Success and the Good Life

Posted Oct 23, 2016

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From the Sermon

This week, I want us to look at one more counterfeit key to the good life: success.

Here’s an interesting thing about success: success by itself does not give us the good life. In fact, sometimes success can actually rob us of the good life. Sarah Vermunt, writing in “Entrepeneur” Magazine, notes what many people experience, “At the height of my “success, I was pretty miserable. I’m not saying there’s an inverse relationship between success and happiness, just that there’s not necessarily a positive one. They're two different things.”* You no doubt can think of people who were wildly successful but died tragically and are a reminder that success and the good life are not the same: people like Michael Jackson, Howard Hughes, Amy Winehouse or Marilyn Monroe. Having the best-selling record of all time, as Jackson did, or being one of the richest men alive like Hughes, or winning five Grammys as Winehouse did, or being the most desirable actress in Hollywood like Monroe, did not bring happiness to these four. Yet so many of us are driven to achieve success, thinking it will give us the good life…. 

I’d like to encourage you to reframe what success looks like, at least the kind that leads to the good life. Which leads me to the fifth of our six keys to the Good Life: invest in people and relationships. So much of our happiness in life—the good life—comes in relationship with others. The Bible teaches this. The Greek and Roman philosophers taught this. Today’s positive psychologists teach this. 

Each year the United Nations publishes a report called “The World Happiness Report.” The 2016 version notes, “Eudaimonia focuses on living in accord with what is intrinsically worthwhile to human beings—purpose, meaningful relationships, good health, and contribution to the community.” The report also mentioned meaningful relationships and a contribution to the community. Later the report said, “Studies tend to confirm that of the determinants of happiness, relatedness is nearly always near the top of the list. Quite simply, social engagement makes people happy.”**

  • How have you defined “success” for most of your life? Have you ever revised your definition of success? If so, what led you to change your thinking? Do you think of yourself as “successful,” aiming to be successful someday, or in some other way? How essential to your satisfaction with life is being a success?

From the Sermon

I was struck recently by the story of Jrue Holiday, point guard for the NBA New Orleans Pelicans. His wife, soccer star Lauren Holiday, six months pregnant, was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Jrue told the Pelicans that he would be sitting out the first half of the season to make sure that Lauren was okay. Ultimately his team management affirmed this decision and said there’d be a place for him when he came back.

This week people were shocked that Visa CEO Charlie Scharf announced his resignation at the pinnacle of success. Shares of the company had risen 134% since he took over four years ago. Why’d he leave? He said he needed to spend more time with his family on the east coast, instead of just flying back and forth to visit.

It’s not just families—it’s also meaningful friendships. Some of my happiest moments, particularly after our kids had grown, have been sitting on our porch having dinner with friends. One of the most important ways we’ve developed meaningful friendships is being in small groups at Resurrection.

This is part of why we encourage you to get into a small group—Sunday School classes, Bible studies, support groups, men’s, women’s and youth groups. These are all pivotal ways of finding the good life. The good life is almost always found in community.

The role of people and relationships in the good life also includes how we invest in other people, encouraging and helping them. We find great meaning and joy in the work we do to bless others. I think of God’s call to Abraham, telling him that he was “blessed to be a blessing.” Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, "We are prone to judge success by the index of our salaries or the size of our automobiles rather than by the quality of our service and relationship to mankind." Einstein once said, “Try not to become a man of success, but rather try to become a man of value.”

This is what Scripture regularly teaches. Life is found in “doing justice, and loving kindness.” Jesus taught that we’re called to love one another, to forgive one another, to bless one another, to do unto others. 1 John 3:14 says, “We know that we have passed from death to life because we love one another.” The command to love our neighbor, our enemy, one another, is the dominant note in Christian ethics. This love is not a warm fuzzy feeling, but seeking to care for or work on behalf of the good of others. It is important to remember: The Good Life is experienced when we LIVE a GOOD LIFE.

  • What first led you to join this group? In what ways has taking part in the group enriched your life?
  • In what ways does your group work to bless people who aren’t group members? Are there ways you can expand your group’s involvement in that kind of work?

From the Sermon

That leads to the last of the keys to the good life. There are three main words for “life” in New Testament Greek. Bios, which you recognize from biology; psyche, which you recognize from psychology; and ZOE. Forms of Zoe appear 275 times in the New Testament. This word can mean just life, but more often in the New Testament it means “the absolute fullness of life” or “life real and genuine.”

The New Testament says the good life is found most fully in knowing, following, trusting and relating daily with Jesus Christ. Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. John said, “In him was life and the life was the light of all people.” Jesus said, “I came that you might have life, and have it abundantly.” He is called the “author of life,” the Word of life. John sums up his message: “These things are written so that you will believe that Jesus is the Christ, God’s Son, and that believing, you will have life in his name.”

This picture of the good life does not depend on how much pleasure we can cram into our lives, how much wealth we accumulate or how much success we achieve. It is a quality of life we can experience even when things are difficult—when we are sick, weary, in prison, unemployed, or recently divorced. It is a quality of life we rest in, that we trust in, a love that will not let us go, a peace that passes understanding.

What strikes most people when they go on one of our international mission trips to developing countries, is that despite the poverty, the kids are happy. Watch this video from a trip to Africa. What they do have is community and meaningful, life giving relationships and trust in God.

Children Playing in Africa

Consider the reading from Psalms we heard a moment ago: “I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing the Lord’s praise, for he has been good to me.” This Psalm starts out as a lament. Here’s how it begins: “How long will you forget me, LORD? Forever? How long will I be left to my own wits, agony filling my heart? Daily? How long will my enemy keep defeating me? Look at me! Answer me, LORD my God! Restore sight to my eyes! Otherwise I’ll sleep the sleep of death and my enemy will say, “I won!” My foes will rejoice over my downfall. But…”

Then he picks up with our Scripture: “I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing the Lord’s praise, for he has been good to me.” I’ve often heard people say, “I don’t know how someone makes it through this without their faith.”

Paul could describe how his faith in God affected his life in 2 Corinthians 4:8-9: “We are experiencing all kinds of trouble, but we aren’t crushed. We are confused, but we aren’t depressed. We are harassed, but we aren’t abandoned. We are knocked down, but we aren’t knocked out.” We can have the good life even when life is not going well.

We can live well. We can find hope in God in the face of trouble. We can feel God’s peace sustaining us in the midst of it.

  • What would be different in your life if you didn’t know, follow, trust and relate daily with Jesus? Would your life be better, or would something vital be missing?
  • How do life’s challenges, big or small, tend to affect your trust in Jesus? What has helped you, or would help you, to respond to trouble like the psalmist in Psalm 13: “I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation.” How are you, as a group, able to encourage and support one another at times of difficulty, loss and grief?

* “Success vs. Happiness: Don't Be Fooled Into Thinking They're the Same” in Entrepeneur, by Sarah Vermunt, https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/243605

** 2016 World Happiness Report: Chapter 2 – Human Flourishing, The Common Good and Catholic Social Teaching.

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