Success That Satisfies
For a lot of people, fame equals success. As a teen I desired nothing more than to be a rock star. I played “air guitar” in front of the mirror, working on my moves for the day when the cameras would be on me. That day never came. And I’m thankful. Watch any episode of True Hollywood Stories or Biography or VH1’s Behind the Music and see how disastrous fame can be. Every story sounds the same as celebrities pour out their pain. Success is surely more than fame.
According to Wall Street, money is the currency of success. I love the scene in Forrest Gump when Forrest realizes he is a millionaire, and he doesn’t have to worry about money. “One less thing,” he comments.
What is success that truly satisfies? Are you tired of chasing after dreams that leave you empty? Sick of long workweeks with little to show for it? Bummed at the thought that your life currently is all it will ever be? These questions caught up to a hard Jewish man named Zacchaeus who had felt the mixture of success and despair. He had it all and it wasn’t enough, but when he encountered Jesus he discovered the true meaning of success.
Zacchaeus was the chief tax collector, head of the Jericho IRS. He maintained a powerful position in the Roman government because of Jericho’s unique position as a central trading route. He supervised other tax collectors. Though his name means “pure” and “innocent,” he was neither.
One day, Jesus saw Zacchaeus hiding in a tree, and he called him out of the shadows with compassion. They ate a meal together, and Zacchaeus realized that while he had made a lot of money, he wasn’t truly happy. He had fed his ego and insecurities, but his vision of success excluded God and came up empty. (You can read the whole story in Luke 19).
Zacchaeus had swindled and devalued people for years, but as he experienced the love of God his perspective changed radically. He endured a sweeping shakeup. After lunch he said to Jesus, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount” (Luke 19:8).
Zacchaeus was free! Free from sin, free from emptiness, and free from the pain that his success had brought him. Despite the fact that he was, in Frederick Buechner’s words, a “sawed-off little social disaster with a big bank account and a crooked job...Jesus welcomes him aboard anyway.” That’s the awesome thing about Jesus; he welcomes us in spite of our past, our sins, our mistakes.
Sports legend and NFL Network commentator Deion Sanders put it this way: “Success almost ruined my life, but thank God, I came to Him just in the nick of time. And that has made all the difference.”
I’m all for healthy success. I love to see people achieve their dreams. I enjoy watching others succeed, both relationally and materially, but not at the expense of their spiritual well-being. Has success almost ruined your life? Let Jesus call you out of that tree, out of that place of hiding, out of that addiction, or broken marriage, or troubled work situation. Let him set you free and help you discover real success.
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