Tuesday, January 25, 2011

John Calvin on How to Think About Success

The Desiring God blog poses questions about success and draws answers from the wisdom of reformer John Calvin. On how to battle the sinful pursuit of success and power, here is what John Calvin says -

"Therefore, to avoid similar entanglements, the course which Christian men must follow is this: first, they must not long for, or hope for, or think of any kind of prosperity apart from the blessing of God; on it they must cast themselves, and there safely and confidently recline."

This is, to say the least, an uncommon mindset in corporate America. Yet, I'm intrigued by the radical call to disavow and disassociate oneself with any notion of prosperity that is apart from the blessing of God. It disposes of the false notion that success is naturally indicative of God's blessing. It beckons us to pursue God's blessing first and foremost, regardless of whether it results in material wealth or success. Calvin's exhortation is not unlike Jesus' instruction in Matthew 6 to "seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be added to you".

What about the Christian worker who encounters a lack of success? Does Calvin have anything to say to him/her in the midst of failure?

"Lastly, if our success is not equal to our wish and hope, we shall, however, be kept from impatience and detestation of our condition, whatever it be, knowing that so to feel were to murmur against God, at whose pleasure riches and poverty, contempt and honours, are dispensed."

All of us are subject to failure in this world. Part of this is circumstantial - we live in an imperfect, fallen world where sin abounds. Laziness, office politics, sinful judgments and contentious meetings are all evidences of this. Yet, another part is by design - we are limited beings - limited in talents, time and resources. Sometimes, we fail because of our sin, sometimes as a result of our limitations. The possibility of failure is a reminder that we need God all the time - not only in the difficult, unbearable moments of life but also in the small, mundane moments as well. Calvin reminds us of the importance of thinking rightly about God's sovereign will over our lives. To despise our lack of success or troubled condition is to murmur against God. It is to bring a charge against the one who "changes times and seasons; he deposes kings and raises up others" (Daniel 2:21)

Success - how we think about it, pursue it and respond when we don't have it - says so much about what we truly believe.


Halfmom said...

I wonder, ESI, how this notion then fits as we pray to evaluate "our" results. The, "did I work hard enough or smart enough or was I lazy or did I take advantage of another? Was I being gracious or was I acting as a means to an end" - those sorts of questions that get at your heart attitude. In the end, I think I have to decide some of these things are "too wonderful" for me to discern or understand - so I just pray that that the Holy Spirit will convict me one way or another since I sometimes can't make heads or tails of cause and effect.

Paul Long said...

Thanks Andre. Good reminders.

John Lofton, Recovering Republican said...

Hope you visit our Calvin-admiring site; comment.

John Lofton, Editor, TheAmericanView.com
Communications Director, Institute on the Constitution
Host, “TheAmericanView” radio show
Recovering Republican

Every Square Inch said...

Halfmom - good point. There is an element of success/results that depend on our being faithful to do what God calls us to do. I think Calvin's point is that we must pursue success only as it is found in the context of God's blessing. Should we fail either as a result of sin or God's design, God is still sovereign over both