Thanks to messages from pastors such as Joseph Prince, we’ve heard this message a million times: “Christians should be the most skilled, talented, successful people on the planet”. But I’ve objectively started paying attention to successful people, and have come to a shocking conclusion: most of the rich, talented, resourceful people in the world are not charismatic Christians. They never got anointed by church elders. They never went to the latest revival meeting…they never even got a double portion.
It’s important at this point to define “success”. Perhaps it may seem too shallow to say success equals finances and jobs, even though this seems to be what Charismatics generally are referring to when talking about things like “favor” and “provision”. For the purposes of this article, let us simply define success as achieving a dream or goal, whatever that may be – whether that be a solid marriage, a six-figure income, or a thriving ministry to the homeless.
When I started looking for the common thread that actually makes people successful, I found a simple answer: they do things.
Mozart spent ten years learning to compose concertos before he wrote his first masterpiece at age 21. Bill Gates spent his entire teenagerhood teaching himself how to use time-sharing computers – in one seven-month period in 1971, Gates and his friends ran up 1,575 hours of computer time (which averages out to eight hours a day, seven days a week). The Beatles in their earlier years got a gig in Hamburg where they played 8 hours a day, seven days a week. By the time they had their first success, they had already performed 1200 times!
I found this true in my own life as well. I wrote a musical last year, which was performed in the Fringe Festival and went over really well. Multiple people described the musical as being a spiritual experience, and so it would naturally follow that I had a friend who asked me what my spiritual process was for writing the show. Did I fast? Did I sit around for hours begging God to give me inspiration? Did I wait for a download, and then write?
No. All I did was work extremely fricking hard. No magic formula. Did research, had no social life, spent hours staring at my arm hairs wondering why my songs made no sense, talked to God, or the wall, or my characters, watched historical movies, took walks…that’s it.
What I’ve seen far too much of among some church denominations is this idea that spiritual calisthenics – hours of prayer, fasting, and begging God to move mountains – is going to get the job done. Hey, nothing is wrong with praying. And yes, I know stories of people like Rees Howells and George Muller who had incredible stories of divine provision. But for every Howells and Muller, I’ve got a hundred who have scrapped, clawed, made a million mistakes, and pushed on until they reached their dreams.
Sometimes it’s simpler than we make it. If you need financial breakthrough, ask yourself if you’ve ever tried talking to your boss about a raise. If you want to start a business, ask yourself if you’ve ever taken a business class or built connections with people who run successful businesses. If you’ve been single your entire life and want to be in a relationship, ask yourself if you’ve ever legitimately pursued someone.
“But what if things don’t turn out?” Since when do we EVER know how things will turn out? As Helen Keller said, “Security is mostly a superstition…Life is either a daring adventure, or it is nothing”.
“But what if I’ve already tried that and it didn’t work?” Herein lies another theological rub which I need to unpack. I’ve found that there is a tendency to excuse a lack of discipline by saying “it’s the will of God”. By this, I mean that when we hit resistance to our goals/dreams, we take this to mean “God must be leading me somewhere else”. The only time when we push through this, it seems, is when we’re entirely convinced that our goal is of God – at which point, all resistance magically is credited to the devil. It seems rather flimsy reasoning to believe that the only difference between God’s work and the devil’s is the amount of confidence we have in our goals.
What I’m really getting at is summed up in a quote by Galileo that I often use: “I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with senses, reason, and intellect has intended for us to forgo their use”. It didn’t take MLK much to realize he had a responsibility to right a wrong in the world. And when he got thrown in jail he didn’t say, “well, I guess God’s telling us to quit”. He kept on the road. And maybe we should too. What if success is as simple as looking for good we can do in the world, and doing it? Like Reinhard Bonnke said, “Those who forever seek the will of God are overrun by those who do the will of God.”
Here’s a final thought, courtesy Bill Johnson: “God wants to renew your mind so much that He can do your will”. If you follow that line of thought to its completion, the implication is that you no longer ask God about anything, you just make decisions and work hard till you see them through. Hmmm…
Sounds a lot like what successful people already do.
Prayer does not change God – it changes me. -C.S. Lewis