We've all heard examples of people who've "made it" only to lose what matters most. Financial success often leads to spiritual failure and none of us are immune. But the way out begins with knowing how the cycle of success works.
Success begins with hard-work. The Bible says, "The hand of the diligent makes rich." (Proverbs 10:4) Christians know that God is a worker and he made us to work too. We are called to work as unto the Lord and not merely for men or money. (Colossians 3:23) And the result of hard work is that we often prosper.
But when the money rolls in, we slip into thinking, “It’s my money, I earned it.” And this mindset accelerates an inward spiral. The Bible says, "The earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof." (Psalm 24:1) And it also says the Lord is the one who gives us the power to get wealth. (Deuteronomy 8:18) But money blinds us from seeing our calling to manage God's money for God's purposes. Instead, we find ourselves wanting to settle down like the rich fool in Jesus' parable, who said to himself, "You have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry." (Luke 12:19) But this is very dangerous.
Our prosperity leads us to rest. But our rest is not a pause before we get back in the game. It's a withdrawal from purpose. We check out and think, "I've earned it. This is my time to golf, travel, fish, shop, watch TV, and be entertained." Those we see in church may even applaud us for our wise financial management, but this self-focused disengagement spirals us further inward.
We're no longer seeking God and his kingdom first. Like the Israelites, we forget God because we did not heed this warning: "Take care lest you forget the LORD your God... lest, when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks multiply and your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied, then your heart be lifted up and you forget the Lord your God... Beware lest you say in your heart, 'My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.' " (Deuteronomy 8:11-17) Wealth has blinded us and led us away from our first love.
We've not openly rejected Jesus, we've just preferred created things rather than our Creator. We serve and worship these things. (Deuteronomy 8:19) They take our time and energy. Soon our lives orbit around our hobbies, pleasures, and possessions. Without knowing it, we drift into becoming lovers of self, lovers of money, and lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God. We have an appearance of godliness, but inwardly we deny it's power. (2 Timothy 3:2-5) We may go to church, but like a flame in the wind our passion for God has gone out and we wonder how we lost it.
A Better Way
This is the cycle of success that has taken down so many men and women before us. But God offers us a better way.
We don't work for rest, we work from rest. In God's top ten commandments we find a serious order to "not do any work" on one day a week. The Sabbath is a reminder that God is in control of our lives and that he is our provider. It's a gracious reset. It's a weekly rhythm that calls us back to seeing ourselves as children of the Almighty God from whom all blessings flow.
When we choose to keep the Sabbath and worship God, we put God back at the center of our lives, where he belongs. Worship reverses our natural tendency to be consumed with ourselves, so we can again see that Jesus is more valuable than any success, achievement, or treasure we could ever pursue.
Then out of rest and worship, we work hard. God made us to work. Our lives are to be living sacrifices to God, and for 40 - 50 hours a week that looks like showing up to work, serving our clients, leading our team, increasing our sales, growing our company, and honoring our employers. (Romans 12:1) We don’t work primarily to get money. We work to use the gifts God has given us, to serve others, to provide for our families, and to fulfill the good works God prepared for our lives. (Ephesians 2:10) Our work done well is another form of worship.
As we serve others well and prosper, we'll remember that the money God gives belongs to him: "The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, declares the Lord of hosts." (Haggai 2:8) We'll hold wealth with open hands, rather than closed fists. We'll resist the idea that we're building our own kingdoms on earth and instead ask God how we can join him in building his kingdom. And God will open our eyes to see the needs of others around us. We spiral outward, not inward.
Instead of using our money to withdraw and escape, we'll use God’s money to be rich in good works, generous and ready to share. (1 Timothy 6:17-18) We'll make friends for ourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive us into the eternal dwellings. (Luke 16:9) We'll show the world what our Father in heaven is like by living with a heartbeat of generosity.
When we give, we'll experience one of the purest joys on earth, to be used by God as a channel to bless other people. This joy will fuel us to keep working. In fact, it will add greater purpose and motivation to our work than we've ever experienced before. Long hours and heavy responsibility will now be connected to an eternal mission. We'll find that instead of living for weekends, vacations, or retirement, our work will be one of the primary places we go to worship God. And as we spiral outward to serve God and others, our joy will grow more and more.
This is the better way: rest, worship, work, prosper, give, rejoice, and repeat it all over again next week.