Rarely will you meet a person who does not want to be successful. Rarely will you meet a person who does not have a narrow personal definition of success. For most people, the definition of success begins with something positive. Success achieves something or makes a perceivable difference. Success "looks" like success. Success "feels" like success. Success produces the "benefits" of success.
Yet, success may do none of those things. When the results of your efforts produce depression, those efforts do not look like success. When your message causes no change or redirection, the message does not feel like success. When one of the products of your efforts is loneliness, you are not likely to regard your efforts as successful. Most people do not associate success with depression, status quo, or loneliness.
Jesus said in his sermon on the mount, "Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you" (Matthew 5:10-12). Jesus associated spiritual success in that first-century context with persecution, insults, and false accusations. He said regardless of how things looked or felt, disciples should be joyful because successful prophets (spokesmen for God) endured the same rejection.
There was a time in American society that devotion to God was expected to produce (naturally, not manufactured) hardship. Not today! Spiritual success is expected to produce immediate, joyful benefits that look like and feel like success. God protects a Christian from anything he/she considers undesirable. God answers prayers in ways that deliver a Christian from personally undesirable situations. For a Christian, "good" ambitions will be achieved.
Really? No Christian is ever diseased with something like cancer, or dies in a car wreck due to the carelessness of a driver in another vehicle, or loses a desperately needed job, or has a natural disaster take his/her home? Prayer always delivers a Christian in Africa from evil people? Political events in Afghanistan never adversely touch Christian families? Roadside bombs never kill Christians in Iraq? Lawless acts never touch Christians in third world countries? Gangs never exploit Christians in the USA?
In our country we have heard the "health and wealth" gospel in so many forms for such a long time, we are likely to accept it in some form. Never mind that we follow a crucified Savior, never mind that the early church produced many martyrs, never mind that we are taught by an apostle who was placed in more than one prison and was finally killed, that is not the way "it works" now. Faith in Jesus Christ will prevent the physically undesirable from ever happening to us! We wear the Christian armor! The fight against evil cannot cause us to die in the battle!
Jeremiah was God's spokesman. God selected and prepared him for a special task (see Jeremiah 1:4-10). His mission was not positive: he was to pluck up, break down, destroy, and overthrow in order to build up by planting (from seed to ripened fruit or grain is a lengthy process!). To make it worse, God told him no one would listen to his message ("God has had it with you!").
Jeremiah is known as the weeping prophet for good reason! Though he said precisely what God wanted him to say, his words made no difference. He endured insult, rejection, exploitation, and physical abuse because he cared enough to warn. His loneliness was so severe that he cursed his birth, despised the joy of his father at the announcement of his birth, and wished he had died in the womb. Yet, he successfully did what God wanted him to do. However, because he could not help the people he cared about, it did not look like, feel like, or produce the results of what he considered success. When people sin, love their sin, and are certain they will never suffer consequences for their sin, they do not listen to or like the person who warns them that horrible consequences are coming.
Many times we suffer the consequences of bad decisions, evil deeds, and sinful choices. None of us want to hear, "Consequences are coming and cannot be avoided!" We want to hear, "There are no consequences! Every situation can be 'fixed'! You have not done anything wrong, and the person who says you did is crazy!" To be the one who bears bad news to those who are guilty of bad lifestyles and choices is to be lonely and unappreciated. One may be successful in declaring precisely what God wishes declared, and, yet, may feel terribly unsuccessful.
Do not expect to produce good results in all you do for God! (Make certain your message is from God, and not from your own agenda!)
For Thought and Discussion
Link to Teacher's Guide Lesson 12
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