Life needs a story – not a story to tell, but a story to live by. Many stories echo in our culture, calling us to follow their scripts. One of the most prevalent and pernicious is the story of success. Families who accept this story slavishly follow its script. Chapter titles read “Careers,” “Titles,” “Promotions,” “Properties,” “Profits,” “Public Accolades and Acknowledgements,” and “The Elevated Standard of Living.” Families enmeshed in this raise their kids to be successful and prosperous. They push them to excel in sports, to be honor students, to get a college degree, so they can land a well-paying job and live the successful life.
Subtly woven throughout the narrative is the message, “Your personal worth is measured by what you accomplish.” Those who accomplish more are worth more. Those who accomplish less are worth less. Those willing to sacrifice family time for their job will be rewarded with the promotion. Those willing to be on multiple committees will receive the community’s praise. Those willing to pour countless hours into their profession will reap the reward of prodigious profits.
Each chapter promises happiness in the next chapter, and so long as the story keeps offering more chapters, the story maintains remains intoxicating and thrilling. What many fail to realize, however, is that the story doesn’t end well. The book jacket promotes it as a story of success and happiness, a thrilling tale of triumph. In truth, it is a tragedy. It ends in one of two ways. Some die heartbroken without attaining their goal. The rest die heartbroken, having achieved what they thought would bring them happiness, only to discover its inability to provide what it promised.
Ravi Zacharias perceptively observes, “The loneliest moment in life is when you have achieved the ultimate and it has let you down.” Those who devote their life to the story of success tragically discover it has required of them their souls. Jesus rightly asks, “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” The story of success is, in reality, a damning story.
The Church offers a different story. It doesn’t deride success. Many of its faithful adherents have been blessed with a great variety of successes. Success, however, isn’t its story’s title. Instead of the story of success, the Church offers the story of sacrifice. Joy awaits those who seek not to gain the world, but to die to its stories and lures. Joy is found by those who seek not to bend God and humanity into their story of success and happiness, but by those who die to themselves and rise to new life in God’s story.
At the heart of the Church’s story is a cross. It is certainly the ultimate symbol of tragedy, the very death knell to success. And yet through it, God accomplishes the greatest triumph – victory over sin, death, and the devil! The Bible invites us not just to read this story, but to become a participant in it. When we do, we discover that our personal worth is defined not by the successes we tally, but in what has been accomplished for us by Christ. Our value isn’t in what we do, but in who we have become in Christ. The story of success promises triumph, only to end in bitter defeat. The story of sacrifice promises trouble and hardship throughout its pages: Jesus says, “In this world you will have trouble.” But He promises, “Take heart! I have overcome the world.” The story of sacrifice ends in victory.
Participants in the story of sacrifice see the necessity of telling the story to the next generation. This is why we are a creedal church; we want the next generation to know the joys of the story of sacrifice. It’s why we gather faithfully to worship the Author of this story. In Christ we discover the story our life needs.