I was recently invited to a women’s conference by a very dear friend of mine. She had invited me some weeks before and having looked at the conference website I was pretty sure what to expect.
I was a little apprehensive, but despite my reservations I went along. I initially thought my misgivings were going to be unfounded as, when we got there, I was encouraged by the words of the conference organiser who had quoted a Scripture from Galatians to end her introduction. Unfortunately, that was the only reference to faith in God.
Let me start by saying that in the years before I was a Christian I was always interested in personal development: how to look better; manage my time better; have better relationships and tap into my own inner power. I avidly read books by Tony Robbins, Stephen Covey and I even read “The Secret”, primarily in the pursuit of finding my true self and being the person everyone told me I should be. I had notebooks filled with quotes from these books, but somehow I never seemed able to achieve the goals they told me I was capable of. I did wonder for a while whether I was simply a lost cause and that I wasn’t cut out to be a super-successful, fulfilled, independent woman.
I have attended meetings like this before. Not long after Nigel (my husband) and I became Christians we attended such a conference, again at the invitation of a friend. Coincidentally it was at the same venue (or not, perhaps) and the format was the same. The same “Ra, Ra, Ra, let’s show how excited we are to be here” MC, the same offers of programs to radically change lives and the same promises that if we concentrate on the acquiring of money we will have rewards beyond anything we can imagine. Essentially it all came down to the same thing – focus on yourself and everything will be wonderful.
When we focus on ourselves and not God we can become selfish and self-absorbed. We begin to believe that we are the source of our success – or failure, and that self-reliance is the key. Personally I can’t subscribe to that thinking. For a start, those methods to achieve success don’t work in the long-term. And, they can become damaging if we believe that we have to control everything in our lives for us to be successful.
Firstly, when we focus on “me” and not “Him” we can forget where our true strength comes from. In Philippians it tells us
“I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” (Philippians 4:13).
If we only focus on Him when things get tough, or worse, we lay him aside completely, then we cease to operate and co-operate with him “in all things” – big or small, difficult or easy. We then become distant from him and either we struggle or we delude ourselves that we have achieved success, without Him. We stop giving Him the glory and believe it is us who are glorious.
Secondly, we stop trusting God and when things go wrong, which they inevitably will, we feel like a failure. God never planned for us to be failures, but the enemy would love us to feel defeated and ashamed. The enemy revels in telling us how rubbish we are, how we’re not good enough, how we’ll never amount to anything – and he often uses those who are close to us to do his worst. Sad as it is, I have heard many times how women have been put down by family members or partners who give the enemy a voice by saying “you were a mistake” or “no one will ever love you”. If you are far from God, or believe that you alone bring success or failure into your life, you will never achieve the greatness which God intended for you.
God’s imagination and plans for you are bigger than you conceive. If you allow Him to work in your life and trust Him (Proverbs 3: 5-6 “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.”) you will come to understand that your success or failure does not depend on you. Put your trust in Him to direct and guide you and through your obedience He will make “everything work out according to his plan” (Ephesians 1:11).
Of course, we have to work and not sit at home waiting for something good to happen. The Lord wants to bless the work of our hands, see Deuteronomy 28:12; but do not let us fall into the trap of thinking that it is all about us when striving for success. Scripture clearly tells us who is responsible for our success – the New Living Translation says:
Remember the Lord your God. He is the one who gives you power to be successful, in order to fulfil the covenant he confirmed to your ancestors with an oath. (Deuteronomy 8:18)
It is not, and never will be, all about us. If we believe that then we cut off our lifeline to God and we are subject to the vagaries of the world and its opinion of who or what defines us as successful.
And that brings me to my final point.
My friend’s reason for attending the conference was to make contacts for her own business and I believe she did. She has an entrepreneurial mindset and many of the women there were seeking financial independence and freedom. However, that’s not me. Being financially independent is not my personal definition of success. And if your measure of success is wholly determined by how much financial freedom you have or how great you feel about yourself, than you will never know the fullness that God has for you.
I believe, without question, that the Lord wants to bless us all financially. But not so that financial blessing becomes a measure of our worth in Him. He wants us to bless others through our finances, but also by us giving of our time, our skills and ourselves.
At the conference I was saddened by the focus on self. Being asked to bid on an envelope, which I think many there thought was going to be a property or some other financial investment that the speakers at the conference thought would be valuable to us, really irked me. One group of women bid over £700 to get what was in the envelope. They won it. And what was that investment? An investment in “ME”...
My immediate thought was how truly disappointed those eight women were when the contents of the envelope were revealed. Whilst they seemed delighted that there £700 should be spent on their personal development, I am sure they would have been infinitely happier if it had said “A condominium in California”.
And so, what was my “takeaway”. If it taught me anything, it’s that the world wants to define our success in terms of what we earn financially. Also, if we focus on ourselves and our own personal development then the world will consider us worthy of attention and “magic” will happen. Those beliefs, my friends, are lies.
It is God who gives us power to earn wealth, if we walk in His ways and submit to Him. He gives us our significance; after all, He knew us before we were born and that His plans for us will bring us a future and hope. Let us not fall prey to quick-fix and self-help solutions to our lives. We were created to walk with Him always and for Him to bear our burdens - let’s not stray away from His path carrying our own baggage.