Financial success often leads to spiritual failure and none of us are immune. But the way out begins with understanding how the cycle of success works and why so many smart people who've "made it" lose what matters most.
Success begins with hard work. Christians know that God is a worker and he made us to work too. And the result of hard work is we often prosper. The Bible says, "The hand of the diligent makes rich." (Proverbs 10:4)
But when the money rolls in, we begin to subtly think, “It’s my money, I earned it.” This mindset accelerates an unconscious inward spiral because the truth is, "The earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof." (Psalm 24:1) But money blinds us from seeing our calling to manage God's money for God's purposes. Instead, we find ourselves wanting to settle down like the rich fool in Jesus' parable, who said to himself, "You have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry." (Luke 12:19)
Our prosperity leads us to rest, but our rest is not a pause before we get back in the game. It's a withdrawal from purpose. We check out and think, "This is my time to golf, travel, fish, shop, watch TV, and be entertained. I've earned it." Those we see in church may even applaud us for our wise financial management, but this self-focused disengagement spirals us further inward.
Wealth can blind us and lead us away from our first love. We no longer seek God and his kingdom first. Instead, like the Pharisees, we have tried to serve God and money. Like the Israelites, we have not listened to God's warning: "Take care lest you forget the LORD your God... lest, when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks multiply and your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied, then your heart be lifted up and you forget the Lord your God... Beware lest you say in your heart, 'My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.' " (Deuteronomy 8:11-17)
Like Eve, we've seen created things as "a delight to the eyes" and desirable "to make one wise." (Genesis 3:6) It may be comfort or security that we've chased. For some its luxury and pleasure. Others of us have wanted to prove ourselves as successful and earn an identity. So we bite, exchanging created things for our Creator God. We become lovers of self, lovers of money, and lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God. We have an appearance of godliness, but inwardly we deny it's power. (2 Timothy 3:2-5) We may go to church, but like a flame in the wind our passion for God has gone out and we wonder how we lost it. We may not openly reject Jesus, we've just wandered away from the faith. (1 Timothy 6:10)
A Better Way
This cycle of success has sunk so many men and women before us, but there is a better way. God offers us a way that spirals us outward toward God and others and it begins with rest.
Many business people are working for the hope of rest one day. Behind their intense drive and performance is the hope of a day when they succeed so much that they can finally rest. But Christians are people who don't work for rest, we work from rest. In God's top ten list we find a surprising command to "not do any work" one day a week. The Sabbath is a great gift God wants to give us, but many of us have not yet learned to receive it. God invites us to a weekly rhythm that calls us back to seeing ourselves as his children. Sabbath is a reminder that God is in control of our lives and "it is he who gives you the power to get wealth." (Deuteronomy 8:18)
One of things we do on the Sabbath is worship God with singing. There's only one man in the Bible called "a man after God's own heart" and that man, King David, wrote nearly half of the 150 Psalms in our Bible. As we read David's poems and songs, he is continually calling us to "Sing praises to the Lord." Singing helps us put God back in the center of our lives, where he belongs. Worship reverses our natural tendency to be consumed with ourselves and our work. Instead, worship is a way of seeing and remembering that Jesus is more valuable than any success, achievement, or treasure we could ever pursue.
Then out of rest and worship, we work hard. God made us to work. Our lives are to be living sacrifices to God, and for 40+ hours a week that looks like showing up to work, serving our clients, leading our team, increasing our sales, growing our company, and honoring our employers. (Romans 12:1) Our work done well is another form of worship. We don’t work primarily to get money. We work to use the gifts God has given us to serve others, provide for our families, and fulfill the good works God prepared for our lives. (Ephesians 2:10)
Often when we serve others well and solve important problems we'll prosper. But as we do we're prepared to acknowledge that the money God gives us belongs to him: "The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, declares the Lord of hosts." (Haggai 2:8) We hold wealth with open hands, rather than closed fists. We resist the idea that we're building our own kingdoms on earth and instead ask God how we can join him in building his kingdom. And God will open our eyes to see the needs of leaders, churches, ministries, missionaries, the poor and hurting around us.
Instead of using our money to withdraw and escape, we'll use God’s money to be rich in good works, generous and ready to share. (1 Timothy 6:17-18) Giving will become a passion for us because we love God and love people and want to help people know God. We'll make friends for ourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive us into the eternal dwellings. (Luke 16:9) We'll live with a heartbeat of generosity and show the world what our Father in heaven is like.
Finally, when we give, we'll experience one of the purest joys on earth. This joy of being God's channel to bless other people and advance the gospel will reinvigorate our work. In fact, we'll find greater purpose and motivation to work than we've ever experienced before. Long hours and heavy responsibility will be acts of love that are connected to an eternal mission. We'll find that instead of living for weekends, vacations, or retirement, our work will be one of the primary things we do to worship God and our joy will grow more and more.
This is the better way: Rest, Worship, Work, Prosper, Give, Rejoice...
and repeat it all over again next week.