Is it wrong to want success?

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“In one of my classes recently, my teacher was calling role. When he got to know my name, he said to the class, ‘You know, you people need to get to know her. She’s going to be rich and famous one day.’ And it made me realize that I have a ruthless desire to be somebody. I want to live a life of extreme significance. I know it’s not right. Have you ever struggled with this?  What are your thoughts?”

I love this question because it’s so honest. How many of us struggle with this inner turmoil of wanting to be significant, but out of fear, keep it locked up in the dark vault that holds all of our potential sin and shame? I know I have.

I’ve been studying the book of James recently and in chapter 4, James speaks about how foolish we are when we make our own plans apart from the Lord and don’t recognize His sovereignty and His plan for our lives.

13 Look here, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we are going to a certain town and will stay there a year. We will do business there and make a profit.” 14 How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone. 15 What you ought to say is, “If the Lord wants us to, we will live and do this or that.” 16 Otherwise you are boasting about your own plans, and all such boasting is evil. [James 4:13-16, NLT]

I love to plan. I love to set goals. I like to have a one, three and five year plan with goals and steps to achieve those plans. I love crossing things off a list. I want to achieve.  I want to be successful.  I want to be somebody.  I want to make an impact on individuals.  I want to make an impact on our culture.  I want my life to be meaningful.  I want to be significant.  Who doesn’t?

I don’t think that any of those things are inherently wrong.  I actually believe those are God-given desires.  I think that if you have those same feelings and hopes, you have been wired by your Creator to think that way.  HOWEVER, and this is the big “however”, if your heart-motives are selfish, you’ve missed it.  Then it is wrong; it’s sin.

Jesus told a story about a rich man who found himself to have more wealth than he could physically hold.  So, he devises a plan to create bigger barns to hold all of his crops (aka wealth).  He accomplishes this and his ultimate goal is to sit back, relax, and enjoy his wealth.  But Jesus says, “You fool! You will die this very night. Then who will get everything you worked for?”  (Luke 12:13-21)

The bottom line in both James 4 and Jesus’ story is that at the end of the day, you and I are not in control. God is.

So, how does all this tie back to whether or not it’s wrong for me to want to be significant?  If you desire to be significant and successful, you are also likely to have great plans, goals, and visions for yourself.  And that is a good thing.  It is the way God has wired you.  But you must constantly, and I mean, constantly, remind yourself that you are not in control and you must question your motives.  You have to ask yourself, “am I motivated by my own selfish desires or do I want to excel and be successful in order to serve God and others?”  Ask friends to check you.  It’s pretty apparent whether or not a person is driven for selfish motives.  And if you commit to being generous and serving others before yourself, it will be way less likely that you turn out like the rich man in Jesus’ story.

So go ahead, be somebody. Be significant. Excel in every situation God has placed you in.  Just remember, God placed you there.

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