pursuit of 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)

When dreams are not meant to be!

“Are you seeking great things for yourself? Don’t do it!” Jeremiah 45:5 (NLT)

I find myself cringing when I hear people say “You can be anything you set your heart to be.” It is not true. It sets people up for misguided lives fraught with unfulfilled expectations and disillusionment. I understand the reasoning behind such a statement, particularly when it is directed at children and youth. It is important to instill a dare to dream mentality and a can-do attitude in every human heart. But dreams, like everything in life have parameters and exacting conditions that are necessary for their fulfillment. And it is not just a matter of faith and hard work.

A more accurate statement to inspire young and old alike is to say “You can be anything God has created you to be.” That maxim acknowledges the requisite talents and motivations endued at birth. And it also takes into account the times and seasons in which a person is living and the necessity of divinely ordained opportunity.

Michael Jordan is a great illustration. In 1993Jordan retired as one of the greatest basketball players of all time, after leading the Chicago Bulls to three NBA championships. He quit basketball to pursue a lifelong dream of becoming a professional baseball player.

He spent two years bringing his well-documented dedication and intensity to baseball, but ended up being a journeyman player at best with a .252 batting average and never made it to the big leagues. He returned to the Bulls for the 1995-96 season and proceeded to lead the Bulls to another three-peat series of NBA championships.

What was the cause of the disparity in the outcome of Michael Jordan’s pursuit of two dream careers? Obviously the measure of inherent talent was one. Another was the contrast in experience and time for skill development. But an intangible may have been his chemistry with his teammates and his coach. Dream fulfillment is complicated business.

In the waning years leading up to the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians in 586 BC, Jeremiah the prophet was busy warning both the king and religious leaders of God’s impending judgments. He had a faithful scribe named Baruch to whom he dictated his prophecies and through whom a number of them were personally delivered.

Baruch, who’s name means “blessing” was hoping against hope that the recipients of these prophetic messages would repent and that his ministry would be successful. As a spokesperson for Jeremiah he had dreams and career aspirations of a position of influence in a reformed society. (Not unlike Jesus’ disciples.) It was not to be.

In what appears to be a parenthetical

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

Scroll to Top