Let me let you in on a shocker. In high school I was not voted Most Likely to Succeed.
In fact, I didn’t get any superlative, but I am proud to say that I finished in the top 57 percent of my class. I started out as a good student making good grades and I was a good athlete, but I never could break in to the popular crowd. Combine that with my dad getting his second divorce and having little adult supervision and by my senior year I stopped doing much to be successful in school. I missed 30 days of class in the first semester of my senior year. I didn’t even get my senior pictures taken, so there was no way I could even be voted Most likely to succeed.
In fact, when I came back to Destin to start a church many people couldn’t believe what I had become. Even though it was a long road to get to where I am now, I always had that drive to be successful, even if I didn’t always act that way.
Most of us want to be successful and do something significant in our lives. Our culture celebrates success stories and idolizes people like movie stars, innovators and business people who have the drive to make big impacts on the world. It’s like we’re all in a great race to try and do something significant and end up spending every second trying to do something significant. What’s ironic is that a lot of us end up chasing a dream job, a higher position or more influence with people and once we achieve it, we’re ready to move on to the next thing. The need for success never really goes away no matter what you have achieved. Is it possible that we had a faulty definition of what it means to be successful? Maybe we put importance on the wrong priorities in our quest to succeed.
Jesus’ disciples had the same problems. None of them had careers that were considered ideal for their time. Some were fishermen. Others were tax collectors, probably the most hated job you could have at the time. Even though they had left their jobs to follow Jesus, who talked a lot about His own Kingdom that was not of the world, they still held on to a mentality that success had something to with their position and rank in society. They might have even thought maybe Jesus was going to be the “next big thing” and they should do what they can to get on the ground floor of whatever was going on. In Mark 10:37, two of the disciples, James and John, asked Jesus, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.” In other words they were asking to be second-in-command to Jesus. The rest of the disciples got upset, not because they thought James and John were being rude, because they wished they had asked first. What was Jesus’ reply?
“You know those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.” (Mark 10:42-44)
This was completely opposite of what they wanted to hear. These guys had lived in an occupied country their entire lives. They were looking forward to having a little power that they could throw around, but now they would have to be servants and slaves? That’s worse than being a fisherman. Jesus was trying to get His disciples to understand that His Kingdom was different and He didn’t measure success in the same way that the rest of the world did. Jesus didn’t come to be served, but to serve and that was what He wanted the disciples to understand. The ones who would be successful in his Kingdom wouldn’t be the ones who clung to power and wealth, but people who could serve others and put others’ needs in front of their own.
Later on in the New Testament the apostle Paul would put it this way in Philippians 2:3, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.”
Success isn’t a bad thing to have and it’s ok if you have a degree and a nice house, but we shouldn’t be chasing those things if we want to be a part of God’s Kingdom. In his Kingdom the most likely to succeed are the ones who put themselves last.
Pastor Eric Partin is the lead pastor of Shoreline Church in Destin and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.