By Pastor Glenn Pease
In the 35 years following the Civil War 3 success writers towered high above all others, and they became successful by writing about success. All 3 were ordained men. One of them was Russell Conwell who was the pastor of the Baptist Temple of Philadelphia. He delivered his famous lecture over 6000 times, and raised several million dollars with which he built a large university. The title of his lecture was Acres Of Diamonds, and this is the story behind it:
One day as he was jogging down the banks of the Tigress and Euphrates on a camel, led by an old Arab guide, he was told this story. There once lived in ancient Persia a wealthy and contented farmer by the name of Ali Hafed. One day an old priest visited him and told him about diamonds that had been discovered. He told of the wealth and power that came with their possession. That night the farmer could not sleep. He was discontent with what he had. The next day he sold his farm and went off in search of diamonds. After wandering through Asia and most of Europe he had become a wretched man in rags and in despair. He threw himself into a great wave and was drown.
The man who bought his farm was one day leading his camel through the garden, and the camel desired a drink. As the camel nosed the water the owner noticed a flash of light from the sand in the brook. He picked up a stone and took it home. A few days later the old priest came to visit. He recognized that stone as a diamond. They rushed together to the brook, and thus was discovered the famous diamond mine of Golconda, the most magnificent of all history. Ali Hafed had lived on acres of diamonds, and died a failure because he didn't recognize what he had, and was off looking for it all over the world.
Russell Conwell was impressed with this story, for he had seen a similar thing happen many times. Numerous poor people sold their land to go off to improve their lot only to learn that their had been oil or gold on their land. He had been a poor farmer, and had run away at 15 to make a better life for himself. He went to Europe, but returned and fought in the Civil War. It was while lying in a hospital tent dying from his wounds that he received Jesus as his Savior. He entered the ministry and raised millions to build up a church and school to meet the needs of working class people. His conviction, like that of most success writers, is that every person can be successful if they recognize and practice some basic principles. Our purpose is to show that Scripture in general, and Paul in particular, support this idea that all of us can be successful. We want to examine the basic principle that Paul stresses to the Corinthians that applies to all of us. Let's consider-
THE ARENA WHERE THE BATTLE FOR SUCCESS IS WON.
Jesus said that the kingdom of God is within you, and Paul made this same point to the Romans when he said that the kingdom of God is not meat and drink, but righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. The Corinthian Christians were failing in the Christian life because they were like Ali Hafed. They were looking for success somewhere out there in the world. But success is not found in externals says Paul. All their search for success in following men, and getting excited about gifts with the most external display, is taking them far afield. Their acres of diamonds are not out there in the world, but they are within them.
In verse 16 Paul writes, "Do you not know that you are God's temple and God's spirit dwells in you?" Their greatest resource was right within them. They were wasting their lives in the futile search for what was already theirs.
Paul tells them in vv. 21-23, "For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephus or the world or life or death or the present or the future, all are yours; and you are Christ's; and Christ is God's. In 4:8 Paul writes, "Already you are filled! Already you have become rich." Yet, with all of these resources they were failing. Paul is constantly telling them where they are failing. They were successes living as failures when they should have been failures living as successes. If we recognize that the arena where we battle for success is within, we can learn to fail successfully.
History has some great examples of failures being the key to success. The famous atheist Robert Ingersall was once traveling by train with a companion by the name of Lew Wallace. As they traveled they saw one church steeple after another. There were several in every town they passed through. Ingersall said, "Lew, you are a learned man and a thinker. Why don't you spend some time in research concerning Christianity's leader Jesus Christ, and then write a book proving once and for all that he was an impostor, and thus relieve these misguided people of their delusions."
His friend was captivated by the idea and agreed. He started immediately to travel and consult ancient manuscripts and original sources for the period of history in which Jesus lived. His goal was to write a book proving Jesus was an impostor. He totally failed to achieve that goal, for he discovered that all the evidence supported the fact that Jesus was who He said He was-the Son of God and the Savior of men. At the age of 50 he prayed to God for the first time saying, "O God, show yourself to me, forgive me my many sins, and help me to become a true disciple of Jesus Christ." Lew Wallace failed to write his original book, but he went on to write what has become one of the greatest books of all time-Ben-Hur. He found both success and salvation by failing to reach his goal because he found God's goal for him.
History is full of such experiences. God seems to delight in bringing good out of evil, and success out of failure. William Wilburforce was a hunchback who suffered from many cruel jests, but God used him to so fight for other underdogs. He got a bill passed through the British Parliament that set a million slaves free. Alexander Whyte was born out of wedlock. He got the worst start in life, but he ended up as one of the greatest preachers in the history of Scotland. His books are read around the world yet today.
The purpose for Paul writing to these immature babes is to help them become mature in Christ, and able to digest the solid food. He wants them to reap the reward of the riches within them. Paul is convinced that failures can become successes. He knew this for he was one of the most successful failures in history. One of the great themes of literature and the Bible is this theme of success out of failure. The ugly duckling becomes the beautiful swan. Rudolf the Red Nose Reindeer is mocked for his unusual nose, but in the end he becomes a hero. Cinderella the lowliest becomes the highest and noblest. In the Bible it is Joseph the despised brother who becomes the hero and savior of his people. The stone rejected by the builders becomes the chief cornerstone, and He who is despised and rejected of men becomes the one before whom every knee will bow.
This theme is so universal that it ought to teach us clearly not to write off any failure, for the facts of life show that failure is one of the key roads on the way to success. It is almost impossible to succeed without failure. The arena is within, and if you do not let failure defeat you there, you can always press on to success. Paul spent a lot of time with the Corinthians. It was about 18 months, and yet they are babes in Christ with all kinds of problems. Paul did not throw up his hands in despair, and give up on them because he failed. He wrote this letter, and God used the failure of both him and the Corinthians to give the whole world the blessing of this Epistle. Had Paul given up and let externals discourage him, then he would have been a failure.
Twixt failure and success the points so fine
Men sometimes know not when they touch the line.
Just when the pearl was waiting one more plunge,
How many a struggler has thrown up the sponge.
Successful men always take that one more plunge, for they know the only real failure is in giving up. Washington won the Revolutionary War by retreating. He gave up so much territory, and he surrendered so many strategic positions, and lost so many battles, and yet he was not a failure because he never quit. He pressed on through all his failures to a final success. The battle out there in the external world did not defeat him because he never gave up within.
Our Lord battled within over the issues of success and failure. He had much opposition from the leadership of Israel. It would have been easier to succeed had he conformed to their will. All would have been easier had he yielded to the temptation to take Satan's shortcut to power. The people also wanted to make him king. He had numerous roads to success, but he resisted them all, and he took the road of apparent failure to cross. He set his face like a flint to go to the cross and do His Father's will. W. J. Dawson wrote,
He dwelt within the wilderness
Disdaining Mammon's lure;
He walked among the thorns of pain,
And yet his step was sure.
He saw the gilded chariots pass,
The conqueror's array;
They held to him a laurel crown,
And still he turned away.
Back to the wilderness he went
Without a thought of loss;
He hewed out of the wood two beams
And made Himself a cross.
If I would save them I must die!
This was the thing He said.
Perchance the hearts that hate me now
Will learn to love me dead.
He died upon the cross He made,
Without a lip to bless;
He rose into a million hearts,
And this was His success.
Jesus won His battle for success within. All of the externals were negative, and it looked like total failure, but Jesus did not give up. He said, "Not my will but thine be done." This decision was to will success in the midst of failure. Paul wanted the Corinthians to do this very thing. Stop struggling for your own will to be fulfilled, and stop being like children always wanting your own way. That kind of struggle for success leads to failure. On the other hand, learning from your failure is a key to success. This applies to all of life. It is true for our success in the world as well as in the Christian life.
Babe Ruth was the home run king of baseball before Hank Aaron passed him, but the record shows that he failed to hit a home run far more than he succeeded. He struck out as many times as he hit a home run. Great successes are frequently failing, but not letting failure hinder their will to succeed. Edison failed in over 900 experiments before he succeeded in getting a light bulb to work. Charles Kettering, vice president of General Motors, spent 14 years on thousands of experiments trying to get the spark knock out of auto engines. It was 14 years of failure after failure, and then came success with teteraethyl lead. He said, "All in research is 99.9% failure and if you succeed once, you're in." Great men of science have to learn to live with failure as they press on to success.
No musician ever became a success without first living through many failures. Before any peace of music is played perfect, it is played poorly many times. Traveling the road of failure is the only way to success in most areas of life. No child ever learns to walk without falling, and no babe in Christ ever becomes mature in Christ without failing. One of the values of this letter to the Corinthians is that it shows clearly how Christians can fail in so many ways. This is not to discourage us, but to encourage us to see that failure should not hold us back from progress anymore than it does the scientific researcher.
What this means for all of us wherever we are on the road to Christ likeness, which is the ultimate Christian success, is that we must will to win within. We dare not let externals and our own weakness discourage us from pressing on. The first principle for success is to recognize that the arena where we battle for success is within. This is where the power of positive thinking does play a major role in the Christian life. We need to have positive thinking about what God can do through any yielded instrument. Paul said, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." He thought right, and this gave him the resource for success. He pressed on whatever the external obstacles to be a winner.
When things go wrong, as they sometimes will,
When the road you're trudging seems all uphill,
When the funds are low and the debts are high,
And you want to smile, but you have to sigh,
When care is pressing you down a bit-
Rest if you must, but don't you quit.
Life is queer with its twists and turns
As everyone of us sometime learns,
And many a fellow turns about
When he might have won had he stuck it out.
Don't give up though the pace seems slow.
You may succeed with another blow.
The Bible proclaims it, and history proves it. Enrico Caruso was told by his music teacher that he could not sing. He persevered for a dozen years, and finally got an opportunity. His voice cracked during rehearsal, and he fled from the theater in tears. He filled in for a tenor who became ill one night, and the audience hissed him. He continued to study and practice, and finally ended at the top. Walt Disney applied for a job as an artist at the Kansas City Star, and was told that he had no talent. His first series of cartoons, "Oswald the Rabbit" was a flop. He kept trying, and then came Mickey Mouse. Zane Gray couldn't sell a story during the first 5 years as a writer. George Gershwin wrote almost a 100 melodies before he sold his first one for five dollars. On and on the record goes of those who had to plod through failure on the way to success. But we must keep coming back to the principle that enables one to do that, and that is an awareness that the battle must be won within.
No doubt these Corinthians Christians wondered about their weaknesses. How can we obey the high standards of Christ? Who can really love their neighbor as themselves? Who can escape lustful thoughts, and how can we always turn the other cheek? The ideal Christian life seems to be beyond our reach, and so failure is guaranteed. Most Christians are caught in this conflict at one time or another, and the only answer that can lead them to success is the recognition that the will to win within is the key. Catherine Marshall in her book Beyond Ourselves deals with this issue. She writes,
"Our emotions are not the real us. The motivating force at the center of our physical being is our will. The will is the governing power in us. Before God we are responsible only for the set of that will..."
The issue is not how do you feel, but what do you will? You cannot control your unruly emotions often. You cannot control lust, but what is your will? Do you will to do the will of God, or do you will to insist on your own self-centered desire? You may feel resentment you cannot control, but do you will to forgive? Is it your will to win and be successful in the Christian life, or do you will to have your own way, even though it is not God's will? This is the arena where you fight and determine if you will be a failure or success. Recognition of this is what enables people to succeed when failure seems to be inevitable. The Corinthian Christians were weak and feeble Christians, and their lives were full of frustrating problems because they failed to take advantage of the rich resources that were within. We cannot look down our noses at these early saints, however, for the facts of life make it clear that even mature Christians often suffer from inner defeat and failure.
Dr. Frank Lauback, born in Benton, PA., and destined to become one of the most famous Christians of the 20th century, is a good illustration. At one point in his career he desperately wanted to become the president of the Union Theological Seminary in the Philippines. He was one of the 7 trustees who had to vote for the man to fill the position. When the time came, 3 voted for him and 3 against him. He did not know this and so he voted for his opponent, and by that one vote lost the election. In a very real sense he voted himself out of his own dream.
So great was his disappointment that he developed a bitterness that poisoned his life. For 2 years he became a semi-invalid. He hobbled around like a defeated man until he finally realized that he was being foolish. He voted for his own failure, but he could also vote for his own success if he would yield his life to God. He won that inner victory, and began to cash in his acres of diamonds. Out of his pit he rose to heights of Christian success beyond his wildest dream. No one who has ever lived has helped more people learn how to read than Frank Lauback. The Gospel has reached millions because of his labor. Instead of a president of a school, he became a teacher of nations. The arena where the battle had to be won was within. Had he allowed failure to continue to dominate his inner life, he never would have become a success. Success is not out there in the luck, breaks, and good fortune. All that enters the picture only after one has won the battle for success within.
The greatest success stories are not those of 4 boys who became millionaires, but of those who are without hope and without God in the world who find the Pearl of great price. Those who are in darkness who find the riches of light in Christ are the greatest successes, and this is a battle also that is won within. If you do not believe anyone can be successful in this way, listen to this true story. In 1924 the judge in a Midwest courtroom said to Starr Daily, "I'm about to sentence you to a major prison term for the third time. I know you are sick. And I know that more punishment is not the remedy. But your record leaves me powerless."
At 16 Starr became the leader of a gang of safe crackers. He was the best, but even the best get caught. His father hoped that after 14 years in prison he would be different, but he lived to see him sentenced the 3rd time. Starr plodded and escape the 3rd time. When it was discovered, he was put in the hole for 15 days. It was a dark and damp hole where he was given a piece of bread and a cup of water at 6 in the morning. Twelve hours later he was given another piece of bread and cup of water. After 15 days of this his feet were black with congealed blood. For weeks after he was left on the icy cold stone floor in filth, and he was near death.
Only hate kept Starr alive, but then he got so weak that he came to the end of his hate, and it was then that a positive thought entered his mind. He thought, "All of my life I have been a dynamo of energy. What might have happened if I had used that energy for something good?" But now it was to late and he was dying. He slept into a state where he dreamed he was in a garden, and Jesus came toward him. This was the one he had been trying to avoid all his life. Jesus looked into his eyes, and he felt love like he never felt it before. It extracted all of the hate from his heart, and he had this thought:
"I am submerged in Reality, I'll never be the same again, now or through eternity."
He dreamed that all whom he ever hated or injured past before him, and he poured out his love to them. He was taken to the prison hospital after that. He not only recovered, but was such a changed man that he was released in 1930, which was 5 years ahead of time. This man with a 6th grade education went on to write 6 books, and lectured all over the nation. He pointed numerous prisoners to Christ. He became a success for eternity, and then for time, and it all began when his inner resistance was defeated, and he yielded his inner life to Christ. That is where all lasting success begins. Whether you are a wicked sinner, or a weakly saint, the battle for success must be won in your heart. If you surrender to the Lordship of Christ, you can win the battle for success within.