Obscurity and the cult of success

Does success equal being made much of?


When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor… But when you are invited, go and recline at the last place… For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted. (Luke 14:8-11)  

Let’s face it.  Most people have an incredible fear of ending up in obscurity.  All of our lives we have been driven by a desire to be recognized, to be honored, to be made much of.  This need for meaning and significance can only ultimately be met by being deeply restored to a love relationship with God through Christ.  But this is not an easy lesson!  

What makes a ministry or a business or a person truly significant?  It is obvious that God has a different definition than the world does.  And we’ve lived most of our lives under the influence of the world’s thoughts in this regard.  

Size = Success?  

Nowhere more than in America can we find the cult of success.  We believe that size is the best indicator of significance and success.  The bigger one’s salary, home, or ministry is, the more significance associated with it.  

When have you seen a professional in any field choose to take a position in a less well-known company and be said to have “moved to a more significant position?” It just doesn’t happen.  It seems that the only way we have of judging significance is by size and budget.  Downsizing is almost always seen as a concession and not a goal.  Most of us only downsize if forced to.  

But Jesus confronts this value system.  He says we should purposely choose the lower station, the smaller seat.  And He would have us believe that this is better!  Ha!  Does anyone really believe this?  Do you?  Do I?  Honestly, I’m quite sure that I’ve spent most of my life and ministry not believing this.   

Have you recognized that there is something in you that is still aching for the applause of men?  There is an incessant drive to somehow be seen as more significant, beautiful, or successful than we are currently perceived.  I know I’m not alone in this!  

Francis Schaeffer confessed his participation in this struggle:  

We all tend to emphasize big works and big places, but all such emphasis is of the flesh.  To think in such terms is simply to hearken back to the old, unconverted, egoist, self-centered me.  This attitude, taken from the world, is of more danger to the Christian than fleshly amusement or practice. (No Little People, 18)  

Dr. Schaeffer clearly admitted that he struggled with this issue too!  But how many of us deeply agree with Schaeffer’s statement here?  Certainly our culture doesn’t – and this includes the church in America.  Open just about any business or ministry magazine or attend any popular conference and you will not find these values represented.   Schaeffer says this emphasis on big works is of the flesh.   

Meanwhile God is dwelling in utter contentment, in relative obscurity.  Most of His creatures are not even concerned that He exists.  They never pause to give Him the recognition He deserves.  And though this is sinfully wrong of His creatures, and idolatrous, and God would be delighted to richly share His grace with them, yet His deepest contentment is not touched by their refusal to turn to Him.  

As humans we don’t really know what to do with someone so glorious that He doesn’t depend on us. Someone this free and this secure doesn’t have a bad day when we fail.   

When I come to Him, I am confident that His attitude will be a reflection of His own fullness and not a reaction to my disparity.

3 thoughts on “Obscurity and the cult of success

  1. Good insights Dane.
    One of the things this reminds me of is the cycle of the Israelites: 1) They would turn to God and follow him and he would bless them, 2) They would start to forget about God 3) Because their connectedness to God is important to God, he would remove his blessing and sometimes his presence from them 4) They would repent and turn back to him and 5) The cycle starts over.

  2. Molly Gressett says:

    Commenting on the last two statements:

    Dane and I try to set a similar example for our children. As parents, we need to be happy regardless of what our children do. When they fail, they need to see we still have joy and are directing our parenting efforts for their good, not ours. We do not discipline them because we’re having a bad day, or because they are ruining our day. We discipline them because we love them.

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