5 Symptoms of the Success Syndrome

Being Successful in God’s Eyes

Psalm forty-nine is a meditation of David on the shortcomings and liabilities of wealth and success. In verses six and seven he says that those who boast in their wealth and success cannot redeem their soul with all their money. He says in verse ten that rich men and wise men die just like everyone else. He says in verse eleven that they think they can hold onto their wealth and make sure that it lasts, but they cannot.

David was a highly motivated man, and I believe he was tempted to admire and emulate highly successful and wealthy men. This Psalm is a meditation on those things. In verse eighteen David said, “Men will praise thee when thou doest well to thyself.”

Men tend to worship at the shrine of success. They praise those who have made good for themselves. The disease of which I write is seen in high school and college reunions when comparisons are openly made. “What do you do for a living?” “How much do you make a year?” High schools tend to promote this idea in their yearbooks by voting on who is “most likely to succeed.”

Most men, even some Christian men, worship success. Little slogans like, “Take care of number one,” “He’s really done well for himself,” and “Nothing succeeds like success” are common phrases from dads to their sons and even from leadership in churches. This is precisely what David meant when he said, “Men will praise thee when thou doest well to thyself.”

Please don’t misunderstand my point here. God wants us to be successful. However, God’s definition of success is not the same as the world’s. God’s definition of success is to find His will for your life and do it. Money has nothing to do with success in God’s eyes.

 “This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth but thou shalt meditate therein day and night; that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein; for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous and then thou shalt have good success.” Joshua 1:8

Success in the Bible has to do with our understanding and obedience to all the commands of God. This is not the same concept most people have who have been bitten by the success bug. Through the years I have found some symptoms of the success syndrome.

1. Wrong Focus

When your eye is focused on results rather than on rewards, you may have the success syndrome.

Nowhere does God stress how many baptisms my church is to have a year, nor how many souls I am to win, nor how big my church is to be. God’s focus is not on how much but on “what sort” (1 Corinthians 3:13-15). If the truth were known, many pastors and Christian workers in small churches are discouraged because in the conferences they go to, all they hear are preachers of large churches talking about how much and how many! It is God’s job to take care of the breadth of my ministry; it is my job to take care of the depth of my ministry. But let us be careful that we do not jump off the deep end. God does say that we should produce and bring forth fruit. Yes, primarily I am to be faithful; but I should desire also to be fruitful!

If my eye is on the reward, my work will be guided by the Book! If my eye is on the result, my work will be guided by what succeeds.

If my eye is on the reward, my work with men provides things honest in the sight of all men. If my eye is on the result, my work tends to be manipulative and underhanded.

If my eye is on the reward, God gets the glory for anything accomplished. If my eye is on the result, I often get the glory! Where is your eye focused?

2. Wrong Values

When what you do is more important than what you are, you may have been bitten by the success bug!

We must be careful what we emphasize in our churches and in our personal lives. Jesus emphasized that what we are is more important than what we do. Our position is not allimportant, but the state of our heart and our integrity as a person is! Being a pastor is a great thing; however, being a man of integrity and godliness as a pastor is a higher priority. Being the president of a company may be a desirable position, but being honest and a man of conviction is more important. If I must sacrifice one for the other, let me sacrifice my position. In fact, my success as a father, Solomon said, is based on my integrity more than anything else.

“The just man walketh in his integrity: his children are blessed after him.” Proverbs 20:7

3. Wrong Emphasis

When the short-run is more important than the long-haul, it may be a symptom that the success bug has bitten you.

For many, the one hundred yard dash has become more important than the cross country run. The ability to run fast has become more valued than to finish the race. But examine these verses:

 “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course” 2 Timothy 4:7a

“It is finished.” John 19:30

“These all died in faith” Hebrews 11:13a

 “Be thou faithful unto death and I will give thee the crown of life.” Revelation 2:10

The Lord’s emphasis is on finishing the race not on how fast you run in the race. For many years I desired to build a big church and that desire has not left me, but my biggest desire is to finish the race God has put me in without being disqualified!

4. Wrong Validation

When the praise of men is more important than the praise of God you have definitely been exposed to the success virus!

Men will praise you when you do well for yourself, but then, every man praises according to his own standard of success; so the praise is no better than the man giving it! My highest desire must be to hear, “Well done thou good and faithful servant.” Jesus said that the Pharisees loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.

I read of a young but accomplished violinist who after a concert was being applauded. He bowed to his audience but kept looking around. Someone asked him, “Who are you looking for?” He said, “My teacher, for only he really knows if I played according to the music.” Only God really knows your life and it is His praise we must desire! The praise of man is a fickle and weak gauge by which to judge our work. A great musician is more concerned with what his teacher thinks than with what his crowd thinks. A great football player is more interested in pleasing his coach than with pleasing the crowd, and a great Christian is more interested in pleasing the heavenly Father than with pleasing those around him.

5. Wrong Fulfillment

When self fulfillment is more important than self denial, you may have the success syndrome.

We are living in the “me” generation and self fulfillment and happiness seems to be the goal of many sermons. But Jesus preached a message of self denial not self fulfillment. He said, “If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.”

One reason the call to mission service and the ministry is no longer popular in America is the desire for fulfillment. The ministry does not seem to be the way to health, wealth, and happiness. Certainly, the call to the mission field, or to Christian school ministry with its low pay, or to pastor, or be a pastor’s wife is not seen as the American dream of success. But I am afraid that the American dream and God’s dream (better stated God’s will) are usually not one and the same.

The success syndrome can be a deadly disease. So let us keep our eyes on the goal, God’s goal. Success is finding the will of God for my life and doing it.

Taken from the book, 365 Daily Mannas, available from Harvest Baptist Church, 770-974-9091.

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