It seems to be one of the popular theological themes these days for preachers to guarantee "Success In Life". Quoting from Scripture, they advance the premise that, by listening to their advice, you can reach your fullest potential-- be all you can be! Not only that, but if you will only "seed" a thousand dollars or so, God will bless you materially ten times over. Well, I think these preachers have missed the boat.
Now, there is nothing wrong in itself with aspiring to reach your own personal peak, or in having a desire to improve your situation in life., but the danger lies in orientation. What is the reason we are striving to reach this "higher ground"? Some would have us believe that it is so we can have material things- comfort, money, designer clothes, a big house in a nice neighborhood, etc. After all, we deserve it because WE ARE BELIEVERS! From my reading of Scripture, this is the first fallacy. Thank God we don't get what we deserve. One of the questions before us is: "Are we believers that we might be blessed, or blessed because we believe- regardless of circumstance?".
What would Jesus say? Let's look at the Gospel of John to see if we can find an answer.
In the 6th chapter we are going to listen to Jesus as he replies to a group of zealots who have followed him across the Sea of Galilee to Capernaum. These zealots had just seen Him feed the multitude, and having seen this miracle, sought Him to be their king. When they couldn't find Him right away, they commandeered some passing boats to catch up with Jesus.
When they finally caught up with Jesus, He threw bucket of cold water on their agenda.
"Jesus answered them, 'Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you; for on Him has God the Father set His seal.'" (John 6:26-27) RSV.
Why do you follow Jesus of Nazareth? This passage is a hard measuring stick for us to evaluate our faith against.
How we petition God to provide for our extraordinary comfort! Has God been transformed into some kind of ATM from which we expect free, unlimited withdrawals? This is NOT the "good news" that Jesus came to deliver. Unfortunately, there are people in the Church today that aren't much different than this band of zealots chasing after Jesus. Here we see a band of "believers" who saw Jesus , not as a messenger from God, but a tool to be used to help rally support in Israel to kick out the Romans. They weren't interested in what Jesus could do for their spiritual condition, but only in how He could improve their physical/political/personal condition. How many "messengers" convey this idea today? How many capitalize on the desires of a secular generation for "things" instead of trying to educate and redirect their focus?
The message that should be ringing loud and clear from pulpits across the land is "DO NOT LABOR FOR THE FOOD WHICH PERISHES...".
We know from the Gospel of Matthew that God has already made provision for our necessities- what to wear, what to eat and drink. He did this in order to free us from the yoke of worrying about survival of the body so that we could concentrate on survival of the soul. We mock the Word if we make these things the major focus of our existence.
So, what is this labor for soul survival? The answer isn't complex or esoteric. The answer is "This is the work of God, that you believe on Him and the One He has sent." (John 6:29) RSV.
(Remember, the word "believe" implies acting based on what is known. It is not just acknowledging a fact.)
Practically, how do we do this? We can start with an inventory of what skills God has gifted us with. Next we can look at how those skills can be applied such that God is glorified in the application of those skills. Now, sometimes, application of those skills can result in accumulation of wealth, but notice that wealth is not the motivation for the labor! In fact, in the Kingdom, I think you'll see a lot more cases where the "payment" for using a gift results in spiritual dividends alone. Reaching out with a kind word for someone who is down, giving your time to aid someone less fortunate, giving freely to someone who can never repay - all examples of labor to glorify God with no expectation of worldly gain but with the blessing of peace to the soul.
When we turn the equation upside-down, our lives start becoming right-side up.
Think about this in your prayer life as well. This might be even harder than our outward actions! Let us think about what we ask for and our motivation for asking. Are our petitions based on what is most comfortable and beneficial for us, or are they put on the altar asking that the result bring glory to God? I am still profoundly humbled by the prayer of a good friend who was dying of cancer. As he lay in the hospital, he asked that we pray before I left. His prayer was simple and it left me with nothing to say but "Amen.".
"Lord, my life is not my own. It is your gift to me. I must believe that this situation is as ordained by You as has been my entire life- my family, my possessions and my success. I would love to be healed, but that is Your decision. My prayer is that you will show me the way to reflect the joy of knowing You at this moment and that You will allow all those who care for me to understand that You will provide, just as You always have."
This was a man who did not labor after the food which perishes, my friends.
The message is timeless. The medicine in its prescription is powerful. In our world, can you imagine the transformation as the shell of selfishness is cracked apart by realization that our lives are not our own- that they are the possessions of a wonderful, mighty God who desires eternal fellowship with us?