Success: It’s A Hard Life

Justin_Bieber_2012I’m a fan of the TV show called The Voice. It’s one of the best talent contests out there today, in my opinion. This season there’s a young girl–only sixteen when the show started–who has survived to the top ten. Her coach has repeatedly said he thinks she might be one of the most influential artists in music–not just in her chosen genre.

What a huge accomplishment for one so young–even if she doesn’t end up winning The Voice, it’s a good guess that she’ll have recording contract by the time this season ends. Part of me is happy for her. She seems so genuine, so fresh–no one has told her yet that she needs to get a bit dirty or to lose her girl-next-door look.

But we’ve seen fresh faces before. Britney Spears comes to mind as does Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber. Or how about Lindsay Lohan?

LindsaylohanmugshotMs. Lohan was modeling at the age of 3, was featured on a TV soap at 10, and at 11 she starred in her first movie. Six years later, when she was 17, turning 18, her debut studio album was certified platinum. Three years later her legal problems began.

I’ve seen Christian “stars” experience the same kind of meteoric rise to fame and fortune, only to disappear off the radar–as the public learns later, because of private life issues. An affair. Addiction. A crisis of faith.

Of course not all those who have early success fall foul of its rewards, but enough do, it makes me stop and wonder. We have Biblical examples of successful kings and nations who ended up far from God, sometimes alone, even hated by others. It’s hard to fathom, considering that things started out so well.

A good example of this phenomenon is a young rising political star in Jewish history named Joash. He popped into the public spotlight as a hero at age 7. His grandmother had killed all the other heirs to the throne and had seized the reins of power for herself. Unbeknown to her, however, Joash’s aunt smuggled him away. She and her husband, a priest named Jehoiada, raised him and when he turned seven, they held his coronation, with all the right people backing him.

Such a good beginning. An evil, idolatrous woman pulled down from her position of power and brought to justice. And that was only the beginning.

All the people of the land went to the house of Baal, and tore it down; his altars and his images they broke in pieces thoroughly, and killed Mattan the priest of Baal before the altars. And the priest appointed officers over the house of the LORD. (2 Kings 11:18)

Young King Joash led his people into a revival . . . until he didn’t. Despite the fact that Joash restored the temple, when his mentor Jehoiada died, he himself forsook God.

But after the death of Jehoiada the officials of Judah came and bowed down to the king, and the king listened to them. They abandoned the house of the LORD, the God of their fathers, and served the Asherim and the idols (2 Chron. 24:17-18a).

I think this last passage reveals why success for some–or perhaps, for many–leads to a hard life. This king, having experienced success and the accolades of his people, listened to those who came and bowed down to him. In other words, he started believing his own press clippings. He decided he really was as great as they said he was.

As a result, he no longer trusted God, despite the fact that He sent prophets to turn him back. Apparently, as a result of Joash’s idolatry, God brought an end to the success he’d known. One of the prophets–Zechariah, Jehoida’s son–made this clear to him:

Then the Spirit of God came on Zechariah the son of Jehoiada the priest; and he stood above the people and said to them, “Thus God has said, ‘Why do you transgress the commandments of the LORD and do not prosper? Because you have forsaken the LORD, He has also forsaken you.’ ” (2 Chron. 24:20)

Surely, surely this would be a turning point. I mean, Jehoiada’s son! The man who raised Joash, who brought him to power, who mentored him until his death–Jehoiada’s son!

Well, actually, no. To show how far he’d fallen, Joash had Zechariah stoned to death. At the turn of the year, the Arameans (Syrians) sacked Jerusalem, killed off a number of officials, and carried away a great deal of plunder. Joash’s own servants turned on him then, though he was already sick, and assassinated him.

Quite the end for one who started out with such promise. From Joash’s life, I think a couple things are clear.

1) God gives the breaks. Joash could just as easily have died with his brothers, but he didn’t–and it was not because of anything he did. He was just a baby.

2) God gives the means for success. Jehoiada was beside the young king, advising him. Again, Joash did nothing to bring Jehoiada into his life, but as long as he listened to and followed this man of God, he did great things.

3) Forgetting #1 and #2 leads to a downfall.

Will the downfall always be the kind of crash-and-burn Joash experienced? I don’t think so. For whatever reason, God sees fit to deal with different people differently.

Manasseh, for example, was a young king who came to power at 16 and did horrible things during his lengthy reign. Yet when he experience the kind of military defeat Joash had experienced, Manasseh turned to God–he repented, did a complete turn around, as dramatic for good as Joash’s was for evil.

So is success really the cause of a hard life? The real cause is rejecting God, turning our back on Him, deciding we’ll go it on our own, do it our own way. Whether successful in the eyes of the world or not, there’s a definite shelf life for people with that attitude.

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