He’s the man with the plan. When he walks into the room hearts race, palms sweat, eyes bulge, and backs straighten. He’s the C.E.O., Chairman of the Board, President and General Manager, King of the hill. Top of the heap. Ruler of nations. While the Board sits paralyzed, poised for the royal entourage to make their grand entrance, their hearts beat in their throats as their parched lips part and in unison speak – “Good morning sir.” With the precision of the Radio City Rockettes, brief cases are unlocked, opened, and the meeting begins with Mr. Big at the helm. Mr. Big, feared by everyone, catered to by all, speaks:
In this city, I confess, I am driven to possess.
Answer to me, let them guess, are you someone I impress?
I am a big boss with a short fuse.
I have a nylon carpet and rubber shoes.
And when I shake hands you’ll get a big shock.
You’ll be begging for mercy when the champ is through.
You’d better believe I’ll put the clamps on you.
I am a safebox. I am the innersanctum when the door locks.
I own the pass key. You say you can’t take it with you.
We’ll see about that won’t we.
I am an old man and the word came.
But you can’t buy time or a good name.
Now when the heirs come around like buzzards on a kill.
I see my reflection in their envious eyes.
I’d watch it all burn for another surprise.
Some men find a fire escape.
Old men learn it all too late.
Push…Push…Push the alarm.
Old McDonald’s bought the farm.
(From the song, “What Is The Measure of Your Success?” by Steve Taylor)
The CEO. The man with all of the gold. The young tycoon sees his final days lived as an old buffoon. The best decision maker throughout his life, but when the final grains of sand trickle through the hourglass of life he had made all of the wrong decisions. It appeared that he had made the right investments, his portfolio had swollen, his wealth had mushroomed, yet his life was empty.
The secret of success. The benefits of success are evident, but what about the secrets of success? What about the hidden dangers faced by those who push, push, push and make their way to the top? This morning we are going to come face to face with the stark realities of the secrets of success as we take a look at Solomon’s insightful diary. Let’s take a look at our Scripture for this morning found in Ecclesiastes 5:8-20.
8If you see the poor oppressed in a district, and justice and rights denied, do not be surprised at such things; for one official is eyed by a higher one, and over them both are others higher still. 9 The increase from the land is taken by all; the king himself profits from the fields. 10 Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income. This too is meaningless. 11 As goods increase, so do those who consume them. And what benefit are they to the owner except to feast his eyes on them? 12 The sleep of a laborer is sweet, whether he eats little or much, but the abundance of a rich man permits him no sleep. 13 I have seen a grievous evil under the sun: wealth hoarded to the harm of its owner, 14 or wealth lost through some misfortune, so that when he has a son there is nothing left for him. 15 Naked a man comes from his mother’s womb, and as he comes, so he departs. He takes nothing from his labor that he can carry in his hand. 16 This too is a grievous evil: As a man comes, so he departs, and what does he gain, since he toils for the wind? 17 All his days he eats in darkness, with great frustration, affliction and anger. 18 Then I realized that it is good and proper for a man to eat and drink, and to find satisfaction in his toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given him-for this is his lot. 19Moreover, when God gives any man wealth and possessions, and enables him to enjoy them, to accept his lot and be happy in his work-this is a gift of God. 20He seldom reflects on the days of his life, because God keeps him occupied with gladness of heart. (Ecclesiastes 5:8-20 NIV)
The secret of success is seldom discussed. The veneration of the victorious is paraded on the pages of Time, Fortune, Newsweek, The Wall Street Journal, and Money Magazine along with every other information outlet in America, but the real secret of success is kept “hush, hush.” Let me take a moment before we begin our study to say that there is absolutely nothing wrong with success as long as we avoid the pitfalls that all too often accompany successful. Our attitudes and motivations for doing what we do is ultimately important. I hope that this morning we will examine our commitments and drive to acquire the golden ring.
In verses 8-9, Solomon begins his journal entry by nonchalantly pointing out the reasons for oppression and injustice in his society. He writes,
8If you see the poor oppressed in a district, and justice and rights denied, do not be surprised at such things; for one official is eyed by a higher one, and over them both are others higher still. 9 The increase from the land is taken by all; the king himself profits from the fields.
Solomon sees the poor oppressed and remains unshaken because he sees the officials in his own land oppressing one another. As one official squeezes the people to get what he can for himself, another official just above him does a little squeezing of his own. The grip on the hierarchy continues to grow tighter and tighter the higher you go. It is as if Solomon had a seat in the White House. Why should we be surprised when we look around our country and see the poor taken advantage of in a multitude of ways? Why should we shudder when the disadvantaged make their plea only to have the ears of justice grow deaf? Why should we say, “It isn’t fair!” when we know fair has nothing to do with it any more? All we have to do is look at the hierarchy within the hallowed halls of government to learn that the same practice goes on among our government officials? Maneuvering, manipulating, maligning, always moving about, jockeying for position, looking to get the upper-hand.
How much power is enough power? Just a little bit more! Chuck Colson, who became a part of the White House staff in 1969 and served a prison term for his involvement in Water Gate, has written a powerful book called Kingdoms In Conflict. In the book he has a chapter on The Problem of Power that clearly illustrates this insightful observation by King Solomon. Colson writes,
Nietzsche’s prophecy that the ‘will to power’ would fill the twentieth century’s vacuum of values has been fulfilled. We see it on an individual level in the quest for autonomy and the shedding of all restraints. On a corporate level, it is dramatically evident in the rise of gangster leaders like Hitler and Stalin, and evident as well in the bloated growth of Western governments. The resultant illusion – that all power resides in large institutions – is the salient characteristic of modern politics. Since power is often measured by one’s prominence and ability to influence others, in today’s world, politics is the most visible means to both. Joining the White House staff nine months into the new administration had some disadvantages. One of the first visible yardsticks of power is size and placement of office, and the best offices were already taken. I was given an inside suite a long way down the hall from the President’s working office in the stately old Executive Office Building. Also I reported not to the President, but to Bob Haldeman, his hard-nosed Chief of Staff. Not an auspicious beginning. Within months, circumstances worked in my favor. An aide left, and everyone played musical offices. With a little fast footwork I maneuvered my way across the hall to an office commanding an impressive view of the South Lawn. From there I edged my way down toward to the seat of power. Within a short time my brusque get-it-done-all-costs approach won Nixon’s favor, and I began to work directly with him. With that kind of clout I had little difficulty rearranging several secret service agents and secretaries so I could occupy the office immediately next to the President’s. (Kingdoms In Conflict, 1987, p.266-267)
When so many of our public officials make up the rules as they go so as to accommodate their own personal whims in the public arena, then there is little wonder the poor and disadvantaged are never heard as their cries for justice and mercy go out. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely!
In verses 10-12 we read,
10 Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income. This too is meaningless. 11 As goods increase, so do those who consume them. And what benefit are they to the owner except to feast his eyes on them? 12 The sleep of a laborer is sweet, whether he eats little or much, but the abundance of a rich man permits him no sleep.
When I read these verses I automatically think about those young guys, many of whom were raised in low or middle-income families, who now have struck it rich in the arena of professional sports. The athlete goes from the outhouse to the penthouse with the stroke of a pen. All of a sudden a late model Chevy truck is offensive. Now a $250,000 Maserati must be parked in the driveway. The home the young man grew up in suddenly shrinks in size and now, not only does he need a 10,000 square foot home, but so does his mom and dad. Never mind the fact that he has just turned 21 years old and has never held more than a summer job. Jeans and tennis shoes are replaced with apparel and accessories from Rodeo Drive. Let us not forget the immortal words of the great American theologian Andre Agassi, “Image is everything.” Okay, okay, enough of the sudden changes. After his first season in the NFL he gained wide acclaim as a rookie sensation. Suddenly his paltry $1.5 million contract is insufficient. Now he must renegotiate so he refuses to go to training camp until he is duly compensated. The front office can’t talk to him personally since he has an agent who does all of his negotiating for him. The agent has to check with the young player’s accountant to find out how the books are coming along since the young man hasn’t drawn a check in awhile, but he continues to support his high lifestyle. The young man who used to live in a dormitory just over a year ago, now has an agent, accountant, maids, personal trainer, and the list goes on and on…each of these people draining the big bucks from the big star. Wise Solomon looks at the young man and says,
10 Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income. This too is meaningless. 11 As goods increase, so do those who consume them. And what benefit are they to the owner except to feast his eyes on them?
Out in the yard of the palatial palace, bent over a lawn mower is a man who does what he has to just to provide for his family. Oddly enough, the old yard man reminds the young stallion of his own daddy as he pulls out a wad of bills to pay the man for mowing his yard and tending his flowerbeds. The old man wakes up at the crack of dawn each morning and hits the road. Mowing and edging, pulling weeds, and planting seeds, trimming hedges and hauling trash. His hours are set. When the sun comes up it is time to go to work. When the sun lies down for the night it is time to go home. When he gets home he sits at the dinner table, spends time with his extended family that shares his house, and then it is off to bed. Before the light goes out – poppa is asleep. He doesn’t toss and turn wondering if his accountant is ripping him off. No burning the midnight oil trying to calculate the risks of new ventures. He sleeps.
In verses 13-17, Solomon says,
13 I have seen a grievous evil under the sun: wealth hoarded to the harm of its owner, 14 or wealth lost through some misfortune, so that when he has a son there is nothing left for him. 15 Naked a man comes from his mother’s womb, and as he comes, so he departs. He takes nothing from his labor that he can carry in his hand. 16 This too is a grievous evil: As a man comes, so he departs, and what does he gain, since he toils for the wind? 17 All his days he eats in darkness, with great frustration, affliction and anger.
The date was October 19, 1987. Today it is simply known as “Black Monday.” Prior to October 19th, financial investors were bullish on the future and convinced that there was big money to be had in the stock market. Black Monday came and went sweeping away the life savings of many and leaving many small time spenders in financial collapse. The stock market had been hovering around 2500 points, but on that memorable day the New York Stock Exchange lost over 500 points. The largest one-day loss in the history of the stock market and a day many will never forget.
No matter how much we have it is never enough. So many are successful by all outward appearances, but in reality they are bankrupt people. We work hard to make a little more. We make a little more so we can keep a little more. We keep a little more so we can enjoy a little more. All the while we build a wall around ourselves that isolates us from living and draws us closer and closer — only to ourselves. The importances of relationships are reduced. Service is sacrificed at the altar of a hectic schedule. Anxiety is elevated. Frustration fragments our family dreams and goals. In the end, the dark secret of success is finally discovered by its possessor.
The deep-seated needs that are inherent in every person are catered to by Madison Avenue with slick ads and seductive men and women who are so convincing. They tell us how good their product will make our lives. Everything on the market today is “New,” “Improved,” and “Voted Best” by one of any number of organizations that will support the Madison Avenue mystic. We turn on our t.v. and see people of all different colors playing golf with Tiger Woods. With the music playing in the background and serious faces on the screen we hear kids say, “I am Tiger Woods.” We become convinced that we really can be Tiger Woods even if we’ve never swung a club in our lives, even if we can’t afford the green fees at Putt Putt much less the country club. The slicker the ads the sicker we become as we realize we aren’t what we could be, we don’t have what we could have to make us happy, and we need it all now! So what do we do? We push on down the avenue of accumulation trying to arrive at the corner of happiness and contentment where the tower of power and success resides. Our eyes become so blurred by success that we walk right by the truly lasting structures of the home and the church.
Solomon says the secret of success is the more we have the more we will want – our unquenchable thirst remains ravenous.
At the corner of contentment and happiness rests a secret. When we come into this world we are helpless, naked little babies. When we leave this life we will leave helpless and naked as well. I have shared in many funerals – some for wealthy people who had lots of clout and prosperity as well as material goods. I will assure you that not one of the funerals I have ever shared in had a U-Haul or a Brinks truck following behind the hearse. There were no stocks and bonds. The priceless works of art stayed on the wall. The big fancy car would have to be driven by someone else. We won’t take it with us, but if we spend our every waking hour trying to accumulate and hoard everything we can then we will be the most pitiful of all people. Solomon wisely says, 16 This too is a grievous evil: As a man comes, so he departs, and what does he gain, since he toils for the wind? Frustration, affliction, and anger. The absence of those things that were created by God to fill our vacuum will simply leave us tormented. I do not care how good a six-figure salary may sound. I am not concerned with the pump of adrenaline we might get from securing the “big deal” – if that is all we have then we have absolutely nothing. If those things come along the way while we are working to grow in our relationship with the Lord and strengthen our families then they are icing on the cake, but if they are all we have then we are bankrupt. Finally, Solomon shares some insightful advice for all of us.
18 Then I realized that it is good and proper for a man to eat and drink, and to find satisfaction in his toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given him-for this is his lot. 19Moreover, when God gives any man wealth and possessions, and enables him to enjoy them, to accept his lot and be happy in his work-this is a gift of God. 20He seldom reflects on the days of his life, because God keeps him occupied with gladness of heart.
If you want truth and not simply unspoken secrets, then Solomon’s words come to us like a refreshing rain on a hot summer day. We can find contentment in this life apart from the rat race of the fast lane. We can find the good and proper even amidst the scandals and scams about us. Solomon says that it is good for us to eat and drink, to enjoy life. It is funny that Solomon over and over again uses that little phrase. Step on board the treadmill of life and watch the passersby rush to a meeting, drive frantically to an appointment with a phone to their ear and their eyes on the road. Busy, busy, busy. Can’t stop. Gotta run. Don’t dare slow down on the treadmill or you will get run over. If I take a break someone else will make a buck. Ask Mr. Businessman if he’s hungry – he doesn’t have the time. Ask Miss Executive if she would like to do lunch some time and she’ll see if she can fit it into her calendar. Solomon says, “It is good to eat and drink.” Relax. Take time out. Enjoy life to its fullest.
Solomon also says that it is good to find satisfaction in our toilsome labor of life. Toilsome labor. What could that be? Could that be your job? You’ve wanted to quit your job for a long time, but you have quit the previous two jobs and you know it wouldn’t look good on your resume when you apply somewhere else. Maybe you just can’t seem to find what you are looking to really enjoy. You are a diamond-studded employee in a cubic zirconium environment and it just ain’t right. Maybe Solomon is describing your job to a “T.” If he is then take his advice – find satisfaction. So much of what we do is directly correlated to our attitude. Right attitude equals right results. Bad attitude equals bad results. Chuck Swindoll, who has just started a church in Frisco, Texas has written one of the most beautiful and insightful pieces on the importance of our attitude which we need to hear.
The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than success, than what other people think, or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness, or skill. It will make or break a company…a church…a home. The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past…we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude…I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it. And so it is with you…
God may give us wealth and possessions. If that is the case then enjoy them, don’t hoard them, don’t use them to oppress other people, don’t develop some fixation on them – just simply enjoy the blessings of God in your life and use them to bless others. You may characterize your job as “toilsome” all the days of your life. If that is the case you have two choices – find another job or check your attitude. If you choose to find another job, then start with a clean slate as you begin your new work so your attitude will be hopeful and positive. Enjoy life. God did not make us to be miserable all of the days of our lives. We are to find fulfillment, happiness, joy, contentment, and delight in all of life.
Did you catch the secrets of success we have discussed? Secret number one. Those obsessed with the love of money will never have enough no matter how many truck loads of money they have at their disposal. Secret number two. Those with much draw many folks who want to help them. The more we have, the more people want to “help” us out by assisting us in spending what we’ve accumulated. Secret number three. Successfully obsessed people never rest. Night time is fright time as they lay in bed and their minds race with worse case scenarios, possibilities, and potentials for the future. Secret number four. Easy come easy go. Black Monday still happens every day as those who push their way, trying to get to the top in the least amount of time, often lose their way.
I love the last verse of Solomon’s diary for this morning as he writes about the person who enjoys life and ceases from striving. 20He seldom reflects on the days of his life, because God keeps him occupied with gladness of heart.
When I read those words I think of the man who has done well by working hard. He was recognized by his bosses throughout his life with promotions and awards until one day he became the man who gave the speech and shook the hands of fine young upstarts. When the awards ceremonies were conducted there was seldom talk of the sacrifice that went into the achievements. The broken home, lack of interaction with his children, etc. Now as the old man lies down to die – he reflects. Tears stream down his cheeks with his family seated around him. He says, “I wish I would have spent more time with all of you instead of working so much.” You’ve heard the story before. It’s a real life story played out hundreds of thousands of times each year around our country.
When each day is lived to its fullest why scan the past and wish for better days? When God keeps our hearts occupied with gladness in the present then there is no room for the frustrations of the past or the anxieties brought about by the future.
The secrets of success are never spoken – they are only experienced. Don’t allow the secret of success to bring about your demise. Won’t you commit your life today to living life to its fullest. No matter what your experience has been in the past, whether you have suffered from the secret of success or simply find yourself in a rut leading nowhere – allow God to give you a new direction. Jesus came not only to die for us but to teach us how to live life in all of its abundance. The secret is out, allow Jesus to come in.