In one of his sermons entitled “Not as I will, but as Thou wilt”, J R Miller asked this pertinent question, “What is success?”(www.gracegems.org/Miller/Gods_will.htm). There are many differing views. For some, success means achieving their dreams, realising their ambitions, or gaining fame or earthly riches.
Having read through the sermon, I have gleaned some relevant thoughts which will help us to consider our lives in the light of God’s standard of success.
Viewed from a Christian perspective, true success is not about doing what we think is best, but doing the will of God. Though such a person may be seen by the world as a failure, Miller states that “he who is true, just, humble, pure, pleasing God and living unselfishly— is the only man who really succeeds—while all others fail.”
God has a purpose for each one of us. We succeed when we fulfil His purpose through our lives. Miller adds that “The most radiant career, as it appears to men, means nothing—if it is not that for which God made us. We fail in life—if we do not realise God’s will for us. …We may make no name among men, may raise for ourselves no monument of earthly glory—but if we please God by a life of obedience and humble service, and build up within us a character in which divine virtues shine—we shall have attained abiding success.”
Miller rightly observes that “God’s will is the grandest thing we can find to do in all the world, though it is in men’s eyes—the lowliest task our hands can do.” He illustrates this truth from the testimony of Norman McLeod, a Scottish Presbyterian minister who was called by God into the pastoral ministry:
“My life is not what I would have chosen. I often long for quiet, for reading, and for thought. It seems to me to be a very paradise to be able to read, to think, go deep into things, to gather the glorious riches of intellectual culture. But God in His providence, has forbidden this to me. I must spend hours in receiving people who wish to speak to me about all manner of trifles; I must reply to letters about nothing; I must engage in public work on everything; I must employ my life on what seems uncongenial, vanishing, temporary, wasteful. Yet God knows me better than I know myself. He knows my gifts, my abilities, my failings, and my weakness; what I can do—and what I cannot do. So I desire to be led, and not to lead; to follow Him. I am quite sure He has thus enabled me to do a great deal more in ways which seemed to me almost a waste of life, in advancing His kingdom; than I would have done any other way.”
In his sermon, Miller preached that “the most successful life—is the one which submits the most cheerfully and the most completely, to the will of God.” Such a life will not be aimless or meaningless as every gift, skill and ability is trained, disciplined and applied to the noblest and worthiest service. In this way, we fulfil the purpose for which God has made us.
Clearly, the only way to true success in God’s sight is to devote ourselves wholly to do His will. This is evident from the testimony of Saul the persecutor who was bent on doing his own will. In his zeal, he thought that the best way to serve God was to destroy the Christians. Armed with letters from the high priest, he was on the way to Damascus to apprehend believers that “he might bring them bound unto Jerusalem” (Acts 9: 2). But as “he came near Damascus”, the Lord met him. Verses 3-5 tell us about this dramatic encounter that utterly transformed Saul’s life – “and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven: 4 And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? 5 And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.”
Trembling and astonished, Saul responded: “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?” (v 6). Just before this incident, he had been fully intent on carrying out the wishes of the Sanhedrin. But now, subdued and humbled, Saul sought to know the Lord’s will for his life.
“We may further remark here, that this indicates the true nature of conversion. It is decided, prompt, immediate. Paul did not debate the matter, (Gal 1: 16); he did not inquire what the scribes and Pharisees would say; he did not consult his own reputation; he did not ask what the world would think. With characteristic promptness—with a readiness which showed what he would yet be—he gave himself up at once and entirely to the Lord Jesus; evidently with a purpose to do His will alone” (Albert Barnes).
In verses 15-16, the Lord revealed to Ananias what work He wanted His servant Saul to do: “But the Lord said unto him, Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel: 16 For I will shew him how great things he must suffer for my name's sake.”
God’s will for Saul – whose name was later changed to Paul – was to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles and to suffer many things for Christ’s sake. Obeying God’s call, the apostle Paul “straightway … preached Christ in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God” (Acts 9: 20). From being a persecutor, Paul became a preacher of the Gospel of Christ. In God’s eyes, Paul was a true success because he surrendered his life to the Lord to do His will.
Brethren, to be truly successful in life, we must submit ourselves cheerfully and wholly to the Lord. Like the persecutor Saul on the road to Damascus, we need to ask, “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?”. Only then will we be able to fulfil the purpose for which God has made us. We can then echo the words of our Saviour in the Garden of Gethsemane: “Not as I will, but as Thou wilt” (Matt 26: 39). May we yield ourselves fully to the Lord to do His will, that we may please Him Who has graciously called us unto Himself. Amen.