What does Success Mean for God?

DISTURBING THE PEACE!
June 25, 2022
Singleness – A Reflection!
July 5, 2022

Success is an interesting concept. If you listen to the recent news about the 2021 census results concerning religion in Australia, we find the numbers of people identifying themselves as Christians is apparently declining.   Statistically, as Christians we are clearly failing in sharing God’s message.  There is increasing diversity in the religions practised in Australia, with Christianity still the most common at 44%, but this is significantly down from 61% in 2011.  In addition, increasing numbers of people, 39%, are reporting ‘no religion’, up from 22% in 2011. What does this say about us and our work in God’s kingdom?  In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus said:

The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.  Luke10:2

Confronted by these statistics, we might be tempted to see our work for God’s as failing.  Perhaps we might feel success is becoming harder and less likely to be achieved with this sort of failure staring us plainly in the face. 

I was listening to a story on the radio this week, about the definition of success in our workplaces, including increased productivity and how we measure success in business and in our lives.  A childcare operator was very clear, success was about the happiness and wellbeing of the children who come to her centre.  Everything came from that definition of success for the owner.  If the children were happy, eager to come and attend, then her business was successful.  Continual quality improvement and the internal satisfaction of those attending were her indicators.  However, for others, success means achievement of measurable goals, such as making money, being famous, being the best.

So where does this leave us, as laborers in God’s vineyard and being ‘successful’ as Jesus’ disciples?   

Last week, we heard Jesus remind his disciples, as the Son of God, he had no place to rest his head. He wasn’t a home owner. He was an itinerant preacher with a life limiting career, with no success indicators here.  In addition, anyone who followed him must commit wholeheartedly to following Jesus’ Way.  Jesus showed a strong sense of urgency about sharing God’s message to live fully into the life God has planned for each of us as Jesus ‘set his face to go to Jerusalem’ with time running out (Luke 9:52). 

Jesus then sent out seventy disciples in pairs to the places where he himself was intending to go, to spread the gospel message.  He knew it would be difficult.  He continued to remind them – take no spare purse, money, or bag of belongings, no spare sandals or tunics – they were simply to turn up in each place and hope someone would offer board and lodging and listen. They couldn’t buy their way out of trouble or go to a hotel for a break.   Jesus gave them an immediate experience of trusting God, to cure the ill and to share God’s message of peace in the kingdom. 

This group of 70 people were a very small number of people in a large, disbelieving world, with many faiths and no faith, a pantheon of gods and diversity of beliefs in the Abrahamic faith, as we hear about in Samaria and Judea.  Yet the disciples came back celebrating with joy at their success and Jesus was jubilant. 

Lord in your name even the demons submit to us!  He said to them, ‘I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning…Nevertheless do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you but rejoice that your names are in heaven.’ (Luke 10:17-18, 20)

We are reminded God does not judge our labours by earthly standards, and how hard is this!   It means we need not be worried about what is facing us.  Yet we also know many who first heard Jesus’ words were hurt and even lost their lives because of their discipleship.  So how does this make any sense at all as indicators of success?!

This personal danger is still very real today for many. For us here in this quiet little corner of Australia, how do we respond when we encounter griefs, loss of loved ones, illness, tragedy, conflict and brokenness?  How do we deal with corrupt governments, broken promises, selfishness and cruel judgements?   Can we still believe it, like Jesus, that nothing will hurt us? 

What we can and do say very clearly, death in all its forms does not have the final word, because of the cross and resurrection. 

The demons of our worldly lives seduce us with the belief we can achieve all our goals and have financial success, maintain our privileged lives, and be famous, if we hold tightly enough onto all our benefits and entitlements.  God forbid anyone to take these privileges away from us.  Let us be clear, these demons take a lot of beating. 

Our addiction to relationships which we pursue for personal benefits and in dependency on others for a share in their success, rather than God, is absolutely not the relationship God is offering.  However, when we feel like we are going under, God continues to hold us and never lets us go, so we are surprised as we learn once again what it is to trust God. 

The experience of God’s deep love for us in the presence of Jesus Christ strengthens and empowers us again and again.  In Jesus we start to see a glimmer of a God who walks with us, loves us and joyfully writes our name in heaven. 

God is not known because of our striving or our success in worldly terms, we are known by God because of God’s great love for us as we are, without success.  

As Jesus points out to the disciples, its not everyone who ‘gets’ this part of the message.  Prophets and kings, the rich, the intellectuals and the wise are not necessarily at the front of the queue when it comes to understanding God’s message of love.  They see but don’t see it, they hear, but don’t hear it.  It is those utterly dependent on God’s love without reservation, the lowly and hungry who in their openness, see and hear Jesus most clearly.  Our trust in God’s goodness and love is what will carry us always to the cross and the resurrection. Our names will be written in heaven.

I started out by reflecting on success and failure.  I have ended in the place I always end, with God’s love.  It doesn’t matter what the world says or does about me.  It is God who matters.  As Jesus reminds us, in sharing God’s peace it is in that moment, ‘The kingdom of God has come near’. There is nothing else we need to do except leave it to God and we can be truly joyful.   

The Lord be with you   

Reference

Jarvis, A.J., Johnson, E.E. [Eds] 2014.  Feasting on the Gospels.  Luke, Vol.1. Chs 1-11. Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky, USA.

Lucy Morris
Lucy Morris
Anglican Priest, International Speaker, Published Author, Social Justice Advocate and Activist.

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