The Secret To SuccessRelated Media
What does it mean to be successful? Many answers have been proposed. Most commonly it simply refers to seeing things turn out the way they were hoped for or planned. Yet this is not as easy as it seems. Thus one observer says,
“The sense of success is to: (1) set a long-range goal and (2) be able to relate daily work to it. Too many of us have only a vague idea of what we ultimately want. Even when we do, we do not know how to translate this desire into the necessary short-range steps which will get us there.”1
Various approaches have been suggested. One answer as to the nature of success suggests that,
“Success depends on three things: who says it, what he says, how he says it; and of these three things, what he says is the least important.”2
Still another stresses the appearance of success as the key to becoming successful.3 Yet even in this we can often find both pleasure and disappointment:
“Most of us will be remembered more for our successes than our failures; but we tend to be more haunted by our failures than comforted by our successes.”4
A necessary key lies in a person’s personal character. Thus Beaux points out that, “Character is more important than intelligence for success.”5 Such a viewpoint was reinforced to me by a leader in the business community who, having noted several basic needs in an employee (e.g., adaptability, flexibility, good oral and written communication skills, and the ability to deliver a quality product skills), stressed the primary need for such integrity of character that he or she is honest, trustworthy, and truthful in all dealings. An additional insight is given by the well-known Conrad Hilton. Having given nine rules for “successful living,” he added a capstone tenth rule: “Pray consistently and confidently.” 6
In what follows we shall examine several examples of success as recorded in the Bible. We shall begin with the successes of two well-known Godly servants in the Old Testament.
Two Early Examples of Godly Success
The two examples here are men who were successful because they served the Lord wholeheartedly. The first is Joseph. Because his father Jacob had sired Joseph in his old age, the first to whom his favorite wife Rachel had given birth, Joseph was a favorite son. Joseph proved to be a trusting, faithful young man whom the Lord blessed, much to the dismay of his brothers. It would appear that Joseph had inherited some very basic, yet important, spiritual qualities from the great spiritual patriarchs before him: from Abraham, a commitment to God and a faithfulness that could stand the test of adversity; from Isaac, an underlying spiritual sensitivity that would make him subservient to the divine will even in the face of death. Joseph also gained from his father Jacob a steadfastness that would give him the capacity both for hard work and outright rejection from others. These were to prove to serve Joseph well.
Due to their growing hatred his brothers found an opportunity to sell Joseph into slavery. Joseph wound up in the service of one Potiphar (“given of[the god] Ra”), an officer of the Egyptian Pharaoh. From Joseph’s subsequent experiences, two spiritual principles emerge: (1) the person of faith will be tested; (2) the Lord will give the faithful one an opportunity to exercise that faith. Even in his slavery Joseph continued to be faithful to the Lord. Accordingly,
The LORD was with Joseph. He was successful and lived in the household of his Egyptian master. His master observed that the LORD was with him and the LORD made everything he was doing successful. So Joseph found favor in his sight and became his personal attendant. Potiphar appointed Joseph overseer of his household and put him in charge of everything he owned. (Gen. 39:2-4)7
Testing was to come, however. For soon the handsome young Joseph was repeatedly approached by Potiphar’s wife, who wished to be intimate with him. But Joseph repeatedly refused her due to his spiritual insight and integrity, as well as his allegiance to Potiphar. On one occasion, however, she managed to grab Joseph and rip off his outer garment, which he left “in her hand and ran outside” (Gen. 39:12). In retaliation she used his garment as supposed evidence of Joseph’s aggression against her, saying to her husband, “That Hebrew slave you brought to us tried to humiliate me” (v. 18). When he heard this, Potiphar was “furious.” One wonders whether Potiphar’s anger was against Joseph or due to his frustration with his wife. Nevertheless, to placate his wife he had Joseph put into prison. Poor Joseph thus once again found himself a prisoner. Here, however, the Lord’s favor brought him such success with the prison warden that all of the other prisoners were placed under Joseph’s administration (vv. 21-22). Indeed,
“The warden did not concern himself with anything that was in Joseph’s care because the LORD was with him and whatever he was doing the LORD was making successful.” (v. 23)
Even greater success lay ahead for Joseph, for God had given to him the ability to interpret dreams (cf. Gen. 37:5-11). It is not surprising, then, that an occasion came for Joseph to interpret the dreams of two of Pharaoh’s officials who had fallen into disfavor with him. And Joseph’s interpretations came true (Gen. 40:5-23). One of the officials, the king’s cupbearer, was restored to Pharaoh’s service and so was available when Pharaoh had a pair of troubling dreams.8 Because none of the king’s diviners or wise men were able to interpret the dreams, the cupbearer recommended that Pharaoh summon Joseph. Because of his God-given ability to interpret dreams, Joseph successfully interpreted Pharaoh’s dreams (Gen. 41:14-36) and was promoted to be the second most powerful ruler in Egypt (Gen. 41:37-45).
Joseph truly had become “successful.” But it was not for Joseph alone that the Lord had given trustworthy Joseph such success. When the predicted seven years of famine, which Joseph had foreseen in Pharaoh’s dreams cf. Gen. 41:27) came to pass, Joseph’s elevation to power became the means for bringing his people to Egypt (Gen. 42-47). Joseph’s entire family was delivered from the great famine, which in time would become a great nation—a nation that God would redeem and return to the land of promise (Ps. 105:42-45). Thus individual success can become the basis for meeting successfully the needs of others.
The second person is the prophet Daniel. Daniel (together with three friends) was taken captive in the first Babylonian invasion of Judah in 605 B.C. Daniel’s spiritual and moral integrity and trustworthiness soon became evident to his captors. Moreover, the Lord had given Daniel the ability to interpret dreams, which enabled him to achieve great success in the court of King Nebuchadnezzar (e.g., Dan. 2,4), including the king’s recognition and praise of “The King of heaven, for all his deeds are right and his ways are just” (Dan. 4:37; cf. 2:47). A most extraordinary example of Daniel’s success occurred later during the time of King Belshazzar. Belshazzar was probably the grandson of Nebuchanezzar and served as co-regent with his father Nabonidus (556-39 B.C.), who spent a great deal of time away from Babylon.
On the night of October 12, 539 B.C. Nabonidus had prepared a great feast for his nobles, in spite of the fact that the invading Persians had camped outside the city walls. When Belshazzar ordered the sacred drinking vessels of the Hebrews that Nebuchanezzar had taken from Jerusalem during the capture of the city, as the king and his wives and concubines drank from them, the fingers of a hand appeared and wrote on the wall. Neither he nor his wise men were able to decode the message. At that time the queen mother came into the banquet hall and learning of the situation advised Belshazzar to summon Daniel. Having reproved the king for drinking from the Hebrews’ holy vessels, Daniel read the message: “MENE, MENE, TEQEL and PHARSIN” (Dan. 5:25).
It should be noted that the wise men probably could read what had appeared, but did not understand it. Daniel not only read the writing (which itself read simply, “62”; cf. Dan. 5:30) but interpreted in terms of the internationally known Aramaic: “Numbered, weighed, and divided” (vv. 26-28). Accordingly, Daniel once again achieved great success, being proclaimed: “Third ruler in the kingdom” (v. 29). True to his interpretation, Babylon fell to the invading Persians under King Cyrus that very night (vv. 30-31) and King Belshazzar was killed. 9 Daniel’s success was to continue even into the era of Persian dominance.
Like Joseph, Daniel was faithful and whole-heartedly committed to the Lord. Both were indeed men of spiritual and moral integrity as God’s chosen servants. In what follows, we shall explore several keys to godly success as indicated in the Scriptures.
Old Testament Keys to Godly Success
Perhaps a good place to begin our discussion of biblical keys to success is the advice of Moses to his fellow Hebrews as he drew closer to his final days;
Look! I have set before you today life and prosperity on the one hand, and death and disaster on the other. What I am commanding you today is to love the LORD your God, to walk in his ways, and to obey his commandments statutes, and his ordinances. Then you will become numerous and the LORD your God will bless you in the land which you are about to possess. (Deut. 30:15-16)
Simply put, Moses was telling them to demonstrate their faith in God by willingly obeying his commandments and standards for them. This will enable the people destined for the Promised Land to achieve success not only to enter the land but to experience God’s further blessings as they dwell there. Failure to do so, however, would lead to inevitable disaster (vv. 17-18). As Merrill observes, “The options are most clear. Acceptance and obedience would bring life and prosperity (lit., “good”), but rejection and disobedience would result in death and destruction (lit., “bad” or “harm”).10 Accordingly, Moses implores the people,
I also call on you to love the LORD your God, to obey him and be loyal to him, for he gives you life and enables you to live continually in the land the LORD promised to give to your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. (v. 20)11
Although these words were directed at God’s Old Testament people, are they any less relevant to God’s people today as they live under the New Covenant? Absolutely not! For the Lord Jesus similarly challenged his followers, “If you love me, you will obey my commandments” (John 14:15). Success begins with a life of full faith in and faithfulness to the Lord and his standards. Then we, too, shall live with godly success in the place of God’s choosing.
Indeed, such has always been the case for God’s people. Thus Moses’ challenge was reinforced by no less than God when he revealed himself to Joshua as the people prepared to enter the Promised Land:
Make sure you are very strong and brave! Carefully obey all the law my servant Moses charged you to keep! Do not swerve from it to the right or to the left, so that you may be successful in all you do. This law scroll must not leave your lips! You must memorize it day and night so you can carefully obey all that is written in it. Then you will prosper and be successful. (Josh. 1:7-8)
It was necessary for Joshua live obediently to the Lord and his commandments, even as Moses had declared. They were not just to be read but to be so internalized and followed that they became a way of life. The challenge of conquering the land would take not only full dependence on the Lord’s and guidance but Joshua’s own strength and extreme personal courage.
The combination of strength and courage is one that is echoed throughout the Scriptures (e.g., Josh. 10:24-25; 2 Sam. 10:12; 1 Chron. 19:13; 2 Chron. 15:7; 32:7-8; Isa. 35:4; 1 Cor. 16:13). 12 For example, the author of Kings records David’s challenge to his son Solomon , to whom he would leave his kingship:
When David was close to death, he told Solomon his son: “I am about to die. Be strong and become a man! Do the job the LORD your God has assigned you by following his instructions and obeying his rules, commandments, regulations, and laws as written in the law of Moses. Then you will succeed in all you do and seek to accomplish.” (1 Kings 2:1-3)
As Austel observes, “The basic injunction for Solomon was that he should conduct himself in his personal life and in his role as leader of God’s people, in accordance with God’s word (cf. also Deut. 17:18-20). He was to be strong and show himself a man.”13 Paul House adds “According to David, Solomon will only ‘Be strong’ and a ‘man’ if he keeps the Mosaic covenant. He must take great pains to ‘observe’ what God demands.”14
Indeed, Solomon’s success would be attested in many areas (see, e.g., 1 Kings 10:14-29). Among these the most significant and well known, however, is his building of the Temple of the Lord (1 Kings 6:1-37). This was accomplished in accordance with the charge and sage advice his father David had given him; in this as in all areas Solomon’s success would come with living faithfully and using his God-given wisdom in dull submission to the Lord and his law:
Now, my son, may the LORD be with you! May you succeed and build a temple for the LORD your God, just as he announced you would. Only may the LORD give you insight and understanding when he places you in charge of Israel, so you may obey the law of the LORD your God. Then you will succeed, if you carefully obey the rules and regulations which the LORD ordered Moses to give to Israel. (1 Chron. 22:11-13)
Selman suggests further that David “extends the connection between covenant and by stressing the need to obey God’s word, whether in prophecy (v. 11) or Mosaic Law (vv. 12-13). The temple is to symbolize Solomon’s obedience to the Mosaic as well as the Davidic covenant.”15 Unfortunately, however, although Solomon was given great wisdom and great worldly success, that very success was to lead him to a spiritual failure that would have drastic effects upon his later reign and his nation (cf. 1 Kings 11:1-13). Would that Solomon had followed his father David’s advice:
Trust in the LORD and do what is right!
Settle in the land and maintain your integrity!
Then you will take delight in the LORD,
and he will answer your prayers.
Commit your future to the LORD!
Trust in him and he will act on your behalf.
Wait patiently for the LORD!
Wait confidently for him! (Ps. 37:3-5, 7)
Would that Solomon had followed his own advice:
Trust in the LORD with all your heart,
and do not rely on your own understanding.
Acknowledge him in all your ways,
and he will make your ways straight. (Prov. 3:5-6)
Solomon should have realized that true and lasting success comes from a whole-soul faith, commitment to the Lord, and obedience to his Word.
Returning to Joshua, it is instructive to note that Joshua was successful in leading the people to occupy the Promised Land due to his faith and faithfulness, and the Lord’s guidance and strength. Moses would indeed have been so pleased with Joshua’s bringing the Israelites successfully into the land in accordance with the Lord’s strength and guidance, for in his well-known song he had expressed his belief that the Lord would surely one day guide his people “by your strength to your holy dwelling place” (Exod. 15:13). It was Joshua’s faith in the Lord that was to give him strength and bring him spiritual success throughout the remainder of his life. Therefore, in his farewell address he could challenge the people to trust in the Lord and keep his commandments:
Be very strong! Carefully obey all that is written in the law scroll of Moses so you won’t swerve from it to the right or the left…. But you must be loyal to the LORD your God, as you have been to this day. (Josh. 23:6, 8)
In addition to obedience to the Lord and his commandments and standards, a third key to true success lies in devotion to God in one’s prayer life. An excellent example may be seen in Abraham’s servant whom he sent to search for a proper bride for his son Isaac. Having arrived in the city of Nahor, he stopped at the city’s water supply. There he prayed, “O LORD, God of my master Abraham, guide me today. Be faithful to my master Abraham” (Gen. 24:12). Before he finished his prayer, the young lady who was destined to be Isaac’s future wife appeared with her water jug on her shoulder (v. 15). His prayer was indeed answered and in accordance with Abraham’s original confidence (v. 40), he was successful in obtaining Rebekah as Isaac’s wife. His journey home was likewise successful and after his arrival, “Isaac brought Rebekah into his mother Sarah’s tent. He took her as his wife and loved her” (v. 67).
Nehemiah is another example of godliness, for in his life he was a man devoted to prayer. Nehemiah served as the cupbearer to the Persian king Artaxerxes Longimanus (464-424 B.C.). it was a position of responsibility, trust, and influence. Nehemiah was also a man of great courage and fidelity to the Lord. When he learned of the terrible condition in the city of Jerusalem since the fall of the city, he went into a prolonged periods of fasting and prayer, praying earnestly for his people. He also prayed specifically that Artaxerxes would allow him to return to Judah so as to aid the people in rebuilding the city of Jerusalem (cf. Neh. 1:11 with 2:4-8). Because Nehemiah was a righteous man who lived faithfully before the Lord, the Persian king granted his request (2:8a) .16 It all happened because God in his superintending grace moved the very king who had once halted the rebuilding of the city to have a change of heart. God was in control and answered faithful Nehemiah’s prayer. As Nahum said, it happened because, “The good hand of my God was upon me’ (Neh. 2:8b).
This was not the only occasion in which Nahum’s prayer life is mentioned in the Bible. After he had succeeded in arriving safely in Jerusalem, on a certain night he inspected the conditions throughout the city. Subsequently he encouraged the local officials and citizens there to begin rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem (Neh. 2:11-18). This angered the non-Jewish officials in the area first to deride Nehemiah and his followers and then to threaten them (Neh. 4:1-3, 7-8, 12). Nevertheless, Nehemiah prayed fervently through all of this dangerous period (4:4, 9) so that ultimately the rebuilding of the walls was successfully completed (6:15). Nehemiah remained a living example to all of a man of complete trust in the Lord, while doing his part and being one who was faithful in prayer—even in the face of personal danger. Nehemiah’s prayer life is reminiscent of David who when faced with seemingly insurmountable odds at the hands of his enemies, called out in confidence to the Lord (Ps. 17:6-9).
Escape from danger is also seen in the Lord’s assurance of protection. Thus Isaiah records God’s promise concerning a future Israel of sure deliverance from danger whether military or in legal affairs:
No weapon formed against you will succeed
and you will refute any accusation
raised against you in court.
This is the heritage of the LORD’s servants,
and their righteousness is from me. (Isa. 54:17; HCSB)
As Smith appropriately observes this is, “an all-inclusive assurance of God’s sovereign control of every possible situation that might arise…. His care and protection are complete, so there is no reason for Zion to worry about God’s future plans.”17
This should not have been a startling surprise for Isaiah’s hearers, for such had been Israel’s much earlier experience. Moses recognized and praised God for his protection shortly after Israel’s successful exodus from Egypt.
You stretched out you right hand,
the earth swallowed them.
By your loyal love
you will lead the people whom you have redeemed;
you will guide them by your strength
to you holy dwelling place. (Exod. 15:12-13)
Yes, Moses declared that it was God who would protect and successfully guide his people into the Promised Land. This, of course, called for Israel’s faithfulness and full trust in the Lord (cf. Deut. 5:32, 17:18).
As well, Solomon later admonished his readers,
Trust in the LORD with all your heart,
and do not rely on your own understanding.
Acknowledge him in all you ways,
and he will make your paths straight. (Prov. 3:5-6)
The wise believer would understand that true knowledge comes ultimately from the Lord and brings with it genuine success:
For the LORD gives wisdom,
and from his mouth comes knowledge and understanding.
He stores up effective counsel for the upright,
and is like a shield for those who live with integrity,
to guard the paths of the righteous
and to protect the way of the pious ones. (Prov. 2:6-8; cf. Ps. 50:15)
Accordingly, one may pray on behalf of those who utilize God’s wisdom, “May he [the Lord] give you the desires of your heart and make all your plans succeed” (Ps. 20:4; NIV). Solomon’s father David had sought the Lord for such wisdom and counsel (cf. Ps. 139:23-24). Indeed, David’s life and teachings displayed an active prayer life that expressed full confidence in God’s deliverance. Such enabled him to escape many occasions of danger successfully. To be sure David was not perfect but for the greater span of his life he rested in god’s wisdom and guidance for the issues of life.
By way of summarizing these Old Testament keys to success, we note three very vital factors: (1) faithful obedience to the Lord, (2) faithful adherence to his Word and (3) faithful communication with the Lord in a consistent prayer life. Observing these as a threefold key can bring not only spiritual success but the Lord’s guidance, protection and a life featured by godly wisdom. All of this would seem to be sufficient. But there is more! The Old Testament affirms that genuine allegiance to the Lord and keeping his standards as well as a living intimacy with him will be followed by success even after one’s earthly life is over.
There are several texts that promise a transition to eternal fellowship with God. Thus Job declares:
If a man dies will he live again?
All the days of my hard service I will wait,
TIll my change comes.
You will call, and I will answer You ;
You will desire the work of Your hands. (Job 14:14-14; NKJV; cf. NASB; NLT).
Although he has just discounted the possibility of life after death (vv. 7-12), Job reconsiders such a possibility, a hope that he expresses again a bit later:
After my skin has been destroyed,
yet in my flesh I will see God,
whom I will see for myself,
and my one eyes will behold,
and not another. (Job 19:26-27a)
Here Job appears to reassert his hope of seeing God, his Redeemer (cf. v. 25), even after death. As Zuck remarks, “This gazing on God for all eternity will be with his own eyes (either the eyes of his resurrected body, or figuratively the eyes of his soul).” 18
Although the meaning and emphases of both passages are hotly debated by scholars, it appears almost certain that Job does have an underlying belief and hope of a life with God after his own physical death. Thus considering both passages together Kaiser concludes,
Job had been assured that just as a tree would sprout again even if it were cut down, So would a man live again (Job 14:7, 14). In fact, he longed for the opportunity to look upon his Redeemer with his own eyes even after the worms had destroyed his body.19
Several other Old Testament texts tend to point to a belief in immortality for the righteous (e.g., Ps. 49:14-15; 73:23-24). Thus Daniel declares,
Many of those who sleep
in the dusty ground will awake-
some to everlasting life,
and others to shame
and everlasting abhorrence.(Dan 12:2)
Here not only is an afterlife clearly declared but the assurance of an everlasting bodily resurrection. As Leon Wood points out, “Both the words used and the general context point rather to the idea of a physical resurrection, that which is literally from the ‘ground of dust.’”20
In addition, Job’s hope of immortality (Job 19:25-27) is associated with a strong belief in seeing the Lord, his Redeemer. This may contain a veiled hint of the coming of the Messiah. Archer puts it even more certainly:
It is hard to believe that the Hebrew listener would gain any other impression… [i.e., from the Hebrew words] than from [the vantage point of] my flesh [or my ‘body’] I shall behold God. Taken in this sense, the passage indicates Job’s conviction that even after his body has moldered away in the grave, there will come a time in the Last Day—when his divine Redeemer stands on the soil… of this earth—that from the vantage point of a postresurrection body he will behold God. 21
Many Old Testament texts speak of the Messiah’s birth (e.g., Isa. 7:14; cf. Micah 5:2; Matt. 1:23; 2:6). Some give details of his life and ministry (e.g., Ps. 22:1; cf. 27:46; Ps. 40:6-8, cf. Heb. 10:5-7; Isa. 52:13-53:12; cf. Matt. 8:16-17; 27:57-60), including his resurrection and ascension (e.g., Ps. 16:9-11; cf. Act 2:25-27; Ps. 110:1, 4; cf. Matt. 22:44-45; Heb. 7:21-22). Indeed, the Psalms contain many allusions to the coming Messiah. Some Psalms nay even be termed “Messianic Psalms” (e.g., Pss. 2; 22; 110). Many can be labeled “essentially messianic” (e.g., Pss. 8; 16; 69; 103; 118). Still others contain comments that are applicable to the coming Messiah (e.g., Pss. 40; 31; 45; 68: 72; 89; 109; 132).
Thus a faithful, believing Israelite’s ultimate success lay in the expectant hope of a coming Messiah. It is to that One that we now turn as we consider keys to success that are mentioned in the New Testament.
Success in the New Testament
In the New Testament the word “success” occurs quite infrequently. Nevertheless, success can be seen, for the Lord’s apostles and the early believers experienced success on many occasions both in their everyday lives and their ministries. The theme of success permeates the accounts found in the book of Acts and other New Testament writings. For example, Paul expects the Lord’s guidance to enable him to come successfully to Rome:
For God, whom I serve in my spirit by preaching the gospel of his Son, is my witness that I continually remember you and I always ask in my prayers, if perhaps now at last I may succeed in visiting you according to the will of God. (Rom. 1:9-10).
The greatest example, of course, is in the life and ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ. In him can be found in perfection the same triad that we saw in the Old Testament. Jesus was the one who was ever obedient to the will of God the Father. Thus on one occasion he himself declared, “My food is to do the will of the one who sent me and to complete his work” (John 4:34; cf. John 5:36-37a), and his life was a living example of doing the Father’s will (cf. John 14:10). Indeed, as he approached the time of his crucifixion he could rightly say to the Father “I glorified you on earth by completing the work you gave me to do” (John 17:4). Thus Kȫstenberger remarks, “When Jesus utters his final prayer, the cross still lies ahead, but by faith, he anticipates the successful completion of his mission.”22
Moreover, Jesus often set before people the teaching and importance of the scriptures (cf. Matt. 9:13) and his role in fulfilling the emphases of the Old Testament:
Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have not come to abolish these things but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth pass away not the smallest letter or stroke of a letter will pass from the law until everything takes place.” (Matt. 5:17-18)
As France observes, Jesus is teaching that, “The authority of law and the prophets is not abolished. They remain the authoritative word of God. But their role will not be the same, now that what they pointed forward to has come.” 23 Later in his ministry Jesus challenged a wealthy man that if he truly wanted to enter into life, he must “Keep the commandments” (Matt. 19:17). That is, he must live out words of Scripture to their full extent (vv. 18-20). As Osborne points out, “Turning to God demands not just good works but obedience to God’s commandments…. To discover ‘life’ one must begin with obedience’… i.e., living life according to God’s will.”24 Here Jesus brings together the need to both the crucial importance of both following the will of God and living out the Word of God.
Jesus was also a prime example of one who followed a rigorous and consistent prayer life. His prayer time is often noted in the gospels. For example, on one occasion it preceded his rescuing of his disciples from a raging storm (Matt. 4:22-32). It is scarcely surprising that toward the end of his life he prayed fervently to the Father reasserting his determination to follow the Father’s will: “My Father, if possible, let this cup pass from me! Yet not what I will, but what you will” (Matt. 36:39; cf. vv. 42-44; John 17:1-26). Even as he hung on the cross he cried out in prayer to the Father, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46). Although these words have often misconstrued, in his prayer Jesus is citing Psalm 22:1:
By citing the opening verse of Psalm 22, Jesus was inviting all to understand his divine mission and his intense struggle as the God-man…. He, the sinless One, the Holy One, was undergoing the penalty for a sinful humanity. Although he knew that this was the moment for which he had come and that victory lay ahead, the experience must have been indescribably horrendous.25
His last words once again spoke of his trust and devotion to the will of the Father: “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!”
Rather than viewing Jesus’ life as some do simply as a tragic failure culminating in martyrdom, we should remember his life as one of success and final triumph. He accomplished all that the Father had sent him to do (cf. John 3:13-17). Accordingly, his death was transformed into a glorious resurrection (John 20:17, 21; cf. Matt. 28:1-7) followed by his ascension and return to heaven (Acts 1:9-11). These events not only served as a capstone and testimony to Jesus’ earthly life and ministry, but became for believers a source of assurance of eternal life with the Lord (cf. John 14:1-3). As Jesus himself declared, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even if he dies, and the one who lives and believes in me will never die” (John 11:25-26). It is a promise that remains for all ages.
From a study of both Testaments it may safely be concluded that genuine spiritual success and real living are found in a threefold key: (1) a faithful obedience to the Lord and his will; (2) walking faithfully according to the revealed standards in the Word of God; and (3) being faithful in observing a consistent prayer life. As we have just noticed, such is exemplified in Jesus’ earthly life and ministry. Thus because believers are united to the risen Christ and indwelled by the Holy Spirit, they have been given the potential of life on the highest plain (cf. Rom. 12:1-2; Col 1:27). As did Jesus Christ, then, believers can and should exercise the threefold key. Above all, they should willingly and gladly be submissive to the will of God. The result will be a desire to share that key to success with others. The believer will thus have and enjoy an active ministry for Christ. When believers do so, they will come to understand more fully Paul’s closing testimony:
I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith! Finally, the crown of righteousness is reserved for me. The Lord, the righteous judge, will award it to me in that day--and not to me only, but also to all who have set their affection on his appearing. 2 Tim. 4:7-8)
Although Paul is utilizing imagery associated with the well-known Greek races,26 the underlying emphasis is that Paul’s “perseverance in the struggle and faithful completion of his task will be followed by a heavenly reward.”27
Paul’s confidence in his faithful adherence to the Lord’s will and to his revealed standards can be seen in his instructions to the Philippian Christians during his first Roman imprisonment:
Finally brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is worthy of respect, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if something is excellent or praiseworthy. Think about these things. And what you learned and received and heard and saw in me, do these things. And the God of peace will be with you. (Phil. 4:8-9)
His was a consistent walk –even as he taught his readers:
Every scripture is inspired by God and useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness that the person dedicated to God may be capable and equipped for every good work. (2 Tim. 3:16-17)
Moreover, the believer has a distinct helper in accomplishing these things, for Christ promised to send the Holy Spirit who will “guide you into all truth” (John 16:13). The third key to spiritual success is also realizable due to the believer’s union with the risen Christ and his being indwelled by the Holy Spirit enables him to pray more effectively:
The Spirit helps us in our weakness for we do not know how we should pray, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with inexpressible groaning. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes on behalf of the saints according to God’s will. (Rom. 8:26-27)
Therefore, believers can and should maintain a consistent prayer life. Prayer remains a vital element in a successful Christian life. Although the faithful believer often senses the presence of the Lord in what takes place in his life, (cf. Ps. 73:26), this is especially true as he prays,
Teach me to do your will,
for you are my God.
May your gracious Spirit
lead me on level ground. (Ps. 143:10; HCSB)
May we each, then, remain faithful in utilizing the threefold key to success to our everyday life and as we do we may sing with the hymn writer:
Teach me Thy will, O Lord, teach me Thy way;
Teach me to know Thy Word, Teach me to pray.
What-e’er seems best to Thee, that be my perfect plea,
So that Thou drawest me closer each day.28
Yes, the faithful believer may enjoy spiritual success in this life and he may be certain that when this life has passed, he will enjoy the crowning success of an eternal life and fellowship with the Lord (cf. John 14:1-3). Moreover, as the capstone of all of this, one day the Lord Jesus Christ will return and be with his saints in an everlasting life on earth (cf. 1 Thess. 4:13-18; Rev. 21-22).
Meanwhile, let us as faithful believers enjoy the fruits of utilizing the threefold key to success, mindful of sharing that key with others, so that all may come to know Christ (cf. Matt. 28:19-20; Acts 1:8). Let us also be mindful of the One who gives us the ability to live and experience the true successful Christian life (Gal. 2:20). And as we do,
Not I, but Christ, be honored, loved, and exalted;
Not I, but Christ, be seen be known, be heard;
Not I, but Christ, in every look and action;
Not I, but Christ, in every thought and word.29
1 A. P. Gouthey, as cited in Lloyd Cory, Quotable Quotations (Wheaton: Victor Books, Scripture Press, 1985), 374.
2 John, Viscount Morley of Blackburn, Recollections, 1917, as cited in John Bartlett, Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations, ed. Justin Kaplan (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1992), 537.
3 So Franḉois, Duc de La Rochefoucald as cited in Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations, 265.
4 Tom Haggai, as cited in Cory, Quotable Quotations, 372.
5 Gilberte Beaux, in ibid., 372.
6 Conrad Hilton, in ibid., 375.
7 Unless otherwise noted, all scriptural citations are taken from the NET.
8 A strong case can be made that the three occurrences of double dreams in the Joseph story may well serve as one of the keys to the structure of the narrative.
9 “Darius” is probably an indication of Cyrus’ descent from both the Medes and the Persians. Moreover, it was he who as King of the Persians brought unity to the Medes and Persians when he defeated the Medes in 555 B.C. Media then became a satrapy of Persia. Many secular inscriptions testify to the fact that it was Cyrus who captured Babylon. See further the discussion in Stephen R. Miller, Daniel, The New American Commentary, ed. E. Ray Clendenen (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1994), 175-77.
10 Eugene H. Merrill, Deuteronomy, The new American Commentary, ed. E. Ray Clendenen (Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 1994), 392.
11 See further, Richard D. Patterson, “The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,” Biblical Studies Press, 2013.
12 See further, Richard D. Patterson, “The Source of True Strength,” Biblical Studies Press, 2013.
13 Hermann J. Austel, in Richard D. Patterson, “1 and 2 Kings,” The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, eds. Tremper Longman III and David E. Garland, rev. ed., 13 vols. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009) 3:650.
14 Paul R. House, 1, 2 Kings, The New American Commentary, ed. E. Ray Clendenen (Nashville: Broadman and Holoman, 1995), 96.
15 Martin J. Selman, 1 Chronicles, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries, ed. D. J. Wiseman (Downers Grove: Inter-Varsity Press, 1194), 215-16.
16 Some have suggested that the normally inflexible Artaxerxes was perhaps influenced not only by Nehemiah’s long loyal service and his sad outward countenance ( 2:2; a thing that was normally not too wise to display) but by the presence of the queen at the king’s side (2:6). Mervin Breneman (Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, The New American Commentary, ed. E. Ray Clendenen [Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 1993]), presents an unusual approach to all of this saying, “No doubt when Nehemiah began to pray about the condition of Jerusalem, he had no idea that he would be the one to do the work. But such is God’s way of working.”
17 Gary V. Smith, Isaiah 40-66, The New American Commentary, ed. E. Ray Clendenen (Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 2009), 491,492.
18 Roy B. Zuck, “Job,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: Old Testament, eds. John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck (Wheaton: Scripture Press, 1985), 742.
19 Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., Toward an Old testament Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1978), 249.
20 Leon Wood, A Commentary on Daniel (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1973), 317-18.
21 Gleason L. Archer, Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1982), 241.
22 A. Kȫstenberger, John, Baker Exegetical Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004), 489.
23 R. T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007), 183.
24 Matthew, Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010), 717.
25 Richard D. Patterson, “Psalm 22: “From Trial to Triumph,” in Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 47:2, 2004, 229, 232.
26 For a fuller understanding of this background see I Howard Marshall, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Pastoral Epistles, The International Critical Commentary on the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, eds. J. A. Emerton, C. E. B. Cranfield, and G. N. Stanton (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1999), 807-10; Richard D. Patterson, “Christians as Athletes,” Biblical Studies Press, 2012.
27 Andreas Kȫstenberger, “1 and 2 Timothy, Titus,” The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, ed. Tremper Longman III and David E. Garland (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006), 594.
28 Katherine A. Grimes, “Teach Me Thy Will. O Lord.”
29 Ada A. Widdington, “Not I, But Christ.”