The conversation, though 50 years old, remains in my mind. A man who I, as a teenager, saw as a success, who was striving to make his place the company he worked for, insisted that if I wanted to amount to anything in life that I must learn to set my own sail, to make sure that others heard my voice. He insisted that no one else would be my champion, that I must take charge and push for the head of the line. From what I could see his life confirmed his counsel. He had overcome many disadvantages to gain the kind of things that most see as indicators of success.
Years later, as an adult, I met him again and saw a lonely man, one whose ambition had caused much pain to others. He died in debt, still striving for his own success. Mr. B. was not unique in advising me to press for my own advantage. I have known hundreds since then who are caught up in the world of intrigue, power, and strategic alliances that shape the culture of ‘success.’
What does the Lord say to us? James, inspired by the Spirit, says – “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.” (James 3:13-18, NIV)
Real success is not defined by how much of my agenda I accomplish, nor is it measured by how many work for me. Those who would live best and leave the richest legacy cannot choose expediency, willing to do whatever is required to ‘get ahead.’ God invites us to a life marked by humility, a true understanding of who we are, the gifts we enjoy, and who value those around us. Blind ambition, fed by love of Self, will destroy our families, our business endeavors, and our churches!
Note how James defines the truly wise person. He is “first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others.” Are those qualities cultivated in you? Does the Spirit have the lead in your heart and mind so that your daily choices are without shadows and questions as to motive? Are you building relationships, actively seeking to bring people together? This life, the Word says, produces a life that is lived near the heart of God, that enjoys a wealth that is very different from the temporary wealth that may be gained by those who attempt to live on their own terms.
In this first week of 2018, may I suggest an evaluation of your goals, your motives, your vision? Ask the Holy Spirit for insight. What ‘wisdom’ guides you – the advice of those who do not know Christ, or the truth of the Spirit?
Here is a word from the Word. Meditate on it today.
“Oh, the joys of those who do not follow the advice of the wicked,
or stand around with sinners, or join in with mockers.
But they delight in the law of the Lord, meditating on it day and night.
They are like trees planted along the riverbank, bearing fruit each season.
Their leaves never wither, and they prosper in all they do.
But not the wicked! They are like worthless chaff, scattered by the wind.
They will be condemned at the time of judgment.
Sinners will have no place among the godly.
For the Lord watches over the path of the godly,
but the path of the wicked leads to destruction.” (Psalm 1, NLT)