One of the most important verses in all of Scripture regarding the uncertainty of human success and achievement is Ecclesiastes 9:11. There we read, “the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to those with knowledge, but time and chance happen to them all.” This verse has become almost the singular source of self-evaluating recalibration for me in life. My mind returns there whenever I begin asking questions like:
· Why does one advance more than another?
· Why aren’t those who are most successful by human standards also always those who are most wise, knowledgeable and gifted?
· Why can one pour out his or her time and energy only to see others who don’t seem to be working as diligently passing them by?
The answer is, of course, that “time and chance happened to them all;” but there are also numerous lessons to be learned from a meditation on what Scripture teaches about God’s sovereignly advancing one and withholding advancement from another. Here are five things to keep in mind when seeking to evaluate your place in the world:
1. God’s Favor is Not Measured by Human Measurement
We are so accustomed to measure success by human standards, rather than asking whether what we are doing is pleasing to the Lord or not. This was the overwhelming teaching of the Apostle Paul who concurrently taught that he “worked harder than any” (1 Cor. 15:10) and that “he made it his aim to please God” (2 Cor. 5:9). There are only two kingdoms that men seek to advance—their own or God’s. The same Apostle elsewhere declared, “Am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ” (Galatians 1:10).
Human Praise is Fickle.
The Psalmist set out the emptiness of man’s praise when he declared: “You get praise when you do well for yourself” (Psalm 49:17). Charles Spurgeon explained the emptiness of human praise well when he wrote:
He who is still flattered by the companions of his pleasure can little guess the wretchedness which will be his portion should he become poor, or slanderously accused, for then one by one the parasites of his prosperity will go their way and leave him to his fate, not without cutting remarks on their part to increase his misery. Men have not so much power to bless by friendship as to curse by treachery. Earth’s poisons are more deadly than her medicines are healing. The mass of men who gather around a man and flatter him are like tame leopards; when they lick his hand it is well for him to remember that with equal gusto they would drink his blood. ‘Cursed is he that trusts in man.1
2. God Often Protects His Children From the Potential of More Sin and Greater Falls
On Judgment Day, God’s people will be shocked to learn how He was orchestrating the events of their lives—how many times He kept them from attaining certain desires because He knew that it would have led them into greater sin or a greater fall. This is seen, in part, in what the Lord said to Abimelech, when he had taken Sarah to be his wife. The Lord told him, “It was I who kept you from sinning against me; Therefore I did not let you touch her” (Genesis 20:6). The higher men rise, the farther and harder they fall. Count it a blessing to know that God may have kept you from rising higher in status in order to protect you from falling far and hard from such attainment.