He gives me new strength.
He leads me on paths that are right
for the good of his name. (Psalm 23:3 New Century Version)
As a young man at Bible School, it was drilled into my mind that, “Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it” (Psalm 127:1). This passage doesn’t say that they didn’t get the house built, but it wasn’t one of God’s making, and thus, all their labor was for nothing. Because of this, I have always endeavored to live in the center of God’s plan for my life, and while I have made my share of mistakes, I have always tried to go where God has called me to go and to do what He has called me to do.
We all want to be successful in life. We want our life to count for something, but our concept of success is going to be determined to a great degree by the context in which we were shaped. To someone who lived in a poor neighborhood in their formative years, success might look like gaining material prosperity. To one who was insecure growing up, success may be perceived as gaining popularity and that long awaited acceptance by their peers. While God is not against us having things or enjoying the respect of others, these things, if seen as an end in themselves, can become idols that can keep us from true success.
When it comes to pleasing God and being successful in His eyes, no one scores higher than Jesus. It was of Him that the Father said on more than one occasion, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (see Matthew 3:17). In fact, Jesus Himself said, “I always do those things that please Him” (John 8:29). Even more explicit are the Master’s words in His High Priestly prayer, in which He said, “I have glorified You on the earth. I have finished the work which You have given Me to do” (John 17:4). In other words, Jesus was successful because He simply devoted Himself to the Father’s will and purpose for His life. Yet, despite Heaven’s commending of His life, we know that Jesus was despised and rejected by many in His own nation, not to mentioned being betrayed by one of his own and forsaken by the rest on the night of His crucifixion. From the world’s perspective, Jesus’ last days of life and ministry would be called a failure, but with two-thousand years of hindsight and the insights we gain through the pages of scripture, not to mention the millions of transformed lives, we see that the lonely path He walked opened for all humanity the way to reconciliation with God.
I want to change the world. In fact, I believe God has called me to do so. He’s called us all to be world changers and history makers. But what that means for one person may be very different from what it means for someone else. Success becomes failure when we think that in order to have a successful, fruitful life, our journey has to look like that of someone else who accomplished great things for God. That sort of comparison only breeds frustration and creates a false model for us to follow, as our gifts and calling are different from everyone else. You can only change the world in the way you were meant to change the world. Every other role is taken except the one you were meant to play.
The right path is also not always the glamorous path. It may not be one lined with spectators who are cheering us on. In fact, it may look very different from what we envisioned when we asked God to use us in some significant and meaningful way. Our grandiose ideas of what it means to do something great for the Kingdom of God may be met with a life of humble service that is much simpler and less conspicuous than we initially assumed. In fact, many who did great, even historical, things for God and deeply impacted the world for His glory, were not recognized in their lifetimes as having made a particularly significant contribution. Only time revealed the worth of their sacrifice, and it is in Heaven, rather than among men, that their reward is reserved for them.
Sometimes the right path has less to do with what we’re doing than it does with whom we’re becoming. I know that for myself, I have had to admit that some of the most difficult paths God has called me to walk were really the ones upon which I grew the most. Some of these were lonely paths that at the time felt very much like being forgotten for a season, only to realize later that God was working things either in me or out of me to prepare me for what lay ahead. It wasn’t fun. It was simply necessary. Even more frustrating is the fact that God doesn’t always bother to explain Himself to us. Instead, He expects us to walk by faith, trusting in His process. After all, this is not all about us and what we want. These are paths He calls us to walk “for His name’s sake.”
I have often told the Lord that I will go wherever He has called me to go and do whatever He has called me to do. I have found that sometimes this is far easier to say than it is to live out. For one thing, to truly walk the path to which God has called us requires that we do it for an audience of One; not seeking to please men or satisfy our own ambitions, but to please the One who called us to this walk in the first place. His paths are right, and it is on these paths that we grow up and mature into the people He’s called us to be. It is on these paths that eternal reward is won and the life of true success and significance is realized.