Author and speaker, Gary Smalley tells the story of a time he was invited into the New Your City penthouse of a famous actor: “In his living room, whose windows took in the city skyline, was a fireplace, and on the mantel of that fireplace was a statuette, the only memento of his illustrious Hollywood film career. Having never seen an Oscar up close, I spent a moment reading the nameplate. This actor had won Best Supporting Actor at the Academy Award presentations a year earlier. “I really believed that if I won this award, it would give my life meaning. It would tell the world that I am somebody. And, I’d finally be happy.”
The actor paused for a moment, a catch in his throat. I waited. Finally, he asked the question that had prompted him to call and ask me to fly two thousand miles to meet with him. “So, Gary, why am I so miserable?” – (Gary Smalley, Joy That Lasts, 2000 Edition, p. 32.)
Success – something we are probably all hoping to experience in the new year – can be quite an illusive thing. How do we know when we have it? Will it be worth the effort when we achieve it? Lloyd Cory in Executive Digest noted, “The trouble with success is that the formula is the same as the one for a nervous breakdown.”
Part of the problem lies in our definition of success. Too often we think it means what the world thinks it means: personal achievement and wealth. God warns the Moabites in today’s passage: “Flee! Run for your lives; become like a bush in the desert. Since you trust in your deeds and riches, you too will be taken captive…” (48:6-7a) This echoes a warning God gave Judah in Jeremiah 17:5-6. “Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who draws strength from mere flesh and whose heart turns away from the LORD. That person will be like a bush in the wastelands; they will not see prosperity when it comes. They will dwell in the parched places of the desert, in a salt land where no one lives.”
The term “bush” in both passages in an infrequently used Hebrew word in the OT. It is found in only these two places and in Psalm 102:17, where it is translated “destitute.” Possible meanings of the Hebrew word are a wild donkey, a desert juniper bush or a desert town.
It kind of reminds me of a trip I once took through Nevada on Highway 50 – “the loneliest highway in America.” Along this stretch of nothing there are a few towns dotting the roadway. These cities are hours away from civilization. “How can anyone live here?” I thought to myself as I travelled through.
God says if you are relying on your own strength… if you are trusting in your riches… you are as “destitute” as these remote locales. How can anyone live here in the desolate town of self-reliance?
Fortunately, God provides a remedy. One that I hope we will apply in the new year: ” 7 “But blessed is the one who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in him. 8 They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.” (17:7-8)
Here’s to a new year filled with real growth… here’s to a new year of real success!