In my last two blogs the subject from the Lord has been about: TESTING. First, I discussed the purpose of testing. Then, I wrote about what God is looking for when we are tested. Today, in this final message on testing, I’ll be describing one of the most difficult tests of all. I think you may be surprised by what you read, because it has surprised some of those close to me.
Let me ask you a question. What do you consider the most difficult test Christians face? If I asked a group that question, I would certainly receive a wide range of answers. But having lived a full life as a believer and several decades as a minister, I am fully convinced that my own answer is much different now than when I was young.
Based on sharing lives with a vast number of CEO’s, heads of large ministries, dozens of actors, musicians and other celebrities, I am convinced by my broad experience that the hardest test in life is what each and everyone of these people face. Yes, I believe that the hardest test that even you and I are likely to face is the same one we are least likely to succeed at. What is it? SUCCESS. How will each of us handle success?
The Bible has much to say in warning us about success. Solomon warns, “The end of a thing is better than its beginning, and the patient in spirit better than the proud in spirit” (Ecclesiastes 7:8). Saying it another way: it is not how you start a race that makes you a winner, but how you finish it.
My grandad told me once: “Many people have good beginnings, but few have good endings.” For 12 years I attended Pastor Tommy Barnet’s Pastor’s School” and in that one week course he had a regular and highly effective sermon that I shall never forget, It was called, “It’s not how you start the race—it’s how you finish that counts.” I’ve learned from my own experience that life isn’t a sprint. It’s a long-distance race.
With my wife, Paula, I founded and owned a jet charter company in the Hollywood area, I was placed in close proximity to numbers of movers and shakers in the entertainment industry. In addition, I found myself helping ministers of large organizations get their private and ministry air travel arrangements made. This brought me into close friendships with many… and several of these friendships continue to this day.
During decades of observing hundreds of missionaries, pastors, Christian business people as well as celebrities, starting back in 1972, I can say with conviction—the hardest test in life is indeed success. And I have sadly seen many individuals fail miserably at handling success.
The First Three Kings of Israel
As examples of men in the Bible who achieved success, let’s look at some of the kings of Israel. King Saul, the first king, was a strong, outstanding young man… who early in his career gained various military victories. Things changed when he was sent by God on a mission against the Amalekites, he allowed the fear of the people to keep him from full obedience to God’s command. This lack of submission and obedience resulted in the prophet Samuel bringing Saul a message that God had rejected him as king.
Saul’s root problem was described in Samuel’s message: “When you were little in your own eyes, were you not head of the tribes of Israel?” As long as Saul remained humble, God blessed him. But when he became proud in his own estimation, God chose to set him aside. This condition that we remain humble if we want God’s blessing, applies to all of us. When we are small in our own eyes, we have room for the greatness of God. But when we become great in our own eyes, we don’t allow room for God to manifest His greatness through us.
King Saul’s pride drove him to a tragic ending. He consulted with a witch the last night of his life, and the next day he committed suicide on the battlefield.
The second king, David, was a man after God’s heart. For his first many years he was forced to live as a fugitive, persecuted and hounded by King Saul. But, he came through it all victoriously and eventually he had a awesome testimony: “The LORD rewarded me according to my righteousness; According to the cleanness of my hands He has recompensed me. For I have kept the ways of the LORD, And have not wickedly departed from my God” (Psalm 18:20-21).
Much later, however, David changed, and so did his language: “Have mercy upon me, O God, According to Your lovingkindness; According to the multitude of Your tender mercies, Blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, And cleanse me from my sin” (Psalm 51:1-2).
What happened? What caused the change? David had experienced complete success and popularity. He had been established as king over all of Israel, he was victorious over all of his enemies, he was enjoying the fruits of success. David no longer went out to battle. He remained at home in Jerusalem, free to indulge in all that took his fancy.
As a result, he seduced Bathsheba, the wife of his neighbor, Uriah. David also arranged the murder of Uriah to cover up his sin. In David’s time of success, he forgot the principles he lived by before he became king. Persecution, trials and tribulation have great value in creating a humble heart and a submissive, obedient spirit — if we allow them to.
Thankfully David eventually repented and God forgave his sin. Yet still, David’s sin cast a huge dark shadow over his descendants for generations. God gave warnings to him: “Now therefore, the sword shall never depart from your house. . . ” (2 Samuel 12:10). It is vital for all of us to remember that God’s forgiveness does not cancel the consequences of our sins. However, his gift of grace does allow us to walk covered by his forgiveness in spite of our disobedience.
David’s son, Solomon, succeeded him as king and was beloved and chosen by God. Early in his reign he humbly acknowledged his need for wisdom, to rule God’s people well. Therefore, God also gave him riches and honor. He eventually would become the wisest, richest and most famous of all Israel’s kings.
Despite his wisdom, Solomon did not pass the test of success. “For it was so, when Solomon was old, that his wives turned his heart after other gods. . . . For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites. Solomon did evil in the sight of the LORD . . .” (1 Kings 11:4-6).
In spite of his glorious beginning, Solomon died an idolater. Success was his downfall in the end.
Following Solomon, the kingdom was divided. All the kings of the northern kingdom – Israel, became idolaters and were rejected by the LORD. Several of the kings of the southern kingdom, Judah, also turned away from the LORD and descended into idolatry.
Thankfully, there were some righteous kings in Judah. Yet none of them passed the test of success fully. Hezekiah, for example, re-established the true worship of Jehovah. And when Sennacherib, king of Assyria, laid siege to Jerusalem, the LORD intervened and granted an amazing and truly miraculous deliverance to Hezekiah and the people.
Later, when Hezekiah was sick to the point of death, God healed him in a most incredible way. God granted King Hezekiah a miraculous sign by reversing the course of the sun. He also promised him fifteen extra years of life.
As you might imagine, the sign of God’s miraculous power in the sun extended Hezekiah’s fame to other nations. As a result, ambassadors came from Babylon and honored king Hezekiah. Loving their accolades and attention, Hezekiah showed them everything of value in his entire kingdom. And this is where he made his big error… Hezekiah did not give God the glory!
Scripture provides two illuminating comments on Hezekiah’s conduct: “But Hezekiah did not repay according to the favor shown him, for his heart was lifted up [he became proud] . . .” (2 Chronicles 32:25).
“However, regarding the ambassadors of the princes of Babylon, whom they sent to him to inquire about the wonder that was done in the land, God withdrew from him, in order to test him, that He might know all that was in his heart.”
From Hezekiah we can learn two things: First, if God grants you a special miracle, that does not make you a special person; it simply means that you have a special God.
Second, if God withdraws His presence and does not appear to be actively involved in your life, it could mean that He is testing you to see how you will behave when left to yourself.
Another righteous king—Josiah came on the scene later in Judah’s history. Like Hezekiah, Josiah also instituted radical reforms and restored the true worship of Jehovah God. He destroyed the idolatrous altar at Bethel in the northern kingdom. But Josiah’s successes made him too self-confident. Later he became rash… and without consulting the Lord, and in the face of solemn warning, he opposed Pharaoh Necho, the king of Egypt. Sadly, Josiah was killed in battle and with him the last hope for Judah died out.
Tests of Success in the New Testament
What about the New Testament? Does it provide different standards? To find out let’s look at the foremost personalities: Jesus Himself, and three of His leading disciples, Peter, John and Paul. How did they handle success and how did their lives end up?
Jesus, of course, is unique—the sinless and perfect Son of God. He never experienced failure. He only did good, yet He ended His life hanging on a cross, exposed to mocking sinners. This was the last the world saw of Jesus. His subsequent resurrection, and the glory that followed, were revealed only to “witnesses chosen before by God.”
As far as the world is concerned, God has never sought to set the record straight about the miraculous power over death with His resurrection.
What about Peter? Many would call him the leader of the twelve apostles. According to reliable writings of Josephus, Peter’s life also ended on a cross—crucified head downward, at his own request. Peter declared to his killers that he did not feel worthy to suffer in the same way as his Lord.
We have no reliable record of the death of John. But we do know that in his old age he was exiled to the barren, rocky island of Patmos. There he received the visions recorded in the book of Revelation.
What about Paul? We have his own record of how he and his fellow apostles lived: “To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly. Up to this moment we have become the scum of the earth, the refuse of the world.” (1 Corinthians 4:11-18).
After a powerful ministry that opened up the Gentile world to the gospel, Paul finally ended up in chains in a cold Roman dungeon. His miraculous ministry ended with him being forsaken by some of his closest co-workers as he was taken out for public execution by beheading.
Do these records of Jesus, Peter, John and Paul mean that all committed Christians must necessarily die the death of martyrs? No! Does it mean that no committed Christian could ever be wealthy or successful? Absolutely not! But these lives do enforce one extremely important point: we must never let the world entice us into accepting its definitions of success.
Seeking popularity among people is dangerous. We must not seek the world’s approval. Jesus gave some strong warnings along these lines. To the Pharisees He said: “For what is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God.” To His own disciples He said: “Woe to you when all men speak well of you. For so did their fathers to the false prophets.”
The Key to True Success
When one considers the endings of the five kings in the Old Testament with those of Jesus and His disciples, I believe we can make certain deductions. What is the key ingredient—I asked the Lord—to achieving enduring success? How can one finish his race in a most pleasing way to the Lord?
There are two scriptures that I believe God led me to and help me immensely when answering this question. First, the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 7:25: “I give my judgment, as one that hath obtained mercy of the Lord to be faithful.” (KJV).
I keep seeing in Scripture that “to be faithful” I must be totally dependent on the Lord and His mercy. I cannot rely on anything else: my experience, spiritual gifts, my past achievements, my years in Christian service or my piloting ATP Certificate with multiple Type Ratings (Ha. This last one is a joke. Pilots may smile).
There is one thing and one thing only that can keep me faithful—the mercy of God. It is the primary purpose of my life, to be consciously and continually dependent on God’s mercy. I must be on my guard against anything that would blur or dim my sense of dependence. In particular and especially, I must be cognizant of any form of pride. Pride is, in essence, self-dependence.
Secondly, the words of Jesus in John 4:34: “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work.” Jesus’ food—the source of His life and strength—was His single-minded determination to do God’s will… right through to the end of His life.
Doing God’s will God’s way—is true success. This must be what you and I aim for.
Reminding you again, that With God nothing is impossible.
Not sure you’re going to HEAVEN? Then click on the following video link: “Jesus said, You Must Be Born Again.”
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