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What is Success?

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What Is Success? (Numbers 20:1-13)

Who could question that our society is obsessed with success? For centuries most people wanted simply to survive. Today we want success quickly and visibly. Yet we are haunted by the question, "Have I succeeded?" What is success? Is it achievement, acclaim, affluence? How much do you have to accumulate to be successful?

Most people would consider Moses a success. Yet at the end of his 120-year-long life he failed. He ended as a successful failure. We can learn from his final failure what does not and what does constitute a real success.

Is Success Overcoming Adversity?

We often measure successes by the amount of adversity overcome. By that measure Moses should have been successful. He overcame four kinds of adversity in the pressure cooker of leadership.

We may overcome adverse environment. Moses led a mass of people in the destitute desert. He had done so for thirty-eight years. The entire group lived like Bedouins in an uninhabited, hostile environment. Moses achieved in an impossible place.

We may overcome adverse memories. The Hebrews returned to Kadesh, the place of their failure thirty-eight years before (13:26). At that place they refused to enter the land that God had given them. The huge rock at Kadesh was a landmark of lost life, a monument to failure. Yet Moses overcame the adversity of past failure.

We may overcome adverse emotions. Miriam died at Kadesh. She was the sister of Moses and Aaron as well as the leading woman of the Hebrews. It was Miriam who had placed the baby Moses in the Nile and watched until he was claimed by the daughter of Pharaoh. Now she suddenly died after 119 years of companionship.

We may overcome adverse criticism. The people criticized Moses for the lack of water. This was unjust and unreasonable criticism. It had not been by the impulse of Moses that they enjoyed the exodus. Besides, God had met their needs for years. Moses often overcame the adversity of unjust criticism.

This experience of Moses reveals that you can overcome adversity and still fall short of God's standard for success.

Is Success Seeking God?

Surely success is found in seeking God. Moses did not retaliate against the critical people, but turned instead to seek God. There is a great contrast between the leaders and the led.

We may seek God immediately and reverently. Moses turned toward God with an urgency to find an answer in the crisis. In reverence he fell down before the presence of God. Such immediacy and humility are surely to be commended.

We may see God's presence, Moses suddenly saw the glory of the Lord. This cloud of light had occurred before in special emergencies as a token of God's presence and intention to vindicate His name (Ex. 16:10; Num. 14:10; 16:19). Moses not only sought but also saw the presence of God.

We may hear God. The Lord spoke a practical, specific, and hopeful word to Moses about the crisis of no water. Moses heard the word of God with a startling clarity.

Yet seeking, seeing, and hearing God does not mean success. Another Old Testament man, Saul, sought God through every means but did not find Him (1 Sam. 28:6).

Is Success Obeying God?

Outwardly Moses appeared to be successful. He acted with authority and action. He produced. There were results—water gushed out of the rock at Kadesh. Yet Moses was a successful failure. Though people could not see that, God made it clear. What was the reason for failure?

We fail because of an attitude. Moses had an attitude of distrust toward God (20:12). He did not believe that God could make water come out of the solid rock, even though God had done it before. He also failed to see how God could have mercy on the critical Hebrews.

We fail because of an acclamation. Moses acclaimed, "Listen, you rebels" (v. 10). This was a word of anger. God told Moses to speak to the rock, not the people. Moses' rash anger caused his failure. But it was also an acclamation of ego. The little word "we" (v. 10) supplanted God and placed attention on the action of Moses and Aaron.

We fail because of an act. Moses acted in disobedience which was rebellion (v. 24). He struck the rock twice when he was only supposed to speak to the rock once. He literally took matters into his own hands.

In short, Moses was a successful failure because he refused to obey God. Success is not results, but obedience to God is! The water flowed from the rock, but Moses failed. The only ultimate measure of success is faithful obedience to God.

The result of failing to obey God may be severe (v. 12). Moses was not able to lead the people into the land. He did not lose his salvation, but he did lose his big opportunity in this life. The punishment appears severe. This was his only outward sin in forty years. Yet God takes the sins of leadership very seriously. Visibility means responsibility. Success is obedience. The lack of obedience has serious consequence. Measure your success by obedience.

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