The Peril of Success

Few of us meet with the success we hope for. We embark on new projects, our minds filled with grandiose dreams, but then have to content ourselves with far less than we had longed for. We set out to conquer the world but find the world doesn’t always go along with our plans. Fantasy and reality so often remain poles apart.

Become a Patron

But not always. Sometimes we do meet with success. Sometimes we do achieve our goals and realize our dreams. Sometimes our longings are fulfilled. And on the periphery of these moments of satisfaction lurks a quiet danger.

It is good to desire success and good to dream of it. It is good to set goals and a pleasure to achieve them. But danger comes when too much of our effort has gone into gaining success and too little into gaining sanctification. When pursuing goals outstrips pursuing godliness we leave ourselves vulnerable to pride and greed and a million other sins. Sometimes success blesses us and sometimes it curses us. Sometimes the very thing we labor for is the very thing that destroys us. Sometimes God’s greatest blessing is withholding the success that would make a shipwreck of our lives or our faith. It is perilous to gain success that exceeds our sanctification. 

I have seen it in young people who want to serve the Lord and change the world through a public ministry. They want their book to hit the bestseller lists, their single to crack the charts. Then it does and it destroys them because their sanctification was insufficient to handle their success. They believed the accolades, they were swept up in the publicity, they were carried away. I have seen it in older people who labored for long years and finally, finally gained their heart’s desire. But they had neglected their souls, neglected their character. They gained the whole world but lost their marriage, lost their family, lost what matters so much more.

It is good to desire success, but better to desire sanctification. It is good to dream of achieving goals, but better to dream of attaining godliness. The words we should long to hear are not, “Well done, good and successful servant,” but “Well done, good and faithful servant.”* At the final accounting, our achievements will count for far less than our faithfulness.

Make your plans. Set your goals. Start your projects. But as you plan for success, plead for sanctification. As you embark on that new project, determine that you will gain new godliness. Pray that God will keep you from success that exceeds your sanctification.

*Adapted from an anonymous quote I encountered in Iain Murray’s Seven Leaders.