Three young brothers went to a wise old patriarch to seek his advice about how to become successful in life. As they came before him, he stated that there were many ways to meet the human standard of success; because of this, they would need to tell him the means by which they wanted to be successful.
“What is the greatest goal you would need to obtain to consider yourself a success?” The old man asked.
“It would have to be popularity,” said the first brother.
“That is a difficult means of success,” said the patriarch. “For in order to be successful by popularity you must be willing to find what most people like and become that. Popularity will also require that you not just find what is favorable to people now, but to continuously do so in the future. It will require you to put aside your own principles, beliefs, desires, and feelings in order to blend into the framework of the majority. In order to reach your ultimate goal you will have to sell yourself to the majority, but that majority can just as quickly become the minority; so you must be willing to change at a moment’s notice. It is a very dangerous goal that can quickly lead to your demise.”
“What is your goal to consider yourself successful?” The old man then said to the second brother.
“Success would require that I be wealthy so that I may have all my heart desires,” the second brother replied.
“That is also a very difficult means of success,” the wise man assured him, “for it is an unsure and unsecured measurement of it. There are few ways to become truly rich in this world: you must have it given to you by those already wealthy, you must take it through manipulation and other dishonest means, or you must find and create or produce something that many people need and for which they will pay. As with your brother, though, you will find that the greatest challenge of all is not gaining wealth, but keeping it. You will quickly make enemies, whether by the means of your acquiring the wealth or the jealousy of it. You will also have to find ways of keeping large sums of wealth entering your pockets. This requires additional work because there will be obstacles at every turn, both from the people around you and the ventures you undertake. Make no mistake, considering success by wealth will cost you far more than you believe, both in the wealth itself and in the people you have to walk over, leave behind, and ignore or set aside in order to obtain it; and it never leaves one truly happy.”
“And you, young man?” The patriarch said to the third.
“The ultimate success would be to live forever,” responded the third brother.
“So it would,” replied the wise man with a smile, “but it is without doubt true that every man dies. That does not, however, mean that when a man dies he ceases to exist. Man has a soul, and that soul is everlasting. There are two places in which that soul can find itself after death: paradise or torments. In order to truly live in paradise for all eternity it will be a challenging endeavor, for there is but one that controls the entrance to paradise. You must be willing to set aside the menial things of this life and turn it over to another. You must take on his burdens, follow his commands, and accept his rules. This will mean that oftentimes you will be unpopular, poor, and pitiful to those on this earth, even within your own family. However, it also provides rewards beyond anything this world can imagine. For it is true that once you have lived this life in obedience to the Lord’s commands, and the reward is given, it will be there forever and will not be removed. You can then spend eternity in rest and peace. This is truly the greatest success of all, and if you secure it you will have chosen wisely, no matter what others around you might say.”
When the brothers left, they went to work in their lives seeking the measures of success they desired. The first brother changed everything he was to become what people wanted, and it worked – for a while. Eventually, though, he was unable to keep up with the changing dynamics of life and culture; but by then he had given up everything that he had ever held as important and wound up living the rest of his days angry and cynical because of his inability to remain as he desired.
The second brother sought out to become rich and managed to gain a formidable wealth for a time. The problem was that eventually the markets tumbled, everyone had what he was selling, and his enemies did not withhold any underhanded means of trying to destroy him. Eventually, the riches he thought were such a blessing became a curse. In seeking to retain his wealth he spent more and more time working. He lost his family, his friends, and eventually that all-important wealth as well. When his life ended he was as poor as when he started and he could think of nothing but all he had lost and the failure of his life.
The third brother lived his life according to the standard God gave. It meant many of the things others did with their lives were passed up by the brother. He was never rich, popular, or in any way great by the standards of men. Nevertheless, he had a life he enjoyed, a family he loved, and a peace most could not understand. When he left this life, it was not with fear, sorrow, or despair: but excitement, joy, and peace. While most of the world never knew when he came or went, those that loved him knew of his ultimate success, and the promised rest was his for all eternity.
“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19-21)