The search for satisfaction is one of
the most powerful motivators in the human spirit. People everywhere
are engaged in the pursuit of goals. They want more. Jesus Christ
taught us to reach for eternal goals, which are rewarding in this
life (irrespective of circumstances) as well as the next.
It has been my privilege to serve in
positions that have enabled me to meet many interesting people. They
have included princes, prime ministers, renowned authors,
internationally popular singers, one of the first men to walk on the
moon, business leaders and sporting record holders. In the “game
of life” they were the stand-out winners, the exemplars of
“success”. It is given to very few to achieve true
greatness, by human standards, as distinct from mere popularity,
inherited wealth and serendipitous discoveries. These were people
who had “made it”.
Westminster Abbey in London is another
good place to meet the rich and famous, only this time they are dead.
Plaques and busts tell of their remarkable achievements. They were
unique in their times. But now they are history.
It is hard to be exceptional. For
example, more scientists are currently alive than have ever lived and
died throughout the human story. On the business front, the Fortune
500 list shows the staggering profits that top companies make
today. It is not even a big deal to be a millionaire any more.
Nevertheless, notions of success are just as addictive, just as
intoxicating, regardless of where you stand on the ladder. We have
come to believe that the key to satisfaction is to have a household
name, a bright future, wealth, social status, popularity and access
to pleasure. Looking at the tombs of great men and women, whether in
abbeys, pyramids or the graves of leaders such as Napoleon, one is
reminded that even those who “have it all” are not
guaranteed lasting fulfillments, security or immortality. They are
just as dead as the most obscure people of their generations. Men
are soon forgotten when they die.
A man who had it all
Let’s consider the life of one
man deemed eminently successful in his day.
Solomon (an historical figure) was
arguably the greatest king in the history of ancient Israel. He was
incredibly gifted. He was well educated. He had position, authority
and fame. He had an army, navy and expansive public service at his
beck and call. He was a good administrator. Solomon was the richest
man in the world in his day (in one year alone he amassed 23,000
kilos of gold, for his own use). His throne was made of ivory and
overlaid with gold. (No mere silver drinking goblets for this
potentate.) He had a private zoo and an abiding interest in science
and the arts. He established a personal commercial emporium that was
the envy of the world. His intellectual achievements and prowess
Solomon founded universities and other
centers of excellence. He was known as the wisest philosopher who
ever lived (he wrote or assembled over 3,000 proverbs and 1,005
songs). The high and mighty came from other countries to observe his
wisdom and marvel at his assets. He indulged in every sensual
pleasure. He employed singers, dancers and orchestras to entertain
him. He had an eye for the beautiful girls and ended up accumulating
seven hundred wives (not to mention a stable of three hundred
concubines). He owned 40,000 horses and 1,400 chariots and commanded
12,000 charioteers. Solomon employed experts in horticulture,
architecture, zoology and mining. He paid 153,000 men over seven
years to build the most elaborate temple in his nation’s
history. Building his palace took nearly twice as long. It must
have been magnificent. His houses were filled with the treasures of
Egypt. The people of his day were known for their technological
development – and he led them. To top it all off, he lived in
a time of peace and security, so there were few threats to the
stability of his kingdom. I have visited some of the world’s
most elaborate palaces, but they were nothing compared with Solomon’s
Solomon was also religious. He had a
godly father (King David). As a child he dreamed of building a great
temple where God could come and take up residence, a dream he would
see realized. He had powerful personal encounters with God.
However, over time, his many wives turned his heart away from the One
True God, in favour of their own deities. Solomon’s heart was
eventually so corrupted by his lifestyle that he lost his objectivity
and sense of reality and ultimately forfeited his relationship with
Having everything and enjoying
The English poet Percy Shelley
(1792-1822) wrote a famous poem about an ancient ruin. It is worth
reproducing here, because it underscores the fleeting nature of man’s
achievements, in the light of the Eternal.
I met a traveller from an ancient land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs
Stand in the desert. Near them, on
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold
Tell that its sculptor well those
Which yet survive, stamped on these
The hand that mocked them and the
heart that fed;
And on the pedestal these words
“My name is Ozymandius, king of
Look on my words, ye Mighty, and
Nothing else remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and
The lone and level sands stretch far
Nothing was left except the emptiness
of former remnants of greatness and the reality of the builder’s
insignificance in the context of eternity. Power is transitory.
Life is short. Even Shelley, who discerningly penned these words
died prematurely, at only 29 years of age.
Solomon was an enigma. Like the king
in the poem, he boasted great achievements, but they did not last.
(The federation he led split into two shortly after his death.) He
reached all the supreme goals people set for themselves, then much
more, but he never seemed to find out who he was and why he had been
In the end King Solomon concluded
(sadly) that success in life was no better than a bag of wind, that
the things for which people strive are ultimately empty, futile,
frustrating and devoid of eternal value. How tragic. One day
Solomon sat down and compiled his thoughts on the matter. The book
of Ecclesiastes is a dramatic autobiography of someone out of
fellowship with God.
Solomon may have been wise, but he
forsook God and lived and died foolishly. Materialism, fatalism and
polytheism did not bring lasting fulfillment. He lived for success,
but came to believe that the whole of his life was, in fact,
characterized by deep sorrow, grief and restlessness (Ecclesiastes
2:23), hardly a fitting tribute for a man who felt satisfaction with
his achievements for so long.
Sadly, Solomon was not alone. Many
people who achieve their life’s ambitions come to realise that
their assets are empty, that they have spent all their lives climbing
a ladder, only to realise too late that it is up against the wrong
wall. Too late to start over.
Like Solomon, many of us invest the
best of our lives seeking assets and other goals that are transitory.
The Bible says that the things we see are “temporal”
(only there for a while, transitory), whereas what is unseen is
eternal (2 Corinthians 4:18).
In our day we have witnessed the
apotheosis of greed. However, true happiness apart from Christ is
impossible to attain, whether one is rich or poor, educated or
unlearned, influential or obscure.
A rock star dies of a drug overdose.
A political leader shakes his head with disbelief and openly cries in
front of television cameras when people he has served repudiate him
and vote for another candidate. A great writer goes blind at the
height of her creativity. A beautiful actress quits because she
loses the appearance of youth and is no longer sought out for lead
roles. The Bible says that charm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting
(Proverbs 31:30). Achievement is illusory and seductive.
Solomon came to believe that he would
be better off dead; better still never to have been born
(Ecclesiastes 4:2, 3). He added that, if a man should live one
thousand years (or twice that), it would be futile, for we all die in
the end. How depressing! The thrill and anticipation were gone.
What are the things that motivate and
fulfill you? What do you dream of achieving? Where does God fit
into the picture? Accumulated wealth can feel very nice to hold but
leave its owner spiritually and morally bankrupt. What we see around
us will not last. The things for which we strive (possessions,
position and passions) are destined to pass away. Priceless objects,
personal attainments, achievements, notoriety, everything will go.
Everything eventually wears out (Colossians 2:22).
It is possible to get to heaven
without health, wealth, fame, a great reputation, education, huge
earnings, beauty, culture, friends and ten thousand other things for
which people spent their entire lives striving. But you can never
get to heaven without God’s help. Solomon ended up spending a
lot of his life away from God. No wonder he complained of depression
and sounded jaded and dissatisfied. The Bible says that people from
around the known world sought audiences with Solomon, just to listen
to this man who spoke with such wisdom out of what God had placed in
his heart (1 Kings 10:24), but all the while he was thinking that the
entire enterprise was empty. Wealth, achievement and popularity did
not impart character or proper perspective. In fact, they became
stumbling blocks. Maybe that is why God inspired to Prophet Jeremiah
to counsel one of the leaders of his day not to seek greatness
After years of soul-searching, Solomon
concluded that, “the whole duty of man”, the attitude and
aims that count at the end of the day, is to, “fear God and
keep His commands” (Ecclesiastes 12:13). This is the beginning
of wisdom and true knowledge. It took him a long time to realise
that life without God is vacuous.
It is not wrong to search for
happiness. We all have basic physical and emotional needs that make
us human, such as the need for food, shelter, clothing, acceptance
and love. These are needs that our Creator has built into our
wiring. The problems emerge when we search in the wrong places, when
we substitute satisfaction for relationship with him, when we break
the moral codes to get what we want, when we confuse the legitimate
inner longings that everyone has, such as a desire for social
significance (a romance, a friendship) with justification for
breaking God’s laws and principles (such as an extramarital
affair to achieve it). We burden achieving goals with unrealistic
expectations; a spouse, job, car or degree may be entirely
legitimate, but they will not meet our every inner need. The deepest
needs are spiritual. Only relationship with God will provide the
ultimate fulfillment everyone craves. Only spiritual fulfillment
will enable us to accept who we are and to be content with what we
have when we get what we need (Philippians 4:11-13).
Being successful for God’s
The Biblical Christian believes that
God does not want us to be failures (read Joshua 1:5-9, Psalm 1:3;
Proverbs 3:1-10; 3 John 2), but that everything we have and achieve
should be subject to His Lordship and priorities.
Financial, political and educational
success can be used to glorify Him or function as ends in themselves.
If we are blessed, it is so that we can be a blessing and
influential for good in public and private life. The important thing,
from God’s perspective, is attitude. The Bible says He resists
the proud, but gives grace to the humble (1 Peter 5:5). In fact,
humility is often the starting point. “Humble yourselves under
the mighty hand of God that He may exalt you in due time”, says
1 Peter 5:6. Instead of waiting till we have everything and then
deciding to do the work of God, He asks us to start with what we have
(see Exodus 3:2-5), so that the success we enjoy is attributable to
Him. It takes a special skill set to be blessed materially and
remain thoroughly submitted to God’s Lordship. We can only do
so with the Holy Spirit’s help.
Solomon couldn’t really enjoy
what he had, because he all too often ignored God in the process.
The key to true satisfaction as a Christian is to use what we have
and are to serve God. The Bible says that we belong to Him; whether
we live or die we are the Lord’s (Romans 14:7, 8). Jesus said
that we are to seek God’s Kingdom and its righteousness ahead
of everything else (Matthew 6:33). The air we breathe comes from
Him. We are not our own, because we have been “bought with a
price” (12 Corinthians 6:19-20; 7:23), the precious blood of
Christ. We are called to use our faculties, talents and energies to
serve Him. Not as mediocre believers, but with the whole heart,
filled with the Holy Spirit and equipped to make a difference in our
generation. Our strength comes from Him (Habakkuk 3:19).
Jesus said that He only did what God
the Father told Him and lived in a way that pleased the Father. The
Bible says that He did not please Himself (Romans 15:3). He did
nothing and said nothing that was inconsistent with total obedience
to God. His life was driven by this single purpose.
Are you prepared for a challenge? To
stop listening to the reverberations of your own echo chamber and
think beyond yourself, into the realm of faith? Let God plant a seed
in your life that will grow into something bigger than you can ever
accomplish in your own strength. Live for God and pursue a lifestyle
and priorities that will have eternal consequences and touch the
lives of others. Jesus said that those who seek to keep their own
lives will lose them. But those who are prepare to lose their lives
for and in Him, in whatever field of human endeavour they commit
themselves, will find them (Mark 8:35). I believe that those who are
prepared to allow their dreams to die and be sustained in God’s
higher purposes will find true satisfaction.
Years ago I attended a church service
in Hong Kong, where I was given a bookmark that remained in my Bible
for many years, a constantly reminder of what is genuinely important.
It contained an aphorism that remains true today:
Short life. Soon past. Only
what’s done for Christ will last.