in identity!
  • There is a piece of Jesus in you.
    • Get rid of the lies the enemy tells you. Confess your false beliefs to God
    • Listen for the truth God tells you in place of the lies.
    • Ask him how he made you uniquely beautiful in his image.
    • Ask for the name he calls you

C. Bear Fruit

  • Different from work.
  • Something natural that flows from being connected (John 15). Don’t be surprised when you are simply yourself and connected to Jesus.
  • Watch for God to show up in ways you wouldn’t have expected.


  • Want to be a success?
    • Don’t let the enemy define you.
    • Don’t let the marketplace determine your value.
    • Don’t let disconnectedness rob you of your joy and power in Christ.
    • Don’t let current culture fool you into thinking that success is anything less than encountering God and dying to self.
    • John 12:23-25 Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies it remains only a single seed. But if it does, it produces many seeds. Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.