Fighting the “Just a Little Bit More” Temptation


by Brad Hewitt & Dr. Jim Moline

Preaching professor Fred Craddock relates a whimsical conversation with a greyhound that reveals much about our longing for success.

Rescued from a racetrack, the greyhound was making the most of his new home, playing with the children who now filled his days. Craddock says, “Hey, Dog, why aren’t you racing anymore? Are you too old?”

The dog says, “Oh no, I’m still young.”

“Well, why aren’t you racing anymore? Weren’t you winning races?”

“Oh yes,” says the dog. “I was winning races right up until I quit.”

“Then why did you quit?”

The dog says, “One of these days you’ll realize what I realized. I realized that the rabbit I was chasing wasn’t real.”

Success matters—up to a point. But pursuing it above all else is like a greyhound chasing a fake rabbit. At the end of an exhausting race, we are right back where we started.

The usual definitions of success revolve around money and power., for example, defines it as “the attainment of wealth, position, honors, or the like.” Many people in the United States and around the world believe that success of every kind is within reach. The international consulting firm Accenture recently polled 4,100 executives from thirty-three countries to better understand how professionals define success. They found that more than 70 percent of both men and women from around the world believe they can “have it all,” defined as “a successful career as well as a full life outside work.”

We live in an age of excess. There seems to be no end to the voices telling us to accumulate possessions, property, position, and power. All of this sends a subtle but commanding message: You need to look like this person or achieve this status or have all this stuff if you want to feel good about yourself. At no other time in history has it been so easy to feel like a failure as you compare yourself to countless images of so-called “success.”

The apostle Paul calls out the dangers of pursuing success without regard for the more important things of life. He passes down wisdom to his protégé Timothy, giving the young pastor a message to share with those in his congregation who longed for nothing more than worldly success. Paul explains the perils that await these folks. He writes, “Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction” (1 Timothy 6:9).

Paul calls out in particular the single-minded pursuit of money. He says, “The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs” (1 Timothy 6:10).

Remember: all our longings—for security, for independence, for more, and for success—are at their root good, even God-given.

A few verses later Paul continues his urgent warning. He says, “Tell those rich in this world’s wealth to quit being so full of themselves and so obsessed with money, which is here today and gone tomorrow. Tell them to go after God, who piles on all the riches we could ever manage— to do good, to be rich in helping others, to be extravagantly generous. If they do that, they’ll build a treasury that will last, gaining life that is truly life” (1 Timothy 6:17-19, msg). The riches God will add aren’t necessarily material. They include, most notably, a relationship with Him that begins now and lasts forever (see John 17:3). The steps we are to take along our winding path to heaven include doing good, helping others, and practicing extravagant generosity, all features of a new money mindset.

Remember: all our longings—for security, for independence, for more, and for success—are at their root good, even God-given.

The Bible assumes that God has made us to want to succeed, especially in the most important areas of life. Jesus appeals to this innate desire when he tells the parable of the talents. He suggests that we should admire the servants who do well in taking their master’s money and multiplying it. They demonstrate strategic intent, shrewd tactics, and superior results. To each of these successful servants, the master says, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” (Matthew 25:14-30).

As we are all too aware, our legitimate longing to be successful easily gets out of hand. Let’s check some statements that highlight this.

“The only way I’ll ever be successful is if I win the lottery.” I (Jim) can’t claim I have ever won the lottery, but years ago I felt like I came close. I was a cash-strapped student traveling from California to Colorado. I was speeding—literally—across the great state of Nevada, naively following the advice of an in-the-know classmate who told me over and over that “they never stop you for speeding in Nevada.” Au contraire.

When an officer of the law flashed his lights, flipped on his siren, and pulled me over, my fine was $180. Since I had the option of paying on the spot, I gave the officer my Bank of Hawaii Visa card number, signed on the line, and drove away.

Within an hour, I saw signs of Las Vegas along the highway. I mean literal signs. Hundreds of them. CHEAP ROOMS. SATELLITE TV. SWIMMING POOL. HUGE LUNCH BUFFET—$5.99.

That last one hooked me. I headed in for some cheap food, still stinging from my $180 fine. I hadn’t even eaten when I got the bright idea that maybe I should try to make up my loss at the one-armed bandits blinking all around me.

I took out a five-dollar bill and cashed it in for five one-dollar coins. I walked over to the dollar slots and saw a sign that read “$1 Million Grand Prize.” I hoped my luck would be better here than on the Nevada InterstatIt was.

The second coin I dropped into the machine produced a ding-ding-ding clink-clink-clink sound I had never heard before as bells rang and coins dropped into the shiny chrome tray at my waist. They were one-dollar coins, fifty of them, to be exact!

I started shaking. Something came over me that felt like euphoria. At the same time, I knew I had to get out of there— fast. I exited the casino still quivering, feeling I was striding against a mighty wind pushing me back inside.

That was my first and last experience with Las Vegas gambling. It’s exhilarating to win anything, but for some of us, winning money gets our blood rushing like nothing else.

This gambler’s mentality often plays out in more socially acceptable ways. We observe it in people who are always maneuvering to make a fast buck rather than execute plans that bring steady, sustainable growth. Entrepreneurs, business diehards, and all of us with plans to grow our money and prosper need to contemplate this wisdom from the book of James:

“Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’ As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil.” James 4:13-16

Instead of repeatedly betting on yet another high-risk venture to grow our wealth, we can inviteGod to guide our steps and shape our plans. Proverbs speaks highly practical wisdom when it says, “Trust the Lord with all your heart, and don’t depend on your own understanding. Remember the Lord in all you do, and he will give you success” (3:5-6, ncv).

“I would be happier if my salary went up by 25 percent.”“I can never seem to have quite enough money for myself.”

Everyone has an internal craving for success. You know you have it. We all do. Yet more than ever before in history, it’s easy to feel like a failure when we compare ourselves to the rich and famous. Television, the Internet, and all kinds of media make side-by-side comparison far too easy. We are bombarded by images that make us feel inferior as we attempt to be successful like “everyone” else.

Having spent the first dozen years of my career as a clinical therapist (Jim), I have met hundreds of people wrestling with this challenge. More times than I can remember, clients expressed yearnings that ran along these lines:

• “I wish I could be more attractive.”

• “I want to lose twenty pounds.”

• “If I could just afford a little place up north.”

• “I wish I could drive a better car.”

• “If only I made another $10,000 a year.”

The underlying question in each case was, What do I need to do to feel successful?

The answer seemed to be, Just a little more.

* * *

Brad Hewitt is the CEO of Thrivent Financial, a not-for-profit Fortune 500 organization dedicated to helping Christians be wise with money and live generously. He holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in mathematics from the University of Wisconsin — River Falls — and has completed the Harvard Business School’s program for management development. Hewitt and his wife, Sue, have two adult children and live in Minnesota.James Moline, Ph.D., is a licensed psychologist who earned his Ph.D. from the Fuller Graduate School of Psychology. He and his family live in
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Brad Hewitt is a CEO with a unique perspective. Since 2010, Brad has served as president and CEO of Thrivent Financial, a not-for-profit Fortune 500 organization. In this role, he has made it his work to help Americans rediscover a healthy relationship with money. At the heart of this relationship is the idea that being wise with money and generosity go hand in hand. James Moline, Ph.D., believes that developing the opportunity for generosity to build God's kingdom on earth stands as a central issue of our times. As a licensed psychologist, confidant and advisor, Jim has built a 30-year career consulting with global companies about providing senior leadership excellence, managing across borders, and transforming their organizations in an era of rapid change and uncertainty. As a former tenured professor, Jim is passionate about influencing lifelong learning in the communities he serves