Is Success God’s Plan For My Life?

In our passage we can pull out three markers of someone who is still being led by an atheistic impulse. The first marker is that we are being driven by success. Look with me at verse 13 where we are introduced to the first of our two men.

James 4:13 (ESV) — 13 Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”

This guy is a pretty confident guy isn’t he. He’s the man with the plan. He’s got a roadmap to Success. He knows a number of things about the next two years of his life doesn’t he. He knows where he’s going, he knows how long he’s going to be there, he knows what he’s going to do when he gets there, and he is certain of the success that he will find by doing these things. If I could be so blunt, our default mode in today’s society is to love men and women like this. Confidence, planned, strategic, intentional, successful. This guy needs to be on the cover of GQ. He’s the model of success. From the sounds of it he’s read a lot of the business management books I read when I was an undergrad in business school, and if I could be confessionally honest with you, he’s read a lot of the same books on pastoral leadership that I’ve read as well. Have a clear vision statement and don’t be distracted from that vision.

Upwardly Mobile

Interestingly this passage can seem at first glance that it’s only talking to an elite class of people, a group that has the luxury and freedom to make these decisions in their life. There is a reality that if you’re living paycheck to paycheck just scraping by to put food on the table, you don’t have the luxury to of long term planning like this. But in reality I think the text speaks for both. For the person living paycheck to paycheck its very easy to idolize and dream of this freedom as if this type of success would somehow solve the issues of our heart. The drive for success is in all of us.

Ask Why is this Impulse Driving Me?

This marker of the Atheistic Impulse is deeply embedded into many of our psyches and into the fabric of most of our lives. It’s driving us. And as Christians we have to do something with this impulse when we see it. We’ve got to pause and ask “Why is this driving me?” I actually believe that for many of us we just take it as an assumed reality that God’s desire for us is to be successful. There is an assumption that God’s will for our life includes an earthly sense of success. And because we’re assuming that to be true, we are then making plans, big plans for our life without ever consulting or approaching God.

What Do I Mean By Successful

Many of us have a driving factor in our life that believes that God wants us to be successful. And I want us to see how dangerous this is, and how much we are assuming about God’s will.

Perhaps your vision of success is to graduate college.
Perhaps your vision of success is to one day own a home and have a yard, [aka move to the suburbs.]
Perhaps your vision of success is to one day be a leader of people.
Perhaps your vision of success is to have children that everyone in the neighborhood thinks are the best, most well behaved, athletic, smartest kids on the block
Perhaps your vision of success is to have a certain amount of money in a bank account

Permissible Does Not Mean It Is God’s Will

I want to be very clear on what I’m saying and not saying. Are any of those things sin in and of themselves? Is it sin to make a profit? Is it sin own a house? Is it sin to land a job you were looking for? No, none of those things are sin in and of themselves. Each of them are permissible in scripture. But here’s the catch, not everything that is permissible in scripture is God’s will for your life. Just because it isn’t sin, doesn’t mean it’s God plan for you. God may have a very different definition of what he sees as success in your life. But if we falsely assume that God’s wants us to be successful by our definition, then we’ll be incapable of hearing God clearly when he drives us somewhere different. The atheistic impulse is driven by success, and many Christians have been hoodwinked.

All Around the Globe

The Christ Centered Impulse however is very peculiar. Look at verse 15:

James 4:15 (ESV) — 15 Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.”

There is only one drive in that person’s soul. What happens to someone that decides to follow Jesus is that this life consuming need to be successful in the eyes of the world, and in the eyes of ourselves, begins to fade, and a new impulse, the desire to glorify God with our lives emerges. All around the globe today, faithful men and women live lives of suffering, struggling, going without, because of their faith in Christ. I imagine that when we get to heaven there will be saints, faithful Christian men and women that you and I have never heard of. They weren’t famous, they never made a name for themselves. But day in, day out, they were faithful. Success had been stripped from their mind and they lived free to focus on what Christ was calling them to. Rather than constantly climbing upwards they were constantly giving more away, constantly looking more like Christ who had very little. While they may be forgotten here, they are not forgotten in the Lord’s eyes, and oh I think they’re sitting pretty right now.

We Hate What I Just Shared

If I could be real for a second. I’m guessing most of us in this room absolutely hate everything I just said. I found this week writing this sermon was excruciating because I am naturally driven by success. Perhaps you’re a bit like Ahab, with his Atheistic Impulse saying, “I’ll hear the prophet out, but I’m just going to go ahead and pursue my version of success when this is all said and done.” And that’s what I’m most scared of. We’re so driven by success that we’re not even willing to consider the word of God. That’s what Ahab did. Christ will satisfy your soul far greater than any measure of Earthly success. Don’t be afraid to let him shape your plans. Yes, they’ll look different than the ones you might have written. But His will is what you were made for.


This post is a segment taken from a sermon preached at Park Community Church South Loop on March 4, 2018 titled Avoiding the Atheistic Impulse from James 4:13-17. The link to the sermon is provided at the bottom of the post.

Written by Raef Chenery

I'm a pastor in Chicago at Park Community Church - South Loop. I'm a husband to my beautiful wife Sara and a dad to three sweet girls, Ruth, Joy, and Mira. I'm blessed to be surrounded by a number of men and women who love to think about the ways that our faith interacts with our culture. This blog is as much for me to get my thoughts in order, as it is for those who might benefit from it and engage in the conversations as well. I would love to get your feedback through the comments on each post.

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