The Rev. Fred Craddock is a remarkable southern preacher in the United States, who says this story really happened. Dr. Craddock was visiting in the home of his niece. There was this old greyhound, just like the ones who race around the track chasing those mechanical rabbits. His niece had taken the dog into her home to prevent it from being destroyed because its racing days were over, and Dr. Craddock struck up a conversation with the greyhound:
I said to the dog, “Are you still racing?”
“No,” he replied.
“Well, what was the matter? Did you get too old to race?”
“No, I still had some race in me.”
“Well, what then? Did you not win?”
“I won over a million dollars for my owner.”
“Well, what was it? Bad treatment?”
“Oh, no,” the dog said. “They treated me royally when we were racing.”
“Did you get crippled?”
“Then why?” I pressed. “Why?”
The dog answered, “I quit.”
“Yes,” he said. “I quit.”
“Why did you quit?”
“I just quit because after all that running and running and running, I found out that the rabbit I was chasing wasn’t even real.”
I expect that most of us know how that old greyhound felt. How many times have we gone around and around the track, chasing the false rabbit of success, only to discover that the real rabbit was under our nose, waiting to be discovered all along?
What’s your definition of success?
Simon and Andrew may have been thinking about that question the day they met Jesus. These two brothers were making a living if not exactly making a life. They had a business to run, obligations to keep, a routine to live by. Life was secure, or at least predictable. It was settled, if not quite comfortable. They would live and die as fishermen, just as their father and grandfather before them.
Then one day, it happened. An itinerant preacher by the name of Jesus comes along, calls them into his company, and the Bible says, “Immediately they left their nets and followed him.”
This story sounds like hyperbole. It is what we preachers always dream will happen. You preach a sermon on stewardship and someone leaves a note in the plate saying, “Rector, you converted me. I’ll cover the costs for that leaky roof. I’ll donate generously to our children and youth ministry. And I’ll insure that the meal program for the hungry is never without support.”
Believe it or not, something like that happened not that many years ago. I was the visiting preacher in a Victoria church and mentioned how nice it would be for some generous soul to donate for a new roof so that the daily meal program for the hungry could continue to take place in the church hall. Well, after the service, one man, who wasn’t even a member of the church – he was visiting from Alberta – came forward and donated the full amount for the new roof.
It happens, doesn’t it? You reach your middle years and ask, “What have I done with my life? What kind of legacy do I want to leave on this earth?”
Isn’t it interesting that both Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, the wealthiest men in the world, have decided to give a vast amount of their fortune to help alleviate human suffering? These men have every material comfort in life, and yet they feel a need to give away. After all, we only pass through this life once, so we might as well make the most of the opportunity.
Have you ever felt called to move beyond your comfort zone and journey into uncharted territory? You didn’t plan it that way; you didn’t envision it, but sometimes there are these divine turning points in our lives. They are not the kind of things you seek out, exactly. They just happen to you and they open you to a new chapter of spiritual adventure in your life.
This is the unmistakable message of the Gospel. If you open yourself to the call of God, you are likely to find yourself at some point on a road that will test the limits of your character. Traveling this road may mean giving up many of the securities you hold dear. Yet along this road you find the meaning and purpose to your life, much as Robert Frost writes about in his poem, “The Road Not Taken:”
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
The obituary highlighted his invention of dynamite and stressed how important it had become for various military applications. It highlighted how dynamite and Nobel were responsible for the increasing destructiveness of war.
The obituary also mentioned his great wealth, but it said nothing about what he really believed in. It was a sobering moment in Alfred Nobel’s life. He realized that he had left nothing behind that would give an indication of his values and beliefs. Reading his obituary became a turning point in his life. It was then that he decided to set up and fund the Nobel prizes for peace, for science and for literature. Today, if we remember his name at all, we are far more likely to associate it with the Nobel Prize than we are with his invention of dynamite. Despite his wealth and achievement, by his own admission Alfred Nobel lived a life of success only after reading his obituary.
Sometimes it takes a shock like that to see life from an eternal perspective. Jesus teaches us that the only way to receive the gift of life is to share it with others. If we keep it to ourselves, we die. If pass it on to someone else, we live. Salvation is always received by giving it away.
So give and give and give some more, even when the world says you are being foolish and tries to frighten you into insecurity. Give anyway, trusting that you can never out-give God. Choose to be kind, generous and compassionate, even if your fears urge you to pull back, retrench and think only of yourself. Choose to practice abundance, even if your fears urge you to focus on scarcity. Choose to follow Jesus and build and support life-giving communities, even if your fears urge you to secure yourself, protect yourself and insure yourself against the risk of living.
That is the key to an abundant life, a fulfilled life, and dare I say, a successful life. William James the psychologist said, “The great use of life is to spend it for something that will outlast it.” Jim Eliot the martyred missionary said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” And Winston Churchill put it like this: “We make a living by what we get; we make a life by what we give.”
So let’s go back to the question: What is success? In light of the Christian story, I would suggest that success is fulfilling God’s purpose for your life. Success is leaving this earth a little better by our having been in it. Success is letting a little more love warm cold hearts, a little more light shine on a dark world. Success is living courageously and compassionately, being faithful to Jesus no matter what the cost and following Jesus no matter where he leads.
So what are you waiting for? Jesus is calling you. Following him will test your moral and spiritual limits but it will also meet the deepest longing of your heart.
“And immediately they left their nets and followed him.”–Mark 1:14-20
The Rev. Dr. Gary Nicolosi is the rector at St. James Westminster Anglican Church in London, Ont.