“Look how many marks she got!” “He is a topper.” “Did you hear that he managed to do his master’s in the USA?” “She was blessed with an MNC1 job.” “It’s great how much you earn now.” “My son studies in America and my daughter works in London.” “He is hard-working, God will bless him.”—Don’t you hear such statements very often? Wouldn’t you also like to belong to those who are successful?
Status in the society
The status in the society is very important for people nowadays. Parents want their children to be ambitious and become doctors or at least engineers. If studies abroad cannot be achieved, then highly reputed colleges such as IIT or NIIT are pursued. “Hard work” is the slogan which accompanies so many students throughout their college years. A bachelor degree is not enough; one has to sit national exams to be honored and respected.2 If you manage to get a government job, you would be a happy person because this seems to be the highest aim in life for many around us. One of the most important points for choosing a marriage partner is which position in the society one has reached. Each one is compared with every one. Who is better, more intelligent and ahead of others? Parents want to boast about their children who suffer under this great pressure to be better than others.
Worldly-minded vs. spiritually focused
Isn’t all this a very earthly view of our lives? Permanent and imperishable values seem to be completely forgotten. But just these are essential for our inner peace, lasting joy and fulfillment. A person should not be measured by his achievements and success. What really counts, especially for relationships, is honesty, faithfulness, reliability, etc. Inner qualities show much more about a person than earthly success.
People are usually very materialistic worldly-minded. But this is a short-sighted approach and misses the essential things of life. Life is much more than just the visible reality if we are ready to think deeper. The outcome of striving for material aims or seeking entertainment and fun is always dissatisfaction. You have probably experienced that after watching a movie, listening ten times to a song you like, or reaching some goal, you feel empty and dissatisfied. Ultimately, what makes people really joyful are good relationships and not much money, material possessions or short-lived fun.
If you had much money …
You could buy medicines—but not health.
You could buy a bed—but not peaceful sleep.
You could buy a house—but not a home.
You could buy books—but not wisdom.
You could buy entertainment—but not real joy.
You could buy admirers—but not true friends.
You could buy a golden idol—but not a relationship with God.
You could donate to a charity—but you could not buy an entry to heaven.
You could have a comfortable life—but not eternal life.
Giving back to our parents
But shouldn’t we see it as our responsibility to give back to our parents what they have provided for us? Most of our parents worked hard and selflessly only to enable us to attend a good school and college. Isn’t it them to whom we can be thankful for everything we have achieved? This question misses the most important point—God.
It is God who enables us and our parents to study and work, even to simply live. God is the source of life and without Him we cannot do anything. So we should see our lives as a present from Him and give Him thanks for it. Every one, including our parents, depends on God. We should give back to God what He has done for us.
Is God interested in what we achieved?
Have you ever thought about whether God is interested in what we achieved? Can we impress God with our achievements? The almighty and perfect, good God does not need anything from us. He is the least interested in material or worldly things. In His selfless love toward us, He does not expect any “giving back”. That’s just what selfless means, to give without the wish and even the thought of receiving something in return. What we can nevertheless do to express our thankfulness toward God is to listen to His voice and serve Him.
“Without ambitious people, we would still live in the Stone Age”
Is this true? We have to distinguish between ambitions with the only aim to progress in worldly matters and the effort to improve and ease our lives considering spiritual values. The second approach takes the emotional and spiritual sides of man into consideration and is never one-sided. Not every invention was connected with ambitions and not even with sober effort. Looking back in history, discoveries were often made by chance or through a single striking thought. Long-term investigations, explorations and tests were often not necessary. Also, not every invention was useful. Nevertheless we can be thankful for all the progress people before us made because it simplifies our daily lives and gives us much spare time. We can, however, not say generally that without ambitions we would not have all the facilities we have nowadays.
If man lived a simple and modest life in harmony with his creator (God) and focusing his attention on eternal values, he would be able to understand which improvements are important and necessary for a peaceful and happy life. This is what everyone actually longs for. But there are lots of inventions which make life rather more hectic and lead mankind to more greed, competition and disharmony.
We have to take great care not to depend on technology. We can live without it as well. It is not the essence of our lives. Can you imagine living without a smart phone or mobile phone? Why not? People throughout centuries and even millennia did so. They managed their work and lives as well. If you can’t imagine this, you are probably already dependent on your phone. It is true that nowadays we need them due to our work in jobs, but let’s ask ourselves whether we always use them responsibly.
We do not have to be always up-to-date. Not everything that is new is useful or sensible. And—joy is not dependent on abundance!
Ambitions or rather selfless service?
Ambitious people are usually very concentrated on their own success, not thinking about the needs of others. At times, they even regard the needs of others as opportunities for giving solutions and thus feeling important. Ambition is closely connected with selfishness which destroys relationships. Who wants to have a selfish friend or colleague? If someone, however, renounces his own interests and instead serves his neighbor selflessly, we are glad and thankful for it. This does not contradict pursuing one’s own studies or job in a responsible way, but priority should be given to others and not oneself. This is the essence of selfless love which gives real fulfillment in contrast to a self-seeking ambitious way of life.
Entrust your future to God!
Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon3 in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?” For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (Gospel of Matthew, chapter 6, verses 25–34)
Jesus says that we should not worry about our future. God takes care of us, as He takes care of everything in His creation. He knows what we need. He is a loving God whom we can entrust our future to. Instead of trying to secure our lives with our ambitious activities, we should seek first God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness, and all things we need for life will be given to us as well. This promise of Jesus calls for faith, faith in him and his word.
For many people security is very important, especially earthly security. Let’s see what Jesus says about this in the following parable:
The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. He thought to himself, “What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.” Then he said, “This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, ‘You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry. ’” But God said to him, “You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?” This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God. (Gospel of Luke, chapter 12, verses 16–21)
Securing our lives in an earthly manner will certainly lead to a great loss, latest when we have to die. How will us our high marks at college, our degrees, our high positions in our jobs, money and honor from people help us then if we are not rich before God? All this does not save us. We can’t take anything of these with us when we die.
For all can see that the wise die, that the foolish and the senseless also perish, leaving their wealth to others. … Do not be overawed when others grow rich, when the splendor of their houses increases; for they will take nothing with them when they die, their splendor will not descend with them. Though while they live they count themselves blessed—and people praise you when you prosper. (Psalm 49, verses 10, 16–18)
So why should we strive ambitiously for the fame of this world which is only temporary and passes away?—And not only this, it harms us spiritually.
But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. (Paul’s First Letter to Timothy, chapter 6, verses 6–10)
Better a little, but with a joyful heart and with God
Better a dry crust with peace and quiet than a house full of feasting, with strife. (Proverbs, chapter 17, verse 1)
Better a little with the fear of the Lord than great wealth with turmoil. Better a small serving of vegetables with love than a fattened calf with hatred. (Proverbs, chapter 15, verses 16–17)
Contentment with little but with an honest and pure heart before God gives real joy. The world looks at those who are strong, skillful and successful. God looks at the heart and blesses those who obey Him. His blessings are first of all spiritual blessings, giving us eternal life. In contrast to our materialistic society, Jesus speaks about these spiritual blessings:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Gospel of Matthew, chapter 5, verses 3–12)
We should live in the awareness of God our creator. Our lifetime is short. Let’s not waste it by running after worthless, sinful things or earthly success which can never give us real fulfillment. Let’s fulfill our duties, be it at school/college or work, faithfully and responsibly, always keeping in mind that this is not the most important. God knows the best what is good for us. Let’s listen to His voice.
What I mean, brothers and sisters, is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they do not; those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away. (Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, chapter 7, verses 29–31)
The apostle Paul is a good example of how we should view success in this world. He was a very ambitious and successful Jew in the time of Jesus; but through Jesus he understood that any career in this world is worthless. See what he says about the time of his life before he met Jesus:
If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee4; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless. But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. (Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, chapter 3, verses 4–9)
Looking back to his life before he became a Christian, Paul regards all his achievements rubbish. He would have had the capacity to become a very important person in the Jewish society, but he renounced his career for the sake of becoming a disciple of Jesus, knowing that only in Jesus he can find the purpose of life.
Christians use the things of this world with a sense of responsibility and thankfulness, but they do not get absorbed or controlled by them because they know that they have something much better—an everlasting relationship with God. This is what we should take care of with all our strength.
- MNC means multinational company. ↩
- We understand that IITs/NIITs offer much better education than the many private colleges where the level, especially of bachelor’s degrees, is pathetic. We want to point at the boasting that goes around studying in these institutions. ↩
- Solomon was a king in Judah approx. 1000 BC. ↩
- A Pharisee is a member of a Jewish religious party known for strict observance of rites and ceremonies of the written law and their own oral traditions. They knew the law of Moses very well and were honored by the people. ↩