The Illusion of Success

April 14, 2013

David Sorn

The feelings and affirmation that we crave from our successes never really deliver, and in the long run, they're not worth living for.

The Illusion of Success

April 14, 2013

David Sorn

The feelings and affirmation that we crave from our successes never really deliver, and in the long run, they're not worth living for.


Morning. David Sorn. Lead Pastor here at Renovation Church.

I’m not sure if he came up with it or not, but what John Mayer called a “Quarter-life” crisis…is now becoming more commonplace in our culture

And one of the biggest reasons can be traced back to our schools…and unfortunately to us…as parents.

Think about being a kid…

Now…on the one hand…being a kid is great…you get to take naps (and not get fired for it)…and eat junk food and not gain weight very easily and all that stuff…

But let’s think about what our kids hear.

We tell all of our kids “if you just work hard enough…if you just ‘put your mind to it,’ you can be anything you want to be!”

“Kid…you can be successful!”

Young kids in school nowadays don’t even get traditional letter grades…Because we absolutely wouldn’t want them to NOT feel successful!

They’re on the path to success!

Kids don’t get cut from sports teams. Everyone gets a ribbon.

Every student gets a sticker!

ALL OF YOU…are a success!

And there’s really two sad outcomes of this philosophy here.

1 of them, and we’re actually going to talk about it in 3 weeks, is the fact that not everyone is going to be successful. (gasp!)

BTW, 3 weeks from today, we’re starting what I believe will be one of the most challenging series to your worldview and mind that we’ve ever done.

It’s called, “MIXEDconceptions,” and it’s about how we mix our worldly ideas with the Bible.

And week 1 is going to be on a related topic to this. It’s called, “Does God Want to Prosper Me?”

And here’s the second sad outcome of conditioning our kids to always be the winner:

Not only, like I said, are some people going to be bitterly depressed when the real world declares them to NOT be a winner, but the other reality is that we’ve created a generation of people addicted to pursuing success.

We always got it in school…and now we want more of it!


And most of us…whether we care to admit or not…are on the rat race of seeking the illusion of success.


We are continuing in our “Illusions” series today where we are talking about things that look quite appealing at first…but after we bite into them, we realize that they’re not all they were cracked up to be.

And success…just like our topic of sex from last week…isn’t in and of itself bad

In fact, God wants some people to be wildly successful.

But here’s the problem: Success…doesn’t ever give us the life we truly want

We said last week that something that is life-giving continues to give life.

And I would add…contentment.

But success is nothing like that.

Again, not that success, or financial advancement, or career advancement or any of that is bad…but the problem is we’re chasing after (almost like it’s God), but chasing after success like IT is going to make us SO Happy…and give us SO much life

But it won’t

See…we, as Americans, have wholeheartedly bought into the lie (because it was beat into us as small children) that if we went to college like our parents said, We’ll feel successful!

And we must have assumed that then, happiness would come, because we chased after it so hard.

We assumed that if we just got that job…that everything would change.

If we just got that house…or finally finished that degree, or got that car…or that…YOU name it.

If we could get that…then…THEN….LIFE!

But it’s completely illusionary.

Think about it this way: If you think true life and contentment will come once you could get in a $200,000 house (or whatever the price), no one would build a nicer house than $200,000.

But people move into their $200,000 house, and 3 years later…feel uneasy inside that they don’t have a $300,000 house like their friends do!

We chase after success like a stupid greyhound chases the fake rabbit around the track.

(Show Greyhound picture)

We’re never going to get it…but we just keep going after it…around and around and around and around.

And WHY?!?

Because it’s an illusion.

We keep saying, “AH HA! I’m almost there! I’m going to get it! Just one more promotion! Just one more shopping trip! Just one more piece of furniture for people to marvel at!”

And we’re no better than the stupid dog who keeps thinking, “Next time around the track, I’m going to catch that rabbit and eat it alive!”

You want to know something else? Success is SO illusionary…that the vast majority of you listening right now think this message has nothing to do w/ you

You’ve been thinking, “PHEW! This message isn’t for me! I’m not successful.”

But just cause you’re not successful doesn’t mean you’re not chasing after it”

But you say, “Yeah, but I don’t need to be that successful…I’m not even in business or that kind of stuff…I’m a stay at home mom…or whatever.”

But chances are…if you’re American and you breathe oxygen…you have some sort of problem with success.

I’ve had a problem with success since I came out of the womb.

I’ve always felt like I had to be the fastest kid in the neighborhood, the best student in class, and even the best pastor around.

We’re conditioned to define ourselves by what we accomplish or don’t accomplish…

Which is ridiculous…but that’s our culture.

So…maybe this IS about you?

But …maybe you don’t believe me.

You think you’re immune to this epidemic.

But here’s the deal: Success isn’t limited to just business. Or the size of your house.

Many of us want to be a success in that we want to be the BEST parent, or have the BEST yard, or make the best food on the block, or be the best home decorator, or take the best vacations, or be the best planner, or the best gamer, it could be anything

And again if you don’t believe me, I can direct you to a website that proves it.

It’s called: or twitter or instagram or humanity’s guilt-trip to women: Pinterest.

It’s’s just all of us out there…trying to prove to the world that, YES, we are successful!

Look…see…I MADE this food…and I did a good job! NOW LIKE IT!!

See…I graduated and got my masters degree everyone…here’s the picture to prove it…now tell me how successful I am!

See…I totally decorated this bedroom myself…now…tell me I’m awesome!

It’s like, We’re all just desperately craving one huge, “Good job…you’re finally a success…from the whole world”

And some of you are so consumed by this illusion…that you’re literally thinking about posting your like on facebook as you’re living life!

You’re thinking…I can’t wait to finish this room…or this degree…so I can put it on facebook for the world to see!!

But even if you got 50,000 likes…it would make you happy…for about 24 hours.

But because the illusion of success is so deeply conditioned in us…we pick ourselves back up…and get right back to chasing a different rabbit…

“60,000 likes next time!”

And what’s sad is so many of our life decisions are determined by our pursuit of success (which is really about the pursuit of affirmation)…and as a result…so few of our life decisions have anything to do with God.

Think about it:

So often…our decisions about where we will work…what house we will buy…what apartment we will rent…how we budget…if we budget…how expensive our vacations are…what kind of car we drive….

So often those decisions…have almost nothing to with God…and everything to do with if they will help us look more successful.

We are building our entire lives around an illusionary happiness that never really comes.

Instead of an eternal reality that most certainly is coming.

And here’s what I think is an even sadder part of it.

The pursuit of success has obviously been impressed into us since we were little kids, but the sad part is, we are, many of us unknowingly passing it right along to our own kids.

For instance: What’s the most important thing in raising your kids (whether you have them now…or might in the future?)

It would be raising kids to live a life that glorifies God!

What’s the most important life skill you could give your children?

By far and above, every other skill, it would be to equip them to help share the good news of Jesus w/ others!

What do we teach them by how we structure their schedules? By what we talk to them about?

Gotta get to soccer, gotta get to ballet, gotta get that homework done, if you don’t get into college…you’re in trouble…what do you want be when you grow up…are you gonna get that scholarship…oh, that’s right…you have your tournament again this weekend, better miss church or youth group or whatever…

And even though, we might give lip service to saying, “Put God first in your life kids,” our schedules and conversations are only a faint reflection of that concept.

We are basically, personally, the ones placing the illusionary rabbit of success right in front of our own children and saying, “Now go get it!”


Just like last week, whenever we really examine an illusion…we have to play it out to its logical end.

Because when we just sit in the moment, we get intoxicated with the delusion of the illusion! And it looks like an “okay” thing…

So…let’s take success and play it out…just like we did w/ the topic of sex last week.

What if you were to be wildly successful? Would it give you everything you ever wanted? That peace and life?

Or, even a better question: Would the emotional satisfaction it would purportedly give you be worth the endless amount of hours, weeks, months, and years that you would put into getting there??

Well…let’s figure that out. Let’s play it out! Let’s look at some wildly successful people.

It’s actually been well documented by this point in time that some of the world’s richest people are some of the most depressed.

And why? Because they got to the top, and life still sucked…so NOW WHAT?!?

Celebrities are another great example.

They’ve obviously achieved a major level of success and fame.

Yet, celebrities are undoubtedly some of the most miserable people on earth

In fact, there’s an entire magazine industry that makes billions of dollars a year simply off the fact that celebrities are miserable!!

Madonna, who was wildly successful in the 1980’s…and is interesting to quote at this point…mainly because her time of success has passed, unlike the world’s current celebrities who are still intoxicated in their 15 minute illusion.

Madonna very famously had this to say about success:

“My drive in life is from this horrible fear of being mediocre and that’s always pushing me, pushing me. Because even though I’ve become somebody, I still have to prove that I’m somebody. My struggle has never ended and it probably never will.”

I’ve always been fascinated by this same concept with athletes.

I’m a pretty massive fan of the NBA.

And I’ve always been struck by how inadequate so many of those guys feel.

I’d think, “You’re in the NBA…every kid’s dream…so what if you ride the bench…what more could you want? A lot of people work sun-up to sun-down in a factory for $28,000 a year!

You’re making $500,000 a year to ride the bench!”

And yet, it’s not enough….most of them are depressed about it.

Or even the best of the best right now…LeBron James…constantly lives in the shadow of Michael Jordan.

And he mentions it often in interviews. How…he’s not the Greatest of all Time yet…still working towards that.

It’s crazy. The feelings we crave from success are such an illusionary pull!

But it’s all just “chasing the rabbit!”

But what if you could be the greatest of all time?!? Then what??

Still a stupid illusion.

I just read an article a few weeks ago in “ESPN THE MAGAZINE” about Michael Jordan and what his life is like at 50.

And it was one of the craziest articles I’ve ever read, because even though we all supposedly wanted to “Be Like Mike,” the guy is one of the most miserable people I’ve ever read about it.

The feelings we think that will come w/ success is just an illusion.

And THIS is why it’s ludicrous for you and I to say…yeah…but when I get to THIS level of success…then I’ll be happy.

This just in: Michael Jordan isn’t even happy.

But do you want to hear an example of someone who is happy???

The person I met in Haiti who lost their home in the earthquake.

The people I met in Haiti who are unemployed and have been for 2 years now…but are trusting in Jesus.

It almost always takes our people by surprise in Hait…

Which…be praying about if you’re going next year…applications are out in just 2 months already.

But our people say, “I just couldn’t believe the people were so happy!”

Well, what is that?? Why do we even say that?

It’s because we have this false presupposition that your success and stuff equal happiness.

But they don’t. That’s just an illusion.

And the Bible tries to lay this out before you.

Look at the words of Solomon…”who was SO successful Steve Jobs would have been happy to work as Solomon’s butler.

(Ecclesiastes 2:4-11) – NIV

4 I undertook great projects: I built houses for myself and planted vineyards. 5 I made gardens and parks and planted all kinds of fruit trees in them. 6 I made reservoirs to water groves of flourishing trees. 7 I bought male and female slaves and had other slaves who were born in my house. I also owned more herds and flocks than anyone in Jerusalem before me. 8 I amassed silver and gold for myself, and the treasure of kings and provinces. I acquired male and female singers, and a harem as well—the delights of a man’s heart. 9 I became greater by far than anyone in Jerusalem before me. In all this my wisdom stayed with me. 10 I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure. My heart took delight in all my labor, and this was the reward for all my toil. 11 Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.

We’re looking for life in all the wrong places:

(Matthew 10:39) – NIV

Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.


What if true life is actually found in knowing how much you’re loved by Jesus?

What if true life is in radically following God?

This is what Zaccheaus found out.

(Luke 19:1-2) – NIV

Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. 2 A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy.

And here’s the thing…the only thing people seem to ever point out about Zacchaeus is that he was short.

But what we miss is the fact that he was a wealthy man.

And not just that…very successful.

He worked at what was a lucrative job…being a tax collector…and apparently, the text also says he was the chief tax collector, so people worked under him as well.

And although it was a hated job in that time, it was quite profitable.

Tax collectors are like modern-day lawyers.

Not everyone’s favorite profession, but certainly successful.

And here’s this successful guy…very successful...

But apparently…success isn’t enough. It’s not giving him life. It’s just an illusion.

And watch this:

(Luke 19:3-10) – NIV

3 He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. 4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-figtree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way. 5 When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” 6 So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly. 7 All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.” 8 But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” 9 Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

See, success can’t rival Jesus.

Zacchaeus gets one good look at Jesus…and very quickly ascertains that this whole success thing…is just an illusion…it’s got nothing on Jesus.

And he starts following Jesus….even though it’ll cost him.

But he knows this is the real deal!

He knows that Jesus, unlike success, isn’t temporary, isn’t fleeting, and isn’t in danger of just disappearing at any time.

C.S. Lewis once wisely said, “Don’t let your happiness depend on something that you may lose.”


And here’s maybe the more important thing that Zacchaeus got as he evaluated his successful life vs. a life rooted in radically following Jesus:

Even if you can be wildly successful in this life (which again…maybe you are called to be)…it’s ultimately not why you’re here.

Now, you might be able to use your success for God’s glory…but success…for your own sake…for your own pride and feelings of personal glory…is NOT why you are here.

Many of the most successful businessmen, celebrities, athletes, and artists (the people we all oddly fantasize about being)…have fallen for the great illusion…

That to be successful in this life is more important than seeking spiritual things….in worrying about the spiritual afterlife.

And ironically, some of the richest billionaires to ever walk this planet will be in agony in hell (because they didn’t need Jesus during this blink of an eye life)

While some of my very poor Haitian friends will be spending eternity in their mansion in heaven

This is why Jesus says, “The first will be last, and the last will be first.”

It’s much like the parable Jesus tells in Luke 16, where the rich man goes to hell, and the beggar Lazarus, who laid outside his gate on earth spends eternity in heaven.

(Matthew 16:26) – NIV

What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?

Success is not truly what you seek.

And the pursuit of it is an unbelievably large illusion.

It’s not why you’re here.

God may use it…but it’s not WHY you’re here

Why ARE you here? What are you here for?

No, I’m seriously asking you. What are you here for?

What are you actually living for?

Would you say that you are spending more of your time thinking about: your next level of success and how people will be proud of you…OR thinking about how you can live for and honor God?

To be changed by Him so you can help change the world?

I’ve use this concept w/ our church before, but I believe it’s one of the most helpful in how you structure your life’s decisions, so I will state it again.

Do something with your life that’s going to matter in 500 years. Do more than just build a nice business and house or whatever…because none of that will matter in 500 years.

Your house…your car…your remodeled room…your business…your new kitchen…will be in a landfill in 500 years

They’ll be on the forgotten pages of history…and 500 years from now, no one will no anything about them.

500 years from now…no one on earth will even know your name.

Your successes that you fought so tirelessly for, will be remembered by literally no one.

But you can live your life NOW around the questions of…you can STRUCTURE your life around the questions of:

How can I glorify God more with my life?

How can I tell more people about Jesus?

How can I be changed more by God, so I can bring more change to the world?

And if you let THOSE questions determine what you do…how you spend your money…what you use your house for…what you do with your time…

God’s going to use you to do so much more than achieve a temporary ribbon, plague, degree, or Facebook status that no one will remember 500 years from now.

God’s going to use YOU to change lives! For eternity.

And 500 years from now…while you’re sitting in heaven…next to your friend who found about Jesus because of you…

You’ll know…that the illusionary satisfaction of temporary worldly success has got absolutely nothing on the satisfaction of living for Christ.

Let’s pray.

Copyright: David Sorn
Renovation Church in Blaine, MN

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