The Weird Backwardness of Christian Success

Because meekness is for winners.

Kraken Images

Everyone I know wants to succeed.

Those who do fail at something don't set out trying to fall flat on their faces.

What differs among us is how we define success. It seems that we all have some sort of idea of what it means to succeed in life even if we've never taken the time to verbalize it. These notions are often preconceived based on our culture, our upbringing, and our value system.

And while how we define success may vary wildly from one person to the next, generally speaking each definition contains some permutation of the following elements: wealth, health, comfort, peace, security, esteem, love, and accomplishment.

Take the fabled American Dream for example: Stable and fulfilling job, two cars, two kids, nice home, loving spouse, large 401k. Retire at 65 with a big nest egg. Spend that leisure time traveling and enjoying your cute grandkids. Sounds pretty nice, doesn't it?

And while there's nothing inherently wrong with that picture, Jesus offered up a weird backward definition of what it means to succeed. You see the people of his day wanted the same basic elements we do: wealth, long life, peace, and a large family. All blessings from God, right?

With this context in mind Jesus presented his famous Sermon on the Mount in which he suggested a different type of blessing--some sort of bizarro world in which those who undergo uncomfortable and otherwise unpleasant experiences actually benefit as a result.

Jesus taught about nine different blessings, that, for the most part, sound awful to this writer if I'm being honest. Here's what he said:

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Matthew 5:4-11

Jesus said we are blessed if we are poor in spirit, if we mourn, are meek, hunger for righteousness, are merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers, persecuted, and slandered.

I'm cool with striving to be pure in heart and thirsting for righteousness, but I really don't want to have to mourn, to be persecuted, or slandered.

Of course, we need to make a distinction here. For some of these axioms, known as the Beatitudes, Jesus isn't teaching that we should seek out such circumstances. He isn't instructing his followers to seek out opportunities for others to "utter all kinds of evil against you falsely" (Matt 5:11). Instead, Jesus knew that those who follow him and serve God will be slandered.

He taught that when these things happen, we should not despair, but instead should be happy because God will reward those who suffer on his account.

So while blessing as defined by this world and the Old Testament way of thinking focuses only on the here and now--wealth, power, health, esteem, sex, drugs, and rock and roll--Jesus provided his followers with a long view of blessing. He taught that the reward in heaven would be great for those who undergo these trials.

So although we don't seek out persecution or mourning, we shouldn't be surprised or disappointed when these things come our way. Instead we should embrace them knowing that, while earthly riches and other such blessings will pass away, heavenly rewards will endure for eternity. Taking this long view makes hardship all the more palatable for those who follow Jesus.

Therefore we would do well to incorporate these elements into our definition of success. Rather than the size of your 401k, how much mercy have you shown? Instead of a paid for home, how much peace did you make with those around you?

The beatitudes comprise just one of myriad poignant lessons Jesus taught his followers, and he often used parables to get his point across. If you've ever wanted to explore these parables all in one place, you might be interested in my free quick reference guide called The 39 Parables of Christ, Explained.

I've compiled an exhaustive list and provided a decoder ring of sorts to help you understand the meaning behind each one. Whether you're looking to expand your knowledge or grow closer to Jesus, this guide might help you out. Just enter your email below and it's yours:


Your Only Reason for Hope in a World Full of Suffering

A preview of March's email-only article.

Rosie Kerr

Did you know I write a free monthly article just for email subscribers? It's true!

This month we're discussing one biblical truth that makes enduring hardship so much easier.

Here's how the article starts:


Have you ever wondered why Jesus had to rise from death?

Why couldn't his life—his teaching, his miracles, and his sacrifice—suffice? The apostle Paul wrote that "if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain" (1 Cor. 15:17, KJV).

So obviously Paul believed the resurrection to be central to Christianity. But why?


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Gods Aren't Supposed to Suffer

What the Romans intended for mockery, God used for redemption.

Elly Brian

Although Jesus made it through Satan's temptations unscathed, the Lord's greatest test was yet to come, and he knew it.

In fact Jesus predicted his own death numerous times to his disciples. Although they couldn't comprehend the implications of Jesus's words, these statements are important to demonstrate that Jesus wasn't taken by surprise at his execution and that he willingly served as a sacrifice on our behalf.

His predictions notwithstanding, this latter fact should be obvious since Jesus made no defense on his behalf despite false testimony against him. In addition Jesus could have simply avoided Jerusalem where the heat on him was the hottest had he desired to avoid crucifixion. And yet again he could have slipped away from his captors in Gethsemane as he did earlier in Nazareth when the synagogue congregates tried to throw him down a cliff. 

Jesus was going to the cross, and he knew it.

Satan's Three Favorite Types of Temptation

 A preview of February's email-only article.

Glenn Carstens-Peters

Did you know I write a monthly article just for email subscribers? It's true!

This month we're discussing the three most effective temptations Satan uses against us, and why they're so effective.

Here's how the article starts:


Have you ever asked God to strengthen your faith? 
I have, but I didn't really think through what I was asking for. How else can he strengthen our faith except by testing it? My faith isn't going to get stronger by magic, but instead by opportunities to exercise it. Had I thought things through, maybe I would have been more reserved in asking for a stronger faith. 
Jesus, in order to sharpen his resolve, focus, and faith went to the wilderness at the prompting of the Spirit in order to be tested. But first he had to fast for forty days. I don't know about you, but I get cranky after fasting for four hours. The Scripture, though, tells us he went a month plus without food. 
As a result, I imagine the first temptation Satan brought upon Jesus must have been pretty enticing. "If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread" (Matt. 4:3). 
The tempter is shrewd. He loves setting up these false conditions to cause us to stumble. What's the connection between being the Son of God and turning stones to bread? Well, certainly, the Immanuel would have the power to transform rock to rye, no sweat. But is doing so a condition of being God incarnate? Of course not. But Satan was trying to play both to Jesus's physical weakness (hunger) and to the psychological weakness of humanity (pride) in tempting Jesus to prove his divine status. 
Jesus didn't take the bait. He responded, "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4). Jesus quoted Deuteronomy here, referencing the manna God provided the Israelites in the wilderness. In doing so, he acknowledged God's role as provider and sustainer of life. Just as Moses didn't provide water from the rock, Jesus knew that God would provide the sustenance he needed. 
Realizing he couldn't take advantage of Jesus's hunger, Satan tried another play at his pride.


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