Our society loves success. Our society honors success. Our society rewards success. Our society worships success. You have obtained the highest possible level of achievement and importance in this country when you are known to be and accepted as being successful. To be successful is to be a winner.

Our society hates failure. Our society has little respect for anyone that is classified as a failure. Our society penalizes those who fail. Our society often looks upon people who have failed with contempt. To be a failure is to be a loser.

That makes success a high priority in most of our lives. It is extremely important that all of us be able to see ourselves as successful in some way. If we cannot say to ourselves that we are successful in something, then we regard ourselves to be a failure. Considering yourself a failure is a self-imposed burden that you rarely escape. It is a burden that complicates every area of your life.

So there is a ready-made market in our society for "how to" books. Name an area of life, and there are probably several books available to instruct you on how to be successful in that. Some people have become quite successful in the process of telling other people how to be successful.

I am quite aware that a discussion of success is not a single topic discussion. There are many forms of success and many definitions of success. To some, success is inseparable from material achievement. If you don't have money and many possessions, your aren't successful. To some, success is to be measured in terms of personal achievement, and that may have nothing to do with money or possessions. To some success has to do with accomplishments within a career or a vocation. To some, success is attaining public acclaim.

This morning I want to oversimplify our discussion of success. But the oversimplification makes an essential point that we need to remember. I will begin by asking this question: what do you consider to be the formula for success?

  1. You rightfully respond by saying, "That depends on what you are discussing."
    1. If you want to make preparation to be successful in a career or work life, what is the formula for success?
      1. First, consider the career path.
        1. You need to take your high school studies seriously--the competition for going to a good college or university is increasing.
        2. You need to go to a college or university that will both train you for your career and give you an advantage.
        3. If you can get any kind of job experience in the summers of your college years, that will be a big help.
        4. Make as many contacts in your field as you can.
        5. Get serious about your studies and your grades.
        6. When you get your first job out of college, be responsible, work hard, be conscientious, and learn like a sponge.
        7. Be alert to opportunity.
        8. Have the courage to accept opportunity when it comes.
      2. Second, consider a crafts or skill occupation.
        1. Get a sound educational background.
        2. Attend a good business and industrial school that will permit you to have specialized training.
        3. As early as possible, get some actual experience--work as someone's helper or apprentice.
        4. Try to get a job with a company that has an earned reputation for expertise in your area of work.
        5. Take special training when it's available, learn anything that you can that will increase your skills and know-how--you can never know and understand too much.
        6. Work hard, do good work, stand behind your work, and build a reputation as a capable craftsman who knows what he is doing.
    2. If you want to have an exceptional marriage, what is your formula for success?
      1. You need to begin with a healthy, realistic definition and concept of a healthy marriage.
      2. As a teenager, come to the real understanding that it takes a whole lot more than passion to build a marriage.
      3. Realize that you cannot marry just anyone and have a successful marriage.
      4. Date wisely.
      5. Develop good communication skills before marriage, but continue to develop them after marriage.
      6. Learn sound conflict resolution skills.
      7. Date responsibly.
      8. Do all that you can to determine that persons you seriously date are as concerned about successful marriage as you are.
      9. Evaluate differences honestly before you marry.
      10. Identify and meaningfully discuss differences and adjustments before and after you marry.
      11. Do some serious premarriage counseling.
      12. After marriage continue to learn all you can about how healthy relationships work.
      13. Learn how to be mutually supportive and build each other's strengths.
      14. Don't neglect problems.
      15. Don't neglect finances.
      16. Don't hesitate to get help when problems occur.
      17. Spend meaningful time together sharing life.
    3. If you want to be a successful parent, what is the formula for success?
      1. Again, you need to begin with a realistic definition and healthy concept of what an effective parent is.
      2. You need to love your children, know how to express that love, and make that love visible in all circumstances on a continuing basis.
      3. Again, you need to develop your communication skills.
      4. You need to learn as much as you can about human development age by age.
      5. You need to understand how to discipline fairly.
      6. It is important that you not only share time and experiences with your child, but also that you share yourself with your child.
      7. You need to model the behavior you want them to learn.
      8. You need to teach your child relationship skills by letting them observe your healthy relationship when things are good and when things are bad.
      9. They need to learn from you how to work through problems and trials just as they need to learn from you how to constructively enjoy good times.
      10. You have to love them enough to:
        1. Provide the kind of care they need at each age.
        2. Let them mature.
        3. Give them unconditional love.
        4. Let them make their mistakes, and help them learn from those mistakes as they recover.
        5. And, one day, turn them loose to live their own lives.
    4. There is something basically wrong with every one of those formulas for success; the same thing is wrong in each formula.

  2. Well over three thousand years ago, there lived a man whose name is still known worldwide.
    1. He lived in the number one place to live in his world.
      1. He lived in the safest, most prosperous, most developed, most civilized place in his world.
      2. And he left that place literally to wander around in a dangerous place to live.
    2. He was really a rather peculiar fellow.
      1. He never owned much land.
      2. He never wrote a book--we don't even know if he could read.
      3. He never ruled or governed.
      4. I don't know that he had a great deal of power, though he did accomplish some unusual things.
      5. He never started a great business enterprise, and was not known for his trading skills.
      6. There is really nothing very remarkable about this man--with one strange exception.
    3. Yet this man was successful beyond our wildest dreams.
      1. Who will remember your name in three thousand years?
      2. Have you done anything in your life that will benefit and bless someone three thousand years after your death?
      3. Will anything you do still directly impact the current history of the world three thousand years after you lived?
      4. This man's name is known and remembered, his life blesses our world today, and his life still has an impact on current history.
    4. This man has something to teach us about the formula for success.

  3. There was another man that lived about 2000 years ago who is also known worldwide.
    1. Compared to the first man, he was a pauper.
      1. As an adult, he owned absolutely nothing.
      2. He never married, had no children, no descendants.
      3. By the standards of his day, he was uneducated--that is he never attended noteworthy schools; in fact, we know very little about his education.
      4. He did not travel over a wide area in his lifetime, but he was always wandering around.
      5. He never settled down, and never stayed in one place very long.
      6. He created controversy wherever he went, but he was an incredibly positive force everywhere he went.
      7. Some people loved and respected him, and some people despised and hated him.
    2. After he died, the world was never the same; the course of history was permanently changed.
      1. Because of his death, the world will never be the same.
      2. No matter how long the world continues, he will always be a powerful, positive influence on people.
      3. Though he lived two thousand years ago, he can help people of today understand life and relationships in ways that literally turn their lives and relationships around.
      4. He has many, many things to teach us about the formula for success.

  4. Both men teach us the same basic lesson about success, and that is the basic lesson that was missing from our thinking about success in a career, in an occupation, in marriage, or in parenting.
    1. The men:
      1. The first man was Abraham.
      2. The second man was Jesus.
      3. Both of them teach us the first and most essential factor in being successful: the beginning point for pursuing success is a healthy relationship with God.
      4. Were it not for their relationship with God, you and I would know neither of these men.
      5. Because of their relationship with God, not only will they be remembered, but they will never stop influencing our world.
    2. Unless you are willing to settle for a cheap form of success, you will not find the greatest success you are capable of experiencing unless you begin with a healthy relationship with God.
      1. If your formula for success in your career or work places little emphasis on God, you won't be very successful.
        1. You may make a lot of money.
        2. You may own a lot things.
        3. You may even accumulate a lot of power.
        4. But the emptiness of what you do and have will tell you that you don't have the success that you were searching for.
      2. If your formula for success in your marriage places little emphasis on God, you won't be very successful.
        1. You may have an incredible house.
        2. Your family may make a lovely portrait.
        3. You may travel together to lots of fun places and do exciting things.
        4. You may wow your neighbors and friends.
        5. But the loneliness and stress that you experience in your marriage at those critical, important moments will tell you that your marriage is not the success that you hoped it would be.
      3. If your formula for success as a parent places little emphasis on God, you won't be very successful.
        1. The children may be able to have the experiences that you want for them.
        2. They may make the grades in school you want them to make.
        3. They may achieve the popularity you want them to have.
        4. Perhaps you will even be so fortunate as to have little conflict with them when they are teens.
        5. But the feeling of distance between you and them, the feeling of being at a loss to do anything that touches their hearts and minds at critical moments will tell you that you are not nearly as successful as you wanted to be.

Are you telling us that if a healthy relationship with God is the foundation of our formula for success that career, marriage, and family will work out just exactly like we want it to? No, I am not saying that.

I am telling you that we live in an evil world that often does not make sense. We live in a world where you can have everything and nothing at the same time. We live in a world where more people do not know how to create and sustain a relationship than do know how to.

Only God is bigger than our problems. Only God is bigger than our struggles. Only God is bigger than evil. Only God is more powerful than failure. Only God can minister to, strengthen, and sustain us when an evil world conspires against us. Only God can give life its true meaning when everything goes right. And only God can give live its true meaning when everything falls apart.

God is the beginning for the formula for success in this life and in the life to come.

It is never too late to add God to the formula.
It is never too late to allow God to bring a great success to your future.
It is never too late to let God destroy the sin.

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 4 May 1997

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