Success without Intimacy

Success without Intimacy


Success is one of those words that nobody seems to agree on a common definition.  The dictionary definition goes something like this:

The favorable or prosperous termination of attempts or endeavors.

The attainment of wealth, position, honors, or the like.

A successful performance or achievement.

While those definitions help clarify the common usage of the word, they do not have much to do with God’s view of success. There are many pastors, missionaries and faithful servants in local churches throughout the centuries and around the globe that have not had “favorable or prosperous” endeavors; nor have they attained “wealth, position, honors, or the like,” yet many of them will certainly be rewarded as “successful” at the Bema Seat of Christ.  

On the flip side, there are many pastors and the like who DO have “favorable or prosperous” endeavors and ARE attaining “wealth, position and honors” in the world (and in Christian circles too), but could hear, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness’ (Matthew 7:23) from Jesus Himself! Should this second group really be considered a success? To use one of Paul’s lines, “Certainly NOT!”

It should not be surprising that many “successful” pastors and Christian leaders leave the ministry.  God has called some on to different vocations, but the vast majority leaves because of some kind of failure: moral, financial, relational or even loss of focus.  But I don’t think it would be a because of a lack of Biblical knowledge, giftedness, talent or work ethic.  I recently heard H.B. London (Focus on the Family’s pastor to pastors) comment that the top three causes for pastors leaving the ministry at such an alarming rate are:

1)      Inconsistencies in their home

2)      Failure to have a safety net of accountability

3)      Missing intimacy with the Lord


Most every excuse or situation can ultimately be traced back to “missing intimacy with the Lord.”  Without it, pastors who have a great deal of success from an outward perspective can end up being nothing more than the snake oil salesman of long ago, a counterfeit, a phony, and they know it!  The inner turmoil created by that tension will eventually drive a man to his knees in search of the real thing, or drive him out of the pastorate.  That reality is sobering to ANY serious follower of Christ!  As well it should be.  


Scripture indicates God’s definition of success is not necessarily based on results we are able to see. God calls us to be faithful servants, not successful servants! It is a matter of intimacy, trust and thus obedience.  God gives us several glimpses of His view of success in His word:“…Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams…”(1 Samuel 15:22). King Saul was winding up a great success as commander and chief by anyone’s standard. And in his own mind had even been obedient to the Lord’s commands! (1 Samuel 15:13, 20) Yet he acted in such a way that God stripped him of his kingship!  “For rebellion is as the sin of divination, and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has also rejected you from being king.”  (1 Samuel 15:23)

 But it was not just rebellion that ruined King Saul. Samuel told him, “presumption is as idolatry!”  And we all know what God thinks of idolatry!


One of the saddest statements in Scripture is found in the story of mighty Samson!  As he awoke that final time from Delilah’s lap, he did not even realize God’s hand of blessing had departed from him!  He had presumed God would never leave him in that way. WOW!! How many pastors have been so caught up in the pursuit of success, so presumptive of God, that they don’t even realize when God’s hand of blessing has left their ministry?


Both Samson and King Saul serve as sobering reminders that God values an intimate walk with Him far greater than vibrant public ministries!


Perhaps Israel had a Priest So-and-so who was better at getting all the blood out of a slain lamb than anyone else.  He had the best technique and program for slicing the neck so as to get the most amount of blood from the sacrifice!  He had lines and lines of people waiting to have HIM cut the lamb.  All the well-to-do Israelites wanted to be seen at his station, give to his knife replacement campaign, and even send their son to intern on his staff.  Certainly he was a huge success. 


What if Priest So-and-so was motivated by the long lines waiting on him instead of by the holy demands of God represented by the need for a blood sacrifice?  What if he didn’t obey the proper procedures to administer the sacrifice, or minister to the people?  What if he didn’t care about the holiness of his followers?  What if God was far less concerned about the sacrifice itself, and far MORE concerned about the heart of the one who offered it?  What if it was about obedience to His commands that naturally flowed from a deep intimate relationship with Him: “Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice…” (1 Samuel 15:22).  What if God evaluates success entirely differently than man does: “…the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7).

What if every pastor’s passion was to be found faithful, not successful?  “Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy”(1 Corinthians 4:2). I firmly believe that every pastor who pursues faithfulness and intimacy WILL SEE success.  Although each one may not pastor a mega church or have the most read blog on the internet, they will be successful in God’s eyes.  And He will bless their ministries in profound and eternal ways!  H.B. London said, Remember, God has gifted each of us in different ways. Measuring our lives by some earthly standard is just not accurate, no matter how successful we appear. Instead, let’s focus on His standard of grace… loving trust, and faithful obedience.”

Perhaps you read this article for one of two reasons; you are passionate about intimacy, or you lack it.  And you know that when this life is over, God is not going to evaluate you on your terms, but on His!  God will evaluate on what HE considers valuable or worthless about your ministry! Maybe you are at the same place I’ve been: “successful” as a pastor.  Your church is growing, lives are being transformed, Jesus is being lifted up all around you, but on the inside there is emptiness.  You know something is missing.  You may even feel phony at times.  You’ve figured out success without intimacy is useless! And although you’ve read about it, been to workshops on it, written and preached about it, there’s still no intimacy.  Knowing this, would you STOP RIGHT NOW and practice intimacy?  Get down on your knees RIGHT NOW, put your nose to the ground, stretch your hands out above your head and just cry out to God! Tell Him you desire Him more than all the successes He has given you.  He is waiting there for you. Ask Him to create in you a fresh, clean heart. Go on… Do it NOW! Because all that really matters is what God’s definition of success!