By Dr. Mark D. Roberts
O LORD, save us;
O LORD, grant us success.
Should worship artists seek success? Should worship leaders strive to be effective in order to be successful?
When it comes to the matter of success, Christians differ widely. Some tout success as good stewardship of gifts and opportunities. The most accomplished of the successful folk sponsor conferences, write books, or host webinars in order to help others join them in blessed effectiveness. They are honored for their accomplishments and become celebrities among those who seek to emulate them.
Yet, not all believers celebrate success. Others seem allergic to the very notion of success, preferring to speak of faithfulness or obedience. Success, we are told, is a secular American value that has infected the Church with worldliness. We should forget about being successful and focus on pleasing God.
Success in Psalm 118
To be honest, I lean in the direction of the naysayers. I am deeply concerned about the extent to which the American Church has scrambled its soul by becoming drunk on the values of secular culture, including success. But, as one committed to Scripture, I am aware that “success” can be a godly value. In Psalm 118:25, for example, we find this prayer: “O LORD, save us; O LORD, grant us success.” The NIV translation of the Hebrew verb tzalach as “to be successful” is confirmed by many recent English versions (ESV, NRSV, TNIV, NIV 2011).
So, Scripture confirms the worth of success, at least in some sense. This does not invite us, however, to define success however we wish. We need to discover what success means to God and how we can be successful in his ways.
In the rest of this column, I want to focus on the second aspect of this discovery. (For my thoughts on what success means for a worship leader, see the note below.) You see, Scripture gives us a clear formula for godly success. In Psalm 118:25, for example, the psalmist cries out to God for success. He assumes that genuine prosperity comes from the hand of God. It is not something we can conjure up through our own efforts, though God might choose to use us in the process. The bottom line: success is God’s provision, God’s gift, God’s prerogative.
Paradigms of Success
Other scriptural passages illuminate success and how to attain it. In 2 Chronicles 26, we meet Uzziah, who became king of Judah when he was only 16 years old and reigned for 52 years. Though he began well, Uzziah’s pride finally overtook his heart. Yet, in many ways, Uzziah “did what was right in the eyes of the LORD” (26:4). Thus, the Chronicler observes, “As long as he sought the LORD, God gave him success” (26:5; using a form of the verb tzalach). Uzziah accomplished great things as king just as long as he “sought the LORD” first and foremost. This included having reverence for God and obeying his commandments.
Another example of success comes from the book of Joshua. In the first chapter, the Lord raised up Joshua to succeed Moses as the leader of Israel. God instructed Joshua to “Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; … Do not let this Book of the Law depart from you mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous [tzalach] and successful” (Josh 1:7-8). The Lord promised that Joshua would be successful if he learned, meditated upon, and obeyed the Book of the Law.
Of course, both Uzziah and Joshua had to use their talents and abilities in order to fulfill their divine calling. They didn’t just pray, worship, and study God’s Word. But, according to Scripture, the key feature in their success was their relationship with God. Their success as king and national leader depended most of all on their faithfulness in seeking God, worshiping him, being guided by him, meditating upon his Word, and obeying his commandments.
If You Want to Be Successful …
What was true for Uzziah and Joshua is also true for us. Our success depends on God. We will be prepared to receive the gift of success if we focus, above all, on seeking the Lord and his ways. If you want to be an effective worship leader, if you want to be a successful worship artist, by all means learn to be wise and use your gifts effectively. But, most of all, put God first in your life, your work, your relationships, your study, your planning, your aspirations, your creativity, your calendar, your finances, and your soul.
What is success for a worship leader? In this column, I did not have the space to discuss this question. I have sought to answer it at my Patheos blog: bit.ly/wlsuccess.