I was traveling through the Prairies this summer and came upon a group of wind turbines. We have all seen them spinning away, making what we hope is clean energy. This group was not a normal sized group though. This set went on for mile after mile. If I had stopped to count them it would have been hopeless, because they hid behind one another until you moved and saw that there was a whole other forest of them that you had not seen yet.

As we drove along mile after mile I noticed a strange pattern, or more likely a lack of a pattern. Two would be spinning quite quickly then the next four beside them would be completely stopped, before a few more turned next to the second group. As I tried to look at the big picture it wasn’t clear at all where the wind was and where it wasn’t. Sometimes there appeared to be “rivers” of wind winding through the mass of propellers, then at other times there was no clear pattern at all.

If you’re like me, you have within your collection of friends some who have been quite successful. The most common thing that one hears from people who have done well is that they have been successful because of their strong work ethic; that they were ready when the opportunities showed themselves, and this is what separates them from those who have been less successful.

At some level I think this is true, but there is more to success than determination. If you spend any time at a bookstore thumbing through the self-help selection, you will be bombarded with pages that tell you that success comes from within; that it is the attitude that people have which makes them stand above the rest. These books will lead you to believe that within us are the seeds that will decide our destiny; that it is up to us if we are to become a failure, or with the right attitude, success.

Yet, as I pondered those moving wind mills this summer, I saw in them a parody of the human experience. Some were turning at a high rate of speed, while those right next to them were producing very little. This wasn’t because one turbine had the right attitude, or just had a pep talk earlier that morning. It was simply because one was in the path of the wind and one was not.

Scripture tells a very different story than the average self-help book does.  The optimistic author says things like, “be the magnet that draws opportunity.” The Bible says, “apart from me you can do nothing”.

One says, “opportunities multiply as they are siezed” (Sun Tzu). Paul says, “I can do all things through Him who gives me strength” (Phil 4:13).

So which is it?

We are living in a dangerous time, where these two messages are merging together in the Church. Where the wisdom of the world is getting equal billing with what the Bible says – even when the two messages are not compatable with each other.

There is some truth in being prepared and ready to seize an opportunity when it comes, but remember that ultimately, like those windmills reminded me, our success comes from the Spirit of God that moves mysteriously throughout the world.

That way we can stay grounded and humble, and willing to help those who have been less successful than us. As you gather with your friends around the holidays, remember where your success really comes from…because no one wants to hear another noisy gong trumpeting his own successes.