don’t pursue success

Second Thoughts on the Pursuit of Success

“And do you seek great things for yourself? Seek them not.” Jeremiah 45:5a ESV

This verse is not your typical name it, claim it promise, nor something you would find typed on a strip of paper in a fortune cookie. In fact at first blush, these are not the kind of words any inspired, faith-filled, goal-oriented believer ever wants to hear. This advice seems counter intuitive coming from the all-things-are-possible God whom we serve. And yet, despite the fact that there are other instances in the Scriptures where God encourages His followers to dream big and press forward to lay hold of those things which we desire, in this case He says the opposite, “seek them not.”

It helps to understand the context in which God would say such a thing and there is a life giving principle hidden therein. These words are spoken on God’s behalf through Jeremiah the prophet to his faithful scribe Baruch. Baruch had just been lamenting the frustrations of fruitless labor – how overwhelmed he feels, weary with groaning and finding no rest. (vs. 3) Their nation of Judah is poised for God’s judgment and in essence He is saying to Baruch, look “I am bringing disaster upon” the whole land. It is not a time for you to seek success, “but I will give you your life as a prize of war in all places to which you may go.” (Jeremiah 45:5b)

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Taking a different track to success

“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. But it is seldom understood by those who aspire to it. 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 is counter intuitive to those of us raised in an “anything is possible,” culture. When I hear a 15 year old contestant on American Idol say “This is my dream, I’ve been working toward this all my life!” I realize that “working” and “all my life” are relative terms. And such “dreams” in our culture-of-success mentality beg for an instant gratification not unlike that of winning a lottery.

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. Jeremiah assured him 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

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