Success is a drug.
And like any drug, we must be careful how we ingest it. Success is not the problem, per se. It’s our reaction to it.
Success can go to our head. When it does, we start getting high on the power (real or perceived) and begin to navigate our lives into treacherous waters.
This is very perilous for church leaders. When we get high on our successes, we can take an entire congregation down with us.
Perhaps the Apostle Paul knew this as he stated the inspired words of 1 Timothy 1:12-14.
12 I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me trustworthy, appointing me to his service. 13 Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. 14 The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.
1 Timothy 1:12-14, NIV
It’s easy to see these verses in isolation and forget who the human author was. This was Paul, formerly Saul of Tarsus, who was the Ph.D. of Theology of his day. He was extremely educated and a “Jew’s Jew”. He loved the Law and loved the respect that came with keeping it.
Paul was “once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man” (verse 13a). Yet, he was shown tremendous mercy by the Lord. God’s grace washed over him like a wave of love and forgiveness and made him who he was.
Saul, the man high on success, was humbled and brought to the Lord and became Paul the Apostle of Jesus.
It’s easy to get high on our successes. We begin thinking our ingenuity, skill, experience, education, and creativity has paved the way for success. And the reality is this: it was “us” who was there when it happened. It was “us” who got the pats on the back. The “attaboys” and “attagirls”. It was “us”.
And when we go too far down that road, we’re heading for trouble. Yes, it was “us” showing up, but who gave us the ingenuity, skill, experience, education, and creativity? Who actually paved the road leading to success? Who put us in the position to experience that sudden growth of our group or congregation?
Us? We may think it was. We might engage in some hyper-spiritual-God-talking and say it’s not us, but in our hearts, we might really think it was. “But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your ancestors, as it is today (Deuteronomy 8:18, NIV).
The Lord uses leaders to lead His people. He gives tremendous success to some leaders while others struggle. But in either situation, we are required to work for Jesus. We are required to sharpen the ax of our leadership (cf. Ecclesiastes 10:10).
But even the ax of our ability and the ability to sharpen it are entirely the Lord’s gifts to us. It is an honor to hold His ax of our abilities in our hands. It is a privilege to sharpen those abilities by education, experience, and creativity He provides.
Let’s not get high on our successes by arrogantly thinking they are our successes. They’re not; they’re His. In the prayers of our hearts as leaders, may we echo the word of the Apostle Paul to Timothy, “The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus” (verse 14).
Interested in more like this? Consider my book: 31 Days of Spiritual Wisdom: A Month in the Proverbs.
Moving through a selection of verses from a chapter of Proverbs for every day of the month, I want readers through a journey of spiritual formation applicable to everyday life.
The goal? Knowing how to apply the wisdom of Scripture so we grow in our faith, become wiser, and show the world the life-changing power of Jesus.