What a difference five years can make.
I moved to Dallas when I was 23 years old to get into ministry. I wanted to study at a seminary and find a job at a church somewhere, and “the buckle of the Bible Belt” seemed like the right place to go, where the churches are many and the seminaries are serious.
Other than a decent car from my dad and a few bucks from an aunt, I didn’t have much in my corner. I had no formal ministry experience, and I had zero ministry contacts. (That’s right. I moved to a city full of churches, hoping for a church job, with no church home and a network of zero church leaders in town.)
But my relationship with Jesus was strong. I’d been a passionate believer for a few years, had devoured my first small group experience in college, and had sponged up a few systematic theologies. I was memorizing the Bible like crazy. I wanted to travel internationally. I had ideas, and was willing to take risks. I sincerely felt I would lay down my life for Jesus if He asked me to. My faith felt gritty and real. I was a nobody on the outside and (mostly) healthy on the inside.
And then a few things went right.
I got into a competitive leadership development program at a big church (the Watermark Residency Program), and then was hired there full time. I graduated with a Master’s in Christian Education. A leader took a chance on me, and I started working on the sermon team for a young adults ministry (The Porch), supporting – and, every once in a while, giving – sermons to a live audience of thousands and live-streamed to thousands more across the country.
At some point, something weird happened...people started respecting me. Peers asked for mentoring. Christian camps asked me to come speak. Emails came in asking for guidance. It felt good...too good. On top of all that, a woman who had both remarkable character and beauty (a rare combo, says Proverbs 31) agreed to become my wife. So we got married, honeymooned in Mexico, and bought a house for good measure.
Now I’m 28, and I have the wife, job, house, success, safety, comfort, and opportunity of my dreams. I have a mortgage, two cars, two incomes, and a vacation planned. I’ve gained more in five years than I thought possible for a lifetime.
But now I’m in trouble.
It’s harder for me to love heaven desperately when my arms are so full of earth. That enthusiastic, risk-it-all-for-Jesus faith I had when I moved to Dallas is being threatened by something safer, more calculated. That desire to tell people in other countries about Jesus has been replaced by a resistance to be away from the love of my wife for even one night. The readiness to sacrifice my life for the gospel been replaced by dread and fear that persecution could come to my future family. I guess you could say that as success picked up on the outside, my faith was attacked on the inside.
I know the world loves me more at 28 than it did at 23. But I’m not sure which version I like better.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think success is a sin. I don’t think my wife or my house or my job are sins (if they were, hopefully I wouldn’t have them). But to love them more than the Jesus who will long outlast them...that’s a sin of the worst kind. And that’s a new and real temptation for me.
So, if you are a Christian, my message to you is this: be careful what you wish for. Success may be the worst thing that could ever happen to you – not because success is wrong, but because if you aren’t careful, it will chip away your love for God and numb you to how valuable He is. The more you love your life, the harder it is to lose your life for Jesus.
By God’s grace, I love Him today. I know He’s better than anything else. I understand that chasing success is a hollow pursuit. And I know the love of Christ is better than life itself. But, if I’m honest, those things are harder for me to remember than they’ve ever been.
Be warned. Success can kill you in two ways – it can withhold itself from you or it can give itself to you. But if you love success more than Jesus, you’re already dead.
My prayer for you is that you’ll stay “poor in spirit” even if this life makes you rich. That you’ll prefer the love of the Father over the love of the world. And that no matter how many “wins” you may or may not get in this life, that you’ll count it all as loss for the sake of Christ, and lose your life over and over again in order to find it in Jesus.
How are you handling success?