Defining Success: It's a matter of perspective!
June 3, 2012
Pastor Paul D. Nolting
Delight yourself also in the Lord, and He shall give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord, trust also in Him, and He shall bring it to pass.
In Christ Jesus, who has a vested interest in our futures, dear faculty and staff of Immanuel Lutheran School, family and friends of our graduates, and especially you, our graduating Seniors:
First of all, I would like to thank you Seniors for inviting me to address you on the occasion of your graduation. I consider it a distinct honor and privilege. I have enjoyed serving as one of your teachers, and I pray that God will bless you richly in the future. It is about your futures that I would like to speak this afternoon and, in particular, about how you define success going forward.
What is success? A simple definition would be to achieve a specific goal. You are graduating from Immanuel Lutheran School today—you have achieved the goal of receiving a high school diploma. That is success. This past Friday before leaving your final Religion Class I asked you to jot down three pieces of information. The second of those was a listing of two goals—one short-range and the other long-range. Seven of you stated that your short-range goal is to graduate from college, while six of you identified the long-range goal of getting married and having a family. Four of you listed specific goals regarding different aspects of good spiritual and physical health, while three of you mentioned finding a job that you will enjoy. I hope that you all achieve your goals and thereby prove to be successful.
A word of caution, however, is in order. Genuine success cannot always and simply be tied to what you do or accomplish. Genuine success involves realizing something of lasting value and blessing for oneself and for others. For instance, one of you has as a short-term goal: getting a car. Should that person be successful in finding a car this summer, but then choose to go to college in Manhattan this fall, where he or she could not afford to park the car and where because of public transportation there is no need for a car…would you consider them genuinely successful? Turning to and expanding upon this thought from Scripture, think of the parable of the rich man and poor Lazarus. Which one of those two was genuinely successful? Was the rich man who was “clothed in purple and fine linen and (who) fared sumptuously every day” more successful than poor Lazarus who was “full of sores, …laid at the gate, desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table”? (cf. Luke 16:19-31) From a human, earthly perspective perhaps you could say, “Yes, the rich man was more successful!” Yet, from the heavenly or eternal perspective the exact opposite would have to be said. After all, Jesus asks: “What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?” (Mark 8:36) You see, when it comes to DEFINING SUCCESS…IT’S A MATTER OF PERSPECTIVE! That is the thought I would lay on your hearts today, for the most important goal of Immanuel Lutheran School has been to shape your perspective…to help you define what you believe and how you view the world including your concept of success.
That is why I asked you Friday to provide me the single most important spiritual concept you are taking with you from Immanuel. Six of you spoke of the importance of an informed faith and being able to maintain and defend the truths of that faith. Three of you spoke of the abiding presence of the LORD and the confidence His presence provides. One of you spoke of God’s love and forgiveness, while the last emphasized the fruits of faith to be revealed in our love towards others. All of those concepts proceed from a biblical worldview—a perspective that explains your choice of and reflects the content of your Class Verse: “Be strong and of good courage, do not fear nor be afraid of them; for the LORD your God, He is the one who goes with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6).
My dear students, use that biblical perspective always to define your success, for then I can assure you that you will enjoy genuine and lasting success! In doing so, let me suggest that you follow King David’s advice in our text and strive in all things to do two things: “Delight yourself in the LORD” and “commit your way to the LORD, trust(ing) also in Him!” Let us consider the second thought first.
“Your way” is your life…your future. Up to this point your lives and futures have been pretty well controlled by others…namely your parents and teachers. They have been setting the rules and providing the instruction. You have been growing, hopefully, more and more independent. You need to be more independent, and yet I pray that you recognize that your new freedom is not a freedom from former controls, but rather a freedom to act in positive ways within the framework of the truths God has revealed and which you have embraced. The Psalmist speaks of the unbelievers in the world crying out in defiance of God, “Let us break Their bonds in pieces and cast away Their words from us” (2:3), but calls “those who put their trust in Him (the LORD)… blessed” (2:12). You can commit your way to the LORD, because you know that He loves you. He is the One who has given you your gifts and abilities and desires that you use them in His honor and to the blessing of yourself and others. He is the One who has redeemed you with the blood of His own Son and who desires more than anything else to bestow upon you the gift of eternal life. Of course, He will “bring your way to pass” for that way will lead from the doors of this church today ultimately through the gates of heaven at the end of your journey. That, my dear students, is genuine success!
Along the way, however, learn to “delight yourself in the LORD!” Keep God’s love ever before your eyes. “The LORD’s mercies…are new every morning” (Lamentations 3:22-23). From the early morning dawning to the giggling of little children, from the fragrance of beautiful flowers to the succulence of an excellent meal, from the relief of a conscience unburdened to the warmth of a compliment given—recognize the goodness of the LORD and delight in Him! Listen to Him as He speaks to you in His Word, for His Word gives life! Draw near to Him in prayer, for He eagerly awaits your expressions of thanksgiving and will most certainly respond to your urgent petitions. Worship Him with awe-filled hearts, rejoicing in His presence, for He has then promised to give you your hearts’ desires!
I asked you Friday to list for me one of your deepest desires. Six of you wrote that you desired marriage and a family. Those are tremendous blessings from the LORD! Four of you spoke of making a positive impact on the world around you. That is a tremendous aspiration placed in your heart by the LORD! One of you echoed Solomon’s prayer asking for all of the wisdom you would need in life—truly a petition pleasing to the LORD! One of you said your deepest desire was to make his or her parents proud.
With reference to that last desire, I would like to end this address with a story about my son, Paul. When PC was little—in the first or second grade—he liked to play a game with me. He would ask me this question: “Who’s my Father?” I would respond, “I’m your father,” to which he would respond with laughter, “No, Dad, God’s my Father, you’re my Dad.” As PC grew older he became quite enthralled with video-games and would often tell me, “Dad, when I grow up I want to design video-games.” I would always say: “Son, you want to find a job in which you can use your gifts to serve the LORD.” He would respond, “I’ll design religious video-games,” to which I would ask in response, “And who will buy religious video-games?” Two years ago on that day that Hitachi in Rochester offered PC a job—his dream job, I might add, he called me to inform me of the offer. I told him that ever since his first telephone interview with Hitachi that his mother and I had been praying that God would give him his dream job. He responded, “Dad, do you know that I have not been praying for the job at Hitachi—just that God would put me where He wants me to use my gifts.” I have never been prouder of my son than at that moment. I have never been more thankful to God, for PC’s comment demonstrated that the Holy Spirit was working within his heart. He was delighting in the LORD and committing his way to the LORD trusting that the LORD would keep His promise and grant him success. I am confident that all of you have a desire to make your parents proud. The best way to do that is to keep the LORD at the center of your lives; delight in Him each day; commit your way to His care! He will keep His promises and grant you success!
My dear students—DEFINING SUCCESS IS A MATTER OF PERSPECTIVE! In your education here at Immanuel you have been given and have embraced a spiritual foundation, which if practiced will bring you genuine and lasting success. I pray that it will be so for each of you! Amen.
--Pastor Paul D. Nolting
To God alone be glory!
All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®.
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