I dabble in the leadership and organization genre of blogging. So when I came across a post entitled, “20 Successful Habits I Learned Working for Two Billionaires”, I took the bait and clicked.
How to Be a Billionaire
The author, Paul C. Brunson, worked a total of six years for two exorbitantly wealthy people named Enver Yucel and Oprah Winfrey. Brunson uses his post to detail the firsthand education he got in this school of billionaires. You could predict most of what he said, but a few habits intrigued me.
“Never Eat Alone” caught my eye because I’ve unknowingly been practicing this habit for three years as I tried to get a website and a minority recruitment program started. I paid close attention to “Take Enormous Risks” because as I finish up my graduate education I’m debating between relatively “safe” job routes and riskier ones. And I really liked “Over-Communicate Your Message” because I’ve found that just when I’m getting tired of saying the same things that’s about the time when people really start to hear me.
But I took issue with Brunson’s last “habit.” He says:
“Know a Higher Power: Developing a relationship with a Higher Power will provide you with guidance for making decisions and solving problems…I believe that faith is why they strive to have a positive impact on people and society, value integrity and hold high ethical standards for themselves and their organizations.”
I can appreciate how Mr. Brunson wants to include this nod to spirituality as an essential aspect of success. But that’s precisely the issue. Faith isn’t merely one of 20 habits of really rich people, it’s the foundation for all of life.
The Starting and Ending Point
Christians have summarized their beliefs in a system of short questions and answers designed to communicate basic teachings in a memorable way. These systems are called catechisms. The first question of the Westminster Catechism asks, “What is the chief end of man?” The response is, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever.”
To glorify God means to give God ultimate praise. God alone is worthy of your full devotion and whole-hearted worship. In giving God His due, or His glory, a person enjoys God and all He has to offer. In the New Testament it says, “So whether you eat, or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). Everything starts and ends with God.
The Problem with a Higher Power as a Habit
When you list “know a higher power” as one among 19 other habits for success, it sends a subtle but devastating message. First, it communicates that faith is a way of gaining worldly success. While Brunson does not specify a particular religion or deity, almost all the major beliefs systems advocate for some kind of otherworldly reward. It could be a passel of virgins for the faithful, reincarnation into a higher being, absorption into the cosmos, or eternity with Jesus Christ. The point is, all serious religions recognize that success, especially as defined by monetary wealth, is not the highest good. In Christianity, the highest good is God and enjoying Him.
Second, knowing a higher power as one of 20 habits is problematic because it relegates faith in God to just one of many tactics to make you happy. In this formulation belief in God is another spoke in the wheel of life? What is the hub of that wheel? You are. Brunson’s article, perhaps unintentionally, conveys the message that billionaires (who are the standard of successful people, right?) all believe in a higher power. They know that this will give them “greater wisdom” and help them have a “positive impact”. Wisdom and good deeds are commendable, but they aren’t the focus of faith.
The Hub of the Wheel
Faith, in the Christian conception, isn’t primarily about us, it’s about God. God is the center of the wheel. He is the center of our lives. Everything we are and do must fit around God in the middle. The Lord isn’t simply another good habit to practice if you want to be happy in this life. God is the ground of all reality. He is our Creator. He is why we exist. That’s the point of the first commandment, “You shall have no other gods before me.” This is true even if our “god” is self.
Many Christians have forfeit their opportunity to be transformative agents in the world. When faith in God becomes another prop underneath our platform of personal progress we have succumbed to idolatry. We have begun to worship someone or something other than the one, true God. That’s why we don’t think it’s important to go to church. That’s why we give so little money to important work. That’s why we don’t adopt more kids. That’s why we don’t see more disciples of Jesus Christ.
Let’s move faith back into the center of our lives. Let’s not treat God as an add-on to our life goals. He is the center and ground of our existence. When we begin to live that way we may not become billionaires in this life, but we have begun to store up treasure where moth and rust don’t destroy (Matthew 6:20).