I have a good friend who by any usual measure is highly successful – in fact I have several who fit that description. The one I have in mind believes that to be effective in life it helps to be healthy. Genetic factors aside, he believes that good health is the result of specific cause & effect factors. Consequently, he exercises religiously, and he is persnickety about what goes into his mouth. He is lean and toned. Unlike myself, he has never considered entering an Orson Welles look-alike contest. Nor does he have to wear prescription underwear.
Not only that, he has a relentlessly positive – better yet, constructive – attitude about everything. He makes no apologies for the power of his own intellect – in fact he revels in it, viewing it as a gift of God. The net result of all of this is that my friend enjoys the kind of health that is necessary to sustain long hours of intense mental work. He is able to breeze through demanding, albeit self-imposed, personal schedules – ones that would break most of us. His life to date is a chronicle of achievement.
My friend’s achievements are not merely a matter of having “lucked out.” They are the result of specific cause & effect factors. They are the product of intent. He has been deliberately successful.
I am convinced that there is in all of this an important lesson. If we want to be spiritually successful, we must approach that kind of success with the same intent, dedication, and passion that my friend has approached material and intellectual success.
Spiritual Success Criteria
Ask yourself this, “If I were spiritually successful, what would that success look like?”
The short answer is that you would “look like” Jesus Christ – at least in terms of character, overcoming, spiritual power, understanding, love and compassion. Put another way, you would be all that you could be spiritually speaking. You would find yourself living fully within the will of God at all times. You would be a fine-tuned instrument in the hands of Jesus Christ. As did Jesus, you would be imitating God perfectly (John 14:9).
If we were spiritually successful, we would care about the things God cares about. The things that break God’s heart would break our own. The things that make glad the heart of God would cause our own hearts to leap with joy.
These are lofty, seemingly unattainable, criteria.
Yet, if they were truly unattainable, why would Jesus have set them as goals for us — just to stretch us? Jesus said, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). The English word “perfect” is here translated from the Greek teleios, which means, “perfect, fully developed in the moral sense.”[i] God, in other words, is spiritually complete, fully developed, and utterly mature in every spiritual and moral sense. Each true Christian sets the goal of imitating God in his spiritual and moral perfection.
So how do we get from here to there? As they say in China, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” We have to start somewhere. If we refuse to start on the journey, we’ll never arrive at the destination.
Many years ago, Dr. Clint Zimmerman gave a message at the feast in Squaw Valley in which he asked the question, “How do you make an elephant?” The answer was, “You get a great big rock and knock off all of the parts that don’t look like an elephant.” The lesson was that if we want to become like Christ, we jettison everything about ourselves that isn’t Christ-like.
The writers of the Synoptic Gospels and John left behind enough information in their writings that we can know a great deal about what Jesus Christ was like. We can know, in a basic sense, how he lived and what he taught. The original apostles, with the exception of Judas, followed Jesus’ teachings and his lifestyle. They did what he did and lived as he lived. Consequently, they greatly advanced the cause of the Kingdom.
What Would Jesus Do?
Not long ago, within some Christian circles, there was a movement called the “what would Jesus do?” movement. People would say to each other, “WWJD?” They all knew what it meant. It became the slogan for those who sought to imitate the behaviors of Jesus in specific situations. It was a valid idea – one that we should be keep ever before us. Jesus was the most Godlike man who ever walked the earth. He was the prime example of what it means to imitate God. Our purpose in life is to imitate God and thereby glorify him and advance his kingdom.
Jesus was the perfect son to the Father. He said of himself, “The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise” (John 5:19). When we can say, “Whatsoever I see Jesus do, I do,” we will have achieved spiritual completeness.
My purpose in this short article is not to catalogue all of the things Jesus did that we should imitate; it is merely to point the way. It is to underscore the fact that there are at work in our lives spiritual cause & effect factors. Spiritually speaking, if we don’t do something different, our tomorrows will be the same as our todays. Of course the same is true physically and materially. Our lives at every level are largely, though not exclusively, what we have caused them to be. If we are fat, chances are it is because we’ve consistently chosen to eat more than our bodies have needed. If we are addicted to anything, it is because we have fed and reinforced those addictions. If we are poor, it is because we have not done the things that produce wealth. If we are ignorant, it is because we have not pursued education. If we are in bad shape, it is because we have neglected our physical fitness. Life is largely cause & effect.
It takes courage and depth of conviction to pursue spiritual goals. Those who would grow into the fullness of Christ must become spiritual risk-takers. We have to be prepared to run the gauntlet. Almost everything in “the world” conspires against the pursuit of moral and spiritual perfection. The Adversary sets traps all along the way (II Tim. 2:26). Even fellow Christians will sometimes make fun of those who seek to be Christlike. Intellectual honesty with Scripture can also make one an object of denominational scorn – as was Jesus himself. Those who would seriously pursue Christ must be prepared to burn all bridges and accept some brickbats even from their brethren.
Spiritual success is vastly more important than material or intellectual success (Matthew 6:33). Yet there’s really no reason one cannot enjoy all three. It’s a matter of setting goals and actively, relentlessly, pursuing them. It’s about creating the causes that get the effects. It’s about prioritizing the issues of one’s life and keeping things in perspective. If we have the will, discipline and dedication, our physical health can be greatly improved over what it is now – no matter how old we are. All we have to do is eat right and do enough of the kind of exercise that makes a difference.
Try this at home
Some day when you’re alone at home, sit down in front of a mirror and look at yourself. Ask, “What have I become, and how have I become that?” Think about the cause & effect factors that have made you the person you are. Think about your physical condition, your material condition, and above all your spiritual condition. Then ask, “Am I happy with what I’ve become?” If you’re not, then develop plans to change what you are into what you would like to be. It doesn’t really matter how old you are. If you can read this article, you can do it. You could be 12, 20, 40, 60, or 90; it’s never too early or too late.
Be specific. Set concrete, attainable, goals. Devise plans for achieving them. Set dates for accomplishing those goals. Make your best friends, or perhaps even your minister, your allies in achieving these goals. Accept a degree of accountability to them. Then take your goals before God and pray about them. Seek God’s help in accomplishing them. Get up from those prayers and begin to relentlessly work your plans, every day, every conscious moment of your life. You’ll be amazed at the transformations that will occur! Go for it!
[i]BAG, p. 809c