“Are you seeking great things for yourself? Don’t do it!” Jeremiah 45:5 (NLT)
Any advice against the pursuit of success is wise counsel. Unfortunately such advice is difficult to comprehend by those who aspire to success. These prophetic words from the mouth of Jeremiah to his secretary Baruch are not the kind of words an aspiring assistant wants to hear – nor anyone, for that matter. You will not find this verse highlighted in anyone’s Bible with a date written next to it, claimed as a promise from God.
Advice like this rattles our sensibilities because we are so immersed in an “anything is possible” culture of success. Why we even nurture our young with the promise that you can be anything in life you want to be. But then when we hear a 15 year old contestant on American Idol say “This is my dream, I’ve been working toward this all my life!” we realize that “working” and “all my life” have now become very relative terms. And the realization of a “dream” of success is now reduced to a process of finding a shortcut to instant gratification not unlike the effort of picking numbers for a winning lottery ticket.
The stunning advice from his friend Jeremiah may or may not have rocked Baruch’s world. But it was a healthy reality check. Baruch was a godly man who shared Jeremiah’s grief over the backslidden state of the nation. He knew of God’s impending judgments on Jerusalem. And so he had to reckon with Jeremiah’s assurance that simply escaping with his life from the coming disaster was promise enough and a sign of God’s love for him.
But what about Baruch’s dreams, his aspirations? After all, his brother Seraiah had attained an important position in the court of the ruling king. Why couldn’t Baruch have his day in the sun as well? But God’s watchful care for Baruch wanted to spare him the waste of his time pursuing that which would be at best a fleeting triumph.
Pursuing success simply for the sake of success is a fleeting endeavor. That is why God’s advice to Baruch is great advice for all of us as well. There are more important things to pursue in life. Success, like a well appointed caboose, may or may not follow; but the engine powering you down the track must be something else.
It is always interesting to me to hear famous people share their success stories. Invariably, they will say that they did not set out to be rich or notably successful. They tell us that they simply found themselves trying to do what they loved well, and the blessings followed.
Doing what you love and not having it adulterated by the lure of success is the mark of a truly contented person. Recently Garrison Keillor said something that spoke to my love of blogging. “How do you know if your writing is any good? If you need to know you’re in the wrong line of work.”
A study of 1500 business school graduates from 1960 to 1980 amply illustrates this caboose approach to success. From the beginning of the study the graduates were placed in two groups delineated by they career motivations. One group, 83%, said they wanted to make money first so they could eventually do what they really loved doing. And the other group, just 17%, decided they would do what they loved in hopes that money would eventually follow. After twenty years there were 101 millionaires out of the 1500 that started the study. Only one was from the money first group. One hundred of them were from the second group, who started out doing what they loved.
In Psalm 131, attributed to King David, an obviously wildly successful man, we get a telling glimpse into his soul. “LORD, my heart is not proud; my eyes are not haughty. I don’t concern myself with matters too great or too awesome for me to grasp.” (vs. 1 NLT) David’s aspirations were never for success. He was content to be a shepherd doing what he loved. His overriding aspiration was to please God. As a result in the years that followed, God not only hitched the caboose of success to David’s train, He added many other cars as well.
Are you content with your lot in life? Are you doing what you love? Please share any thoughts you may have on this topic?
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