Seeking God's success
This week we are thinking about success. In a world where success is distorted and idolised, how can we help our children understand God’s views on success and keep their eyes on the prize? I have often wondered what Palm Sunday must have been like for Jesus. His three years of ministry have been building up to this week. Hostility has been increasing and he knows there are plots against him, plots that would see him dead. Yet obediently he climbs aboard a young donkey and deliberately walks into Jerusalem, his disciples and the crowds excitedly proclaiming him to be the long awaited Messiah as the city buzzes with excitement.
What was going on in Jesus’ head as he rode steadily into the city? This was a moment which could have ignited a great revolution, a moment that almost everyone present would have thought presented an opportunity for success.The crowds thought Jesus was the promised Messiah, the one to save them from the Romans and reinstate God’s holy nation - but what was Jesus thinking? Was he tempted to let them crown him king? What helped him keep his eyes on the prize and not be swayed by the adulation of the crowds? What made him successful in God's eyes that day?
Bible story: Palm Sunday
This week we are moving into the events of Holy Week, starting at Palm Sunday. You can read about Jesus's 'triumphal entry' into Jerusalem in all of the gospels: Matthew 21, Mark 11, Luke 19 and John 12. There are also many videos versions available, such as these two from Crossroads Kids and Saddleback Kids, as well as this compilation of clips from film versions of the gospels which gives a great sense of the size and mood of the crowds.
A quick google of ‘what to teach my kids about success’ was very informative. All the articles focussed on teaching kids to be successful. And successful meant a good job, good prospects, successful education, being popular, making money. But in the topsy turvy world of the kingdom of God, what does success look like?
With the benefit of hindsight we would almost certainly say that Jesus was successful - crazily so, given that because of his life, death and resurrection we can now choose to be reconciled with God and restored to his family! But during Jesus’ lifetime, many must have wondered. He seemed to crave secrecy, instructing those he’d healed not to tell who had helped them. He fled the crowds who wanted to make him king. And on Palm Sunday, with the adulation of the crowds ringing in his ears, he slips away and hides (John 12:35). You can almost hear the disappointment of the disciples who hours earlier had been shouting his praises to the rooftops (Luke 19:37) - he had his moment, success was his - so why run away? Of course, we know that success for him was fulfilling the will of his Father, not to be proclaimed king but to die on a cross.
The thing is, like with so many concepts, the world has distorted the idea of success. True success, God’s success, isn’t about being the best, the biggest, the richest, the most popular, having the most hits on Instagram. Success in God’s kingdom is this: to discover God’s purposes for your life and use those purposes for the glory of God, not your own glory. King David’s last words to his son, Solomon, included this great advice:
“My time to die is near. Be a good and strong leader. Obey the Lord your God. Follow him by obeying his demands, his commands, his laws, and his rules that are written in the teachings of Moses. If you do these things, you will be successful in all you do and wherever you go”. (1 Kings 2:3-4 NCV).
So how can we coach our children to seek God’s success? A great starting point would be to help them understand how God sees them - to give them the core of confidence that will enable them to stand against the world’s expectations.
In her book Parenting Children for a Life of Faith: Omnibus Edition, Rachel Turner identifies three foundational beliefs that underpin this core of confidence:
- God is awesome and holy, and he loves me totally and unreasonably. I am loved by the God of the universe, the God who can do anything and who has promised to be by my side. I am not the centre of my world - this amazing God is.
- God is daily shaping me to be more like him, and I’m not finished yet. God doesn’t need me to be perfect for him to use me, but everyday he is transforming me to be more like him.
- I am invited to be a small part of God’s wonderful plans. No matter where I am on my journey with him - no matter how young, how inexperienced, how weak - he wants me to partner with him in the incredible adventure of releasing his love and power to the world.
When we grasp those foundational truths, success as the world portrays it no longer has the attraction it might have. Success is to catch God’s purposes for us, and to pursue those with all our hearts, confident in the undeserved yet complete love of our God.
Things to think about:
- What does your child think success looks like?
- We can sometimes find it difficult to accept that we are loved totally and unconditionally by God. Are there any views of God that you or your child may need unwinding to help you believe this is true? Unwinding is covered in depth in session 3 of the Parenting for Faith course.
- Do you have a sense of what God’s plans are for you or for your children? It can be helpful to remember that God’s purposes for us may change as we go along. The surfing the wave tool can be useful in helping us identify and support our children (and ourselves) as we discover and pursue God’s purposes for each one of us. Surfing the waves is covered in depth in session 6 of the course.
Here are some ideas for sparking conversations with your family about success:
- Share stories of people you consider to have been successful. Why? Would everyone agree with you?
- How can Jesus’ ‘greatest commandment’ (Matthew 22:37, 39) help us when we are thinking about success?
- We live in a world where nearly everything is ranked - restaurants, dancers, pop songs, TV shows, our own children at school through tests and exams. Chat to your children about these sorts of rankings when you come across them. Are they the best way to measure if people are successful or not?
- Check out the story of David and Goliath (1 Samuel 17). Not many people would have thought David would have been successful but he was. Why do you think that was?
- Paul often uses the picture of a running race to explain how he keeps focussed on God’s purposes for him - for example 2 Timothy 4:7, 1 Corinthians 9:24-27; Philemon 3:13; Hebrews 12:1-3. What can we learn from these?
- We don’t always get things right! But God never gives up on us. Talk about Jesus’ disciple Peter, particularly the part of the story where he betrays Jesus (John 18), and then when Jesus comes to him after the resurrection (John 21).
- Share the story of Eric Liddell, the Olympic champion who said this: “I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast! And when I run I feel his pleasure” or of C T Studd, who gave up an international cricketing career to become a missionary, and who said this of the decision: "I know that cricket would not last, and honour would not last, and nothing in this world would last, but it was worthwhile living for the world to come."