This month we have been asking ourselves what it is that makes for a good life. We have seen that the world often tells us that more possessions or more money is the path to the good life, but those are really counterfeit roads that at best come up empty, or as Solomon called it – a chasing after the wind, but at their worst they lead to destruction (remember Adam and Eve). Instead of seeking more in this world we have learned that the good life comes with gratitude and living with purpose, it comes with simplicity which creates margins that leads to giving. Today we are going to explore one more path that the world says will lead us to a good life but will come up empty and that is success.
The message we are told is that success brings the good life, but how do we define success? One definition that I found said: success is the attainment of popularity and profit and this what we usually think of when we think of someone who is successful. When we think of successful entertainers we think of those who are most popular or those who have sold the most records or the most tickets. Success is counted by the number of awards you win or the likes, views or retweets you get on social media. Success as the world defines it equals fame and fortune.
When I searched for the most successful musical entertainers of all time and I found the same list in several places. The most successful by most accounts was The Beatles. #2 was Elvis. #3 was Michael Jackson. Did their success bring them the good life? Elvis died alone, face down in his bathroom of a heart attack brought on by drugs and Michael Jackson led a somewhat tortuous life and died of an overdose. Did fame and fortune bring them lasting peace, joy or fulfillment? Those two aren’t alone. The list of those the world defines as successful in all areas of life is full of people who have ended up alone and empty.
Let’s go back a generation and think about one of the most popular movie stars of all time, a success in many ways, Marilyn Monroe. Did her success bring the good life? She died at age 36 from a drug overdose. Or what about Howard Hughes? He was one of the most successful men of his generation – wealthy beyond measure but he ended his life living as a recluse, often never leaving his residence. In the last month we have seen one of the most successful producers in Hollywood and several actors at the height of their career fall from grace to a place where they may never work again. Did their success bring them a good life?
Worldly success – popularity and profitability, fame and fortune, do not bring the good life. Success as the world defines it doesn’t last and it is not fulfilling which is why Jesus rejected this path three times. Immediately after Jesus was baptized, he went into the wilderness to pray. While praying and thinking about his future, the devil came and offered Jesus great success. Matthew 4:1-11.
Three times the devil offered Jesus worldly success. The first temptation to choose success came when the devil told Jesus to turn stones to bread. While this would certainly have met Jesus own physical need, think about what else would have happened. Every person’s physical need for food could have been met which means that Jesus could have simply given his life to meeting our every need. This would have made Jesus very popular and the reality is that huge crowds did follow Jesus because he met their need for food and healing – but was this the path for Jesus? Would this offer of success be the path to true life – the good life?
The second offer of success came when Jesus was told to throw himself off the pinnacle of the Temple, which was the highest point in all of Jerusalem, in order to have the angels of God swoop in at the final moment and rescue Jesus before a foot hit the ground. Now if this happened in the crowded city of Jerusalem it would be like a video going viral in a matter of moments. The world would be a buzz about the spectacular abilities of Jesus and his fame would spread. Would this offer of success be the path to true life – the good life?
The third offer of success came when Jesus was offered all the wealth and power of the world. This would make Jesus successful by any standard of the world, but would this success lead to true life – the good life?
Each one of these temptations and offers shows us how the world defines success. Money, power, fame, popularity, prestige, authority and riches – Jesus was being offered it all and yet he knew that it was all empty and instead of that counterfeit path to the good life Jesus shows us that true life is found by trusting God.
Each time Jesus is offered success in worldly terms he turns away from that offer and back to God. He turns to God’s word. He turns to God’s promises and he turns to true worship and humility. Success, when it is defined as profits, popularity and power, do not lead to the life God wants for us. Instead Jesus shows us that what is needed for the good life is a relationship where we trust God.
Now here is what is important to remember about trusting God, it won’t always lead us to profit, popularity and power and trusting God doesn’t mean our problems go away and that the good life will be defined as carefree and easy. What trusting God does mean is that strength, courage and peace are offered to us during the good times and the bad and King David is a great example of this.
David was known as a man after God’s own heart. He trusted God and yet that did not mean everything went well for him. After he was anointed king, David’s enemies attacked from all sides and he had to run. He didn’t have worldly success at that moment, he had nothing. David often ran for his life and hid in caves, but he would find strength and courage and peace because he even during difficult times he put his trust in God. Look at Psalm 13:1-6.
The first 4 verses show us the difficult time David was having. He wasn’t popular at this moment, he was feeling alone. He wasn’t feeling strong and powerful because his enemies were beating him. Things weren’t going well and yet David was experiencing the good life – Psalm 13:5, I trust in your unfailing love.
There was a woman from my congregation in Altoona who battled MS most of her life. When I arrived at the church, Shirley was confined to bed and couldn’t move. The world would not look at her and see a woman living the good life – but let me tell you – she was. She was faithful, she was joyful and she was an inspiration because of her trust in God. I never saw Shirley without a smile and a kind word. I never heard her anxious or worried or complaining about her condition. In so many ways she was living the good life because she knew peace and even purpose in her condition and she lived this way because she trusted God.
So the good life comes not when we think we need everything the world offers but when we trust that everything we need for life comes in a relationship with God who loves us and is present with us. This brings us to the final key to the good life. The good life isn’t just found in our relationship with God, it is also found in our relationship with others. Relationships bring quality to life. Relationships bring love which enriches life. Relationships provide strength when we are weak and peace when we are troubled and relationships are truly what makes our lives good and brings about a good life which is why God spends so much time talking about how to have good relationships with one another.
Think about the 10 Commandments. While four of the commandments deal with our relationship with God, six give direction to our relationships with one another. Honor your father and mother and do not commit adultery address family relationships and do not murder, do not steal, do not give false testimony and do not covet all talk about our relationship with others. These commandments provide boundaries so that our bonds of relationships can be strong. God doesn’t give these laws to control us, he gives these laws because He knows this is the path to good relationships which in turn is a key to the good life.
Jesus chose the path of relationships over success. After he said no to the devil, Jesus left the wilderness and started his public ministry and the first thing on his agenda was calling people to work with him, it was to build relationships. Matthew 4:18-22.
By leaving behind the fame and fortune of success that the world offers and building relationships with others, Jesus shows us the real way to the good life is in our relationships. Family and friends, the church and the community are all relationships that lead us to the good life and once again, it is not just the Bible that tells us this, studies continue to show that the good life is found when we have positive relationships. The world happiness report (yes, there is a yearly report that looks at where people are the happiest and what makes them happy) says that one of the key factors to happiness is positive relationships and perhaps the most important relationships for us to focus on are in our families.
God created us to be part of families which is why God spends a lot of time talking about family relationships. These primary relationships are powerful in our development and important to our wellbeing. Infants need parents to hold and love them. Literally, babies need to be held and touched and loved if they are going to survive and thrive. Children need parents to instruct them and guide them. In time, parents need children who will support them and care for them. The Bible is filled with guidance on how we need to develop healthy relationships in our families because these relationships lead to the good life and none of this has changed. We need to stay focused on spending time with our families.
I shared this last week but let me say it again. As we enter into this Christmas season and our thoughts turn to gift giving, can we think less about presents to buy and more about giving the gift of our presence. A couple shared with me last week that their grown children said that their grandchildren had everything they need and so they don’t want them to buy any more gifts. This Christmas they asked their parents to give their grandchildren the gift of an experience.
Could they go somewhere together? Do something together? Spend time together? And this doesn’t have to cost a lot of money, it can be the commitment of simply spending time together each week. Time is the greatest gift we have to give. To all the parents and grandparents out there – give the gift of your time which will strengthen relationships and lead you and your families to the good life.
Families, however, are just one of the relationships we need to focus on. At some point in our lives our family may not be physically with us or our families may be broken – but we still need relationships so can we develop friendships that will lead us to the good life. Proverbs 18:24
There are times when it will be our friends who will stick with us and support us and so it is important for us to invest in friendships. When Jesus made a priority out of inviting people to walk and work with him in life he showed us that relationships with people of faith are important and that the church can be a place to develop these relationships. It is often here that we find lasting friendships that nurture us and encourage us and help us experience the good life.
Friendships, however, take work and so giving the time to get to know those in this community is important. Small groups, Sunday School classes, ministry teams and serving together are all ways to develop relationships that can bring us the good life. The Bible talks a lot about how we develop friendships and these are called the “one another” passages and there are dozens of them in the bible. For example we hear:
Be at peace with one another
Bear with one another
Forgive one another
Love one another
Serve one another
Carry one another’s burdens
How we interact with one another will determine the kind of life we live. The good life isn’t found in fame and popularity which are shallow relationships that can’t hold up when problems and pain come along. The good life is found in honest relationships of love and faith with both God and others
God has shown us what makes for a good life. It is not more possessions, more money or more success – the world says that’s the way to life but it is an empty life that in time destroys us in body, mind and spirit. The good life is found with
The good life is found when we
Trust in God
Love one another.
The Good Life – Relationships and Trusting God
How do you define success? Who do you know that you would say is successful? What makes them a success?
Read the story of Jesus’ wilderness temptation in Matthew 4:1-11. In what ways was the devil trying to give Jesus his version of “the good life”? What did Jesus choose instead?
Trust in God
In what ways are you trusting God?
In what areas of life is God asking you to trust him?
Read and reflect on Psalm 13.
Relationships with Others
How can you strengthen your relationships with family?
What relationships need to be healed or mended?
How can you strengthen your relationships with friends?
What relationships need to be healed or mended?
How can you serve others during this holiday season and with whom can you serve?
Take time this Thanksgiving holiday to give thanks to God for all that God has given. Spend quality time with family and friends. Commit to making this Christmas season simple and full of purpose. Give in ways that reflect your faith and trust in God. This will lead you to the good life.