I’m sure we have all wondered how to be successful with our lives. For some of us it is our career, for some it is fame, and for some it is money. If we are truly honest, for most of us it is all 3!! When I was younger, I once defined success as “having enough money to be able to go out to eat at an authentic Italian restaurant in Rome, Italy anytime I wanted to. I not only wanted financial wealth and the freedom to do what I wanted, when I wanted, I also wanted job status and notoriety. My priorities were worldly. These are the things that I thought meant success. That may surprise some of you, because you did not know me before I moved to Alpharetta 8 years ago. I spent 20 years working in management positions for various corporations, always striving to climb the corporate ladder, but never reaching the success I desired. I was also involved in my local church as a leader and participant during this time. Although I hid these worldly desires beneath a facade of a Christian lifestyle, in reality I was living for me, not for God.
In 1996, I heard God’s call to go on my first short-term mission trip to the country of Kazakhstan. I did not know why He called me or what He wanted me to do. I just knew that He wanted me to go. On that trip, God confronted me about the depth of my faith. You see, I believed in Jesus and I served God, but my heart and life were far from Him. I wasn’t living my faith. God knew it, and now I knew it too! Faith is about living for God in all that we do, being obedient to His Word, and trusting Him for our needs and desires. So many times in my life I had chosen the world’s way or my way to find success, instead of God’s way. In Kazakhstan, God revealed to me that success is not measured by the accumulation of worldly possessions but by the strength of our relationship with Him and others. And His Word says in Matthew 6:33 that if we “seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, all these things will be given to us as well.” So I decided to take up His challenge and told God in Kazakhstan that from then on I would now strive to put Him first, to live my faith out every day, and to trust Him for my needs and desires.
But what does it mean to live for God and put Him first in our lives? Many of us struggle to understand what that means. Faith can mean different things to different people, and we are all on our own faith journey. For me, it simply meant to seek God – to pursue Him – whether it’s in worship, Bible reading, or fellowship with other Believers. It meant to seek His wisdom when making decisions and to pray daily. To just make God the first person I turn to in every situation. But it starts with seeking God. It means to be pro-active with one’s faith. Not waiting for God to act, because He already has. But serving Him at every opportunity and then seeing God fulfill His promise to use us and bless us. This brings to mind 2 Scripture verses for me. First, James 4:8 says that “if we draw near to God, He will draw near to us.” Again, we must act. God wants us to pursue Him. He will never force Himself upon us. The second verse is from Jeremiah 29:13, which says that “if you seek God with all of your heart, you will find Him.” God is not lost, we are. If we want to find Him we will. So, if we want more of God and more of His blessings in our lives, then we must first seek God.
As I responded to God’s challenge, He helped me to change my priorities and seek Him instead of worldly things. As a result, I began to experience many blessings in my life. I began to see that happiness and joy do not come from my professional status, my income or my notoriety, but rather from having a relationship with God, being obedient to His will, and serving others in Christ Jesus’ name. Let me share some examples, because these kinds of blessings cannot be quantified by worldly measures. They must be experienced to understand their true value. God has blessed me in seeing others come to Christ. God has blessed me in seeing pastors and church leaders we have trained become more effective ministers in their country. God has blessed me in being used by Him to help or bless others, both in the mission field and here at CTS. God has blessed me in seeing others grow in faith. God has blessed me with relationships with Christians from other countries & cultures. God has blessed me with love and prayer support from fellow believers. These give me tremendous joy and are blessings that money can’t buy, no job could create, and no measure of fame could provide. In my mind, these blessings are far more precious than any worldly gain. And all the while, God has continued to provide for our family’s financial needs, and has given me a far more rewarding career. I have discovered that Matthew 6:33 is TRUE!!
As you probably know I am currently battling non-Hodgkins lymphoma cancer for the 2nd time in my life. I survived the same cancer 22 years ago. But despite the difficulties and pain of going through it again, I still feel so blessed by God. He has blessed me with so much love, support and prayers from family, friends and this congregation, that I just want to worship Him with my whole life. I have had healing hands laid on me, been anointed with oil several times, and am on more prayer lists than I can count! It is the biggest source of strength, peace and comfort for me during my treatment and recovery from this disease. I do not know how other people deal with struggles like this without Christ, without faith, and without a fellowship of Believers. I want to personally thank all of you for your prayers, cards, emails and offers of support. They mean so much to me and my family, and are counted as some of our richest blessings!
I believe with all of my heart that God has heard and answered all of the prayers for my healing. That is because I believe God still has more for me to do. For those of you who may not know, recent tests have shown that my tumor is gone and the cancer is in remission. But my fight with cancer is not over yet and I still have additional treatments to undergo. So even if I do not recover or the cancer comes back, I will still proclaim Christ as my Lord & Savior. Because my life is not about me, but it is all about Him! And I have the assurance that Christ is with me whether I live or whether I die. And that, my friends, is true freedom.
In the movie Braveheart, the main character of William Wallace, played by Mel Gibson, said “all men die, but not every man really lives.” We will all die some day, but have we all really lived? Who, or what, are we living for? If we live for worldly things, we are truly a slave to those things and are not really free.
For me, I want true freedom. I want to be a man that really lives. According to the Bible, and based upon my own experience, I now know & believe that a man that really lives is a man who seeks God and lives for Christ! To me, this is the real definition of a successful life – to live for God, to be a person of faith, and to bless others. I thank God for this revelation to me 10 years ago, for helping me become more of the person He wants me to be, and for His unending blessings in my life. May God reveal this to you as well, and may He bless you all as you seek Him and put Him first in your lives!