We've looked at several different elements of our lives in this series. Physical possessions, entertainment and leisure activities all have the potential to distract us from God's Will and harm our relationship with Jesus. However, these 3 are all symptoms of another larger form of distraction and harm: Success. How does the pursuit of this lofty aspiration, especially from the wrong perspective, distract and harm us? We examine that question today.
Two Men, Two Paths
Elijah and Ahab couldn't be more different individuals. Ahab was born into a world of success. The descendant of kings, he did nothing to earn the success that was thrust on him. All he had to do was be born. Meanwhile, Elijah was a man of the common people. There is little known of his heritage, unlike Ahab, but his success is far greater than that of the King of Israel. He heralded a return to the faith that had been established with Abraham, cemented with Moses and carried on through the reigns of David and Solomon. His cause had varying degrees of success among the people, but Elijah often found himself alone in his pursuits.
On a surface level, it seems that the success of Ahab would outweigh Elijah's. However, the outcome of these two individual's lives would come to vindicate the prophet and reveal what success really means. Let's look at their profiles:
We mentioned that Ahab inherited his success. However, he still had success and with it came land and beautiful physical possessions, the ability to throw entertaining parties and amuse himself, and the ability and time to do the activities that he loved the most. Even more, he had the power of the kingship. However, Ahab's possessions were accrued for selfish reasons (1 Kings 21). His form of entertainment was wasteful at best and wicked at worst (1 Kings 21:25). His activities and pursuits led him to false doctrine (1 Kings 16:31). He had all of the success of the kingship, but his soul was consistently troubled and his life lived in waste. In the end he found himself bested on the battlefield because he lacked the favor of the LORD and his Kingdom was handed over to another man outside of his lineage. His success stopped with him.
Elijah lived a purpose. His possessions were few, only those that came by the hand of God and the few kind and godly people he encountered. What entertained Elijah was to see the Will of God fulfilled like when he ended the drought (1 Kings 18:41-46). The only activities we see Elijah partaking in is the actions God gives him to do. We don't know when Elijah began he relationship with God, but by 1 Kings 17 he is living so strongly in the LORD that he will go wherever God tells him and do whatever God asks of him. In all of the recorded history of Elijah, he never failed in his pursuits, he stood against a tyrannical regime, and he established a path forward for the people of God upon the completion of his calling. This is true success we can pursue.
The Questions We Must Ask
Ahab desired the success of the secular while Elijah went after the successes of the Almighty. Which will we pursue? Many in Israel abandoned the pursuit of God because of the ease of the other path, the fear of not following the alternative and the obvious fruits of that alternative path, Ahab's path. Will we abandon our pursuit of success in God because the path is harder? Will we go after the successes of this world because we are afraid of being isolated, persecuted or labeled as an other? Will we latch onto the secular because the fruit it bears seems so appealing? Or will we stand up for the cause of Christ, no matter the difficulty, circumstance or in-the-moment results?
Followers of Christ don't hide from difficulties. We don't cower when the world pushes back and attempts to strike with fear. We don't give in for the prospect of immediate short term results. We stand firm, knowing that the hardship is worth the long term results. We continue in the face of opposition, knowing that their are those who will join when they see us stay committed. We don't give in for the temporal blessing because we know the supernatural that is awaiting us. We don't go for the world's definition of success because we know what true success is. It's at the end of every follower of God in the Bible's story. It's the success that only comes from serving the Almighty. Will we buy into that?
A man who inspired a generation and beyond
Francis was born into a wealthy family. Much like Ahab, he had all the trappings of success laid at his feet from birth. However, even as a young man, he wrestled with his station in life when he saw so many others who were not as privileged. He struggled with his status in society and his desire to affect change for nearly a decade. Finally, he gave up his inherited successes and began a life dedicated to God.
It was a life lived in poverty, far removed from the comforts he had always known. However, as he drew further and further away from the world, he gained a clearer perspective of God and what success looked like to Him. Along the way, Francis faced severe opposition both from his peers and his family. However, he never wavered in his faith and his pursuit of God's ways.
Francis began to preach as he walked from town to town, gaining followers everywhere he went. His message? The simple truth that Jesus' Kingdom was coming and we needed to invest our lives in it instead of this world. Francis would lead a revolution of living simply and spreading the gospel to all people. He would visit places that no Christian had been in his lifetime or several generations before him. He was a revolutionary of the gospel and it all centered around his one revelation: that the success of God's Kingdom far outweighed any success he could achieve in this life.
Today, Saint Francis of Assisi is venerated as one of the most important figures in Christendom. His followers still practice his message of simplicity and faith. He inspires people around the world to live as Christ commanded, simply and with heart for the Almighty and those in need of connection with Him.
Chris Farris is the author of The Way, a manual detailing how to implement the Beatitudes into your life. He review events and other media and offers other insights into writing and working for the Kingdom of God.