Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Build to Gain the Reward

Commenting on my last post, Mark Goodyear posed a couple of interesting questions. Rather than paraphrase, I'll let his comment speak for him -

"...the only success that has any significance is whether we are transformed into the image of our Creator. Still, I imagine an entrepreneur trying to build a business wants to do more than conform himself to Christ. He or she wants to do both--conform to Christ and build a financially successful business. Is it wrong to want both? Are they incompatible?"

Mark's questions dovetail with an important point in the "how to build" series of posts - Build to Gain the Reward. I find Mark's first question particularly intriguing. How do we think about pursuing success and pursuing God simultaneously? I think at different points in our lives, we've all experienced the inherent tension between both pursuits.

Here's how I think about this in my life - I'm building to gain a reward. Whether we're building a business or working on a project, the aim is to receive a reward from God. This might include the satisfaction that comes through using our creativity and completing a task. It might also include monetary reward that comes from having a successful enterprise.

Yet all these rewards pale in comparison to this - the reward of knowing and experiencing Christ. It is by far, the greatest gain we can receive because it is of greatest value and eternally lasting. A passage that captures this for me is found in Psalm 73.

Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

(Psalm 73:25)

I love Psalm 73 because it captures this tension between pursuing success in this life and the treasure of knowing Christ. To me, verse 25 is the pinnacle of the psalm because the psalmist resolves the tension by concluding two things -

1. There is no treasure that compares with knowing God.
2. Knowing the living God is sufficient for all his desires.

This verse has become a wonderful guide as I build and pursue success. The truth is I want rewards of all kinds when I work and build. I love rewards and I don't think there's anything necessarily wrong with that. Yet by God's grace, most of all, I want the everlasting reward of knowing God. He is the Treasure of everlasting value.

What do you think? How would you answer Mark's questions?

18 comments:

L.L. Barkat said...

I think we intrinsically desire to build things well. That is perhaps part of our God-likeness. I consider how He created and kept saying, "It is good." When I build a business or anything else, I have this kind of feeling, this hope... it is good! If, however, I build in a way that diminishes others, or God's own good work in Creation, I think this runs counter to being conformed to Christ. Then I must rethink my direction.

Ted Gossard said...

Good thought, L.L.

ESI, I like your thoughts here. I don't see wanting a reward as necessarily wrong either, and I like you bringing in Psalm 73 here as well as Philippians 3.

I've been so bombarded with the American dream that I tend to rebel and recoil against anything that spells success in something other than, in love laying down one's life to follow Christ. Just to live in God's kingdom in doing that ends up being more than enough reward and rewards.

Well, just a thought. And not a rebuff to what you're saying here. Good points!

Kim said...

I have struggled with these questions for my whole life. As a 50 year old architect who now works for a construction company, the subject of building strikes close to home.

At this stage of my life, I'm seeing conformity to Christ and building a financially successful business as at odds (if not downright mutually exclusive).

If financial success came because of one's pursuit of Christ, I think it would become a liability not an asset. Jesus almost pitied the rich, saying that they would have a more difficult time making it into the kingdom of heaven. He always encouraged building treasures in heaven and discouraged building treasures on earth.

Conforming to Christ is at odds with most of our worldly values. He did not come from any society worth mentioning. He had no place to lay His head. No belongings to speak of. Had no worldly aspiriations. Did no networking. Counted on His father for everything. In our economy, He sounds like a loser!

Even as I write, I start to understand why the "emerging church" is so down on capitalism. I don't go as far as they do, but I can understand it.

Sorry for the long post!
Peace, Kim

Every Square Inch said...

LL,

From your comment, I'd surmise that you don't struggle as much as some when it comes to building for material success and living to conform to Christ. Perhaps, because you see material success as a secondary by product of building well so as to reflect God?

Ted,

I think that was what the Psalmist concluded - living in God's kingdom is more than sufficient reward. It doesn't mean we can't desire other rewards but any material reward must place a distant second.

Every Square Inch said...

Kim,

Thanks for commenting. You've raised some really intriguing points. I love how you've wrestled with this topic. I'd rather be among those who wrestle with this than to automatically buy into the American dream as gospel. Nor should we consider capitalism gospel either.

However, the one part of your comment that I wonder about is whether you view money or wealth as inherently evil.

There's no doubt that wealth carries a burden but is it truly at odds with being a follower of Jesus Christ? Isn't the problem not so much with wealth but with our own hearts? The rich man struggles because he is tempted to love money rather than God...he's tempted to trust his nest egg for security rather than Christ.

Thanks for provoking the discussion.

Grace to you

L.L. Barkat said...

I'm not sure how I feel about building for material success. I think that's a little different from the desire to simply build well. Of course, material success can be a secondary byproduct as you say.

HALFMOM said...

I think of money as a tool - just like books and hammers and computers - not inherently good or evil and of success as how well I utilized the resources and tools I had to accomplish an assigned task.

So, to some extent, success is internal - did I use what I had well enough to accomplish the task set before me. Is God pleased with my use of His resources and the outcome of my labor.

Every Square Inch said...

LL,

Based on yours and Kim's comment, it's made me want to ask - do you think it's wrong to build for material success? I've noticed from other conversations elsewhere that many feel uncomfortable with that.

Is it wrong for an owner of a business to have specific goals to build a profitable and successful business?

Every Square Inch said...

halfmom

I think that's how I think of it as well. It's a gift, a tool but our primary focus should be on the Giver.

I like the sound of "success is internal". Yes, it's doing what God has called us to do - financial success isn't the measure of that.

L.L. Barkat said...

Wrong? Hmmmm... I guess it partly has to do with our definition of a successful and profitable business. Do you mean it only in the sense of "making x dollars"?

Every Square Inch said...

LL,

Sorry for not being clear - I mean financially profitable - yes, making $$$. ;-)

The reason I ask is that I notice from interactions/blog discussions that there is a negative view toward seeking and achieving material success. I'm wondering and exploring how that plays out in our careers, dreams and aspirations.

Would it be wrong for a business owner to want to see his/her business become financially profitable and become a bigger enterprise? If so, why? If not, why not?

Thanks for being willing to engage the discussion.

Kim said...

ESI, Thanks for responding. I didn't properly introduce myself. I have been a fan of LL Barkat's and linked over from her blog. I've seen your comments there and I've respected your posts.

No, I don't view money as inherently evil. I was responding more directly to Mark's quote "I imagine an entrepeneur...wants to do more than conform himself to Christ." and "Are they incompatible?"

I wonder now (didn't always) what more does the Christian want than to conform him/herself to Christ?

You used the phrase "wealth carries a burden" and I would agree. I think as you said, we are tempted to divert our attentions from God when money enters the equation. It's an age old conflict. And I believe it's why Scripture identifies the love of money as a genesis of evil.

While we are encouraged to do our work as unto the Lord, the financial success that comes of that work can be a distracting temptation from which we might well flee.

Lloyd C. Douglas (same author as "The Robe")wrote a book called "A Magnificent Obsession" in which a doctor's obsession was to find creative ways to anonymously relieve himself of his income to the individual needy as fast as he could make it. What an awesome idea! Not one that I'm brave enough to have practiced....yet.

Peace, Kim

HALFMOM said...

While financial success - measured as the world would be the ability to generate lots and lots of $$$ - is not necessarily a sign of True success

Note: "T" for Truth that is always True because it reflects God's character versus "t" for what man thinks is true...

neither is its presence a sign of failure to succeed with God.

King David, for all his failures, was very wealthy and still a man after God's own heart, God's friend. And then, of course, there's God Himself who owns it all, and can, at will, create more if He chooses; surely He is considered a True success.

Every Square Inch said...

Kim

Thanks - I'm grateful for you sharing your insights. As we make our way as sojourners in this life, there are many things that can distract us - wealth is certainly one of them.

The problem isn't with money itself but with our hearts that so easily crave what is temporal instead of the eternal God.

Grace to you

Every Square Inch said...

halfmom

Thanks. Your thoughts here are very helpful. I'd also add that how we define success is a reflection of what we treasure.

Mark Goodyear said...

I didn't make the blog rounds last week, so I missed this post. Too bad!

Interesting discussion, but most of it doesn't really address my concern. I didn't mean to question whether Christians can pursue God and financial success. I think that goes without saying--though I think financial success is going to be determined more by market value of my skills than the quality of my work.

Sometimes, though, being an employee feels a little bit like serving two masters. God is my master of course. But when I'm at work, someone pays me to do what they need and want.

Can we serve two masters in this way? Before you start quoting Jesus at me, think about this for a moment.

If I am paid to teach, am I somehow betraying God, my Master, if I don't first fulfill my duties to the principal, my boss? If I am paid to grow a company financially, is fulfilling my duty to grow the company part of fulfilling my duty to God?

Every Square Inch said...

Mark

I think our discussion here veered into whether financial success is compatible with pursuit of God...but you did ask "is it wrong to want both"...which was where we started.

I found this discussion helpful in sharpening my understanding -

I think it's not only OK to want both, it's essential...the Christian businessman should pursue profits - it's the work God has called him to - but he should want much, much more. This is where he will differ from the non-Christian.

The Christian who is called to build a business possesses a vision which includes no less than growth and profits but is more than just profits.

Ted Gossard said...

ESI, As I was going over passages in Proverbs today, I realized at the time that there were passages that seemed to clearly back up what you're saying here about reward. So I think I was too hard on reward (as I recall).

At the same time, while God does that to motivate us, and really to live fully in the divine life and light of God where there are eternal pleasures forever and ever, beginning even now (however faintly that may seem to be), it is a question of drinking in the delights of God and joying in others drinking with us (what a sentence, good thing I'm not being graded!)

Anyhow, thanks for the fine post and the good stuff from your blog.