Hollywood teaches Americans that we can do anything! From a child, we are indoctrinated into this romantic optimism that if we try hard enough, wish hard enough, stick with it, that in the end.... everything will turn out fine. The American spirit--so fiercely independent that it pulls itself up with its own bootstraps--takes risks, pursues its wildest dreams. Then, the United States god of liberty will look down upon such hardy, strivings souls and grant success. (And for the god of capitalism, usually the success is monetary.)
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I can assure you, I grew up with a double dose of this idea, for the video above was about my grandfather's company, Ling-Tempo-Vought. If there ever was a stunning rags to riches story, it was James Ling's. A Dallas orphan from a family of seven children, my grandfather ran away from his foster parent's home and lived on the streets, washing dishes and vowing that one day he would be so rich that he would buy his brothers and sisters mansions on the same street.
So the American promise was right at my fingertips every morning when I arose in my 10,000 square foot mansion and each time I was introduced as "Jim Ling's granddaughter."
And I took it in and watched life carefully. Even as a small child, I realized that money couldn't buy happiness. My grandfather's financial success left in its wake a trail of tears. Therefore, I vowed to God that I was going to be a spiritual success, just as my grandfather was a business success. I was going to heroically right all the wrongs and help the world to never cry again. And of course, I assumed God would be right there helping me because I was so sincere and loved Jesus so much.
As I grew, I found little successes. I remember seeing a dog on the beach tormenting a seagull with a broken wing. Adults were everywhere around me, but no one was getting off their beach towels to go stop the dog. So, I went over to the dog, shooed it away and stood guard. But I didn't know what to do about the broken-winged bird. After a few minutes, some adults came over and helped me. AHA! I thought, people are just waiting around for the one person to begin--to spearhead the movement and then they will join. (I would sing the song: Stouthearted men and believed it.)
That moment set me up for the feelings of abandonment and failure the rest of my life, because what people will rise and do for a broken-winged bird, they will not do for a broken human.
No matter how heroically I have poured out my heart and soul and energy for implementing change to help wounded souls, I have always failed. Oh, there was that one time I held a fair in my front yard for Muscular Dystrophy and earned a few dollars to give to Jerry's Kids. And as student president of my Seventh-day Adventist elementary school, I successfully fought to keep us from having to wear uniforms (ironically, I argued that was too Catholic!)
But when it really mattered, I was an utter failure. By fifth grade my friends were taking drugs and that scared me to death. I was going to rescue them, so I cried "help!" to teachers, principals, pastors, parents and was patted on the head and told I was making too big a deal of it. Then by seventh grade, my friends began introducing sexual promiscuity into their repertoire of evil and again, I told everyone and no one seemed to care. These kids were broken and the wolves were coming after them and the adults seems too cowardly to arise to save even their own children.
In my teenage years, friends repeatedly told me of their sexual abuse by family members, teachers and clergy. When I spoke up, I was shut down. I told myself that I would be listened to when I grew up, the problem was no one paid any attention to a frail, petite girl--who was labelled a drama queen.
Therefore, as an adult, I started the first pro-life organization in the Seventh-day Adventist Church. I poured every extra penny, every waking hour, every ounce of love and energy into saving the unborn. And while most Adventists secretly told me they supported our ministry, they couldn't openly support it--it was too controversial. After twenty years, my energy and money petered out, for only a handful of Adventists cared enough to help. Failure. And not just any kind of failure, failure to save human life. That was crushing.
Other failures followed: In the Keene SDA church I started a prayer warrior ministry and Sabbath after Sabbath I knelt in a prayer room either alone or with a couple people to pray. Every week, the bulletin pleaded for people to come in and pray and each week.... no one. After years of this, I stopped. I have begun several ministries to Seventh-day Adventists and Catholics with little to no success.
I wrote a book "It's Okay NOT to be a Seventh-day Adventist" and I lost a tremendous amount of money on it. With three children, I went back to school to get a music degree so I could have a career in singing. I was hit by a drunk driver and dislocated my jaw, ending my dreams. I will not add to the list but it seemed to me that at every step forward, God sent me three steps back. What was wrong with me that God was always thwarting my success?
Then, finally, I realized something...
God never called us to success. I had been sucked into this idea that success was making money, making a name for yourself, getting degrees, having some type of respect from other people in one's field. That is human success and that is not what God calls us to. Talk about bursting one's bubble. Fame and fortune aren't God's purpose for us.
It took years and years of sobbing in hot showers, despairing in my prayers, seeing myself as an utter failure for this spiritual awakening to sink in because it is so counterintuitive. Look at all the good Billy Graham could do with money and fame? Look at Joel Osteen! I had grown up hearing all about the philanthropic deeds of my grandfather--he gave millions upon millions to charities. It certainly seems like worldly fame and fortune are from God in these instances!
Then, I would read the Book of Job and it would remind me time and time again that the good guys are the devil's target and in this world the bad guy does seem to win.
Yet the Bible and what I saw daily clashed. Hollywood makes us feel as if we are not the good guys if we don't "win" in the end. We did something wrong, God didn't bless us, if we don't achieve a certain degree of worldly success. And many a man and woman have gone to their deaths despairing that their lives were in vain because they could not see any success.
And that is absolutely a lie from the deepest pits of hell. Worldly success is not God's success. Repeat that saying over and over in your head if you have experienced any of the great disappointments I have.
What God calls us to is not worldly success for there are limited spots for human fame and fortune and very few achieve it or should achieve it. God calls us to holiness and in the eternal spiritual economy, each and every one of us can be a saint. Spiritual success is absolutely doable for every single person who asks it of God. Ask and you will receive. That is a promise for every soul.
Fling away this empty promise of pursuing your worldly dreams. Pray that God will drain your mind and soul of this pernicious and poisonous idea that Christians are supposed to be "successful" with money, fame or position. We are not called to a life given over to impressing others, we are to live to impress God and we can do that with obedience to Him.
I make you a promise, a vow, that if you empty your heart of this demonic, narcissistic hope that if you try hard enough, you will gain the American dream of financial success. Rather, focus your life on being a holy saint, if you dedicate your life to God and put His kingdom first, you will experience a joy that will surprise you. All of a sudden, what you thought was success will grow so distant and insignificant in the light of His glorious grace.
Each time you kneel before a mighty and loving God, your life rises above this earth and you enter into timelessness. Each time you sacrifice your wants and desires for God's will and pour out yourself as an offering for others, you experience a realm far, far above the temporal pleasures that worldly success brings. God's success has heaven's attention. For remember, your life is on stage and eternity is watching.
The love you give that goes unnoticed by humans, is cheered by the billions watching unseen. The glory each human heart desires is God's glory. The crown given by Hollywood, the New York Times, the American Idol, the World Cup, the World Series, Business Week and the rest is a crown that will bring you no lasting happiness. These crowns turn to ashes for someone will take them away in the next moment or months or year.
Strive for an eternal crown that will bring you into eternal glory, a success that can never be taken away and one that never carries with it envy, or dissatisfaction or that perpetual demands you be smart or strong to keep others from knocking you off the top.
My grandfather lost all his money (millions upon millions). The end of his story was, by human reckoning, very bitter and many would call his life a failure. That's the way of human success. Don't try it... it's not worth it. Rather joyfully fail for Christ.
Failing for Christ often means living for Christ where your good deeds are not seen by men. However, they are seen.