On April 20th, 2023 the largest and most powerful rocket ever built blasted off from Texas. This was the first test flight for SpaceX’s 40-story Starship. But after just 4 minutes the craft blew apart.
From all outside appearances, the mission was a failure. Elon Musk, CEO and chief engineer of SpaceX, was roundly criticized in the media and across Twitter for the failed mission. But then something strange happened.
Even after the rocket disintegrated, employees of the space exploration company were heard cheering. They even took to Twitter to gleefully call the launch a success.
How could the destruction of a ship whose development has cost in the billions of dollars be labeled a success?
Answer: Long-term vision.
Love him or hate him, Elon Musk is a long-term thinker. And there’s something Christians can learn from him in this regard.
The Man with the Longest-Term Vision Wins
From SpaceX, to Tesla, to The Boring Company, and now Twitter, it can be hard to see a through-line that binds Musk’s various interests together. He’s kind of all over the place. And while often portrayed in the media as “just another greedy billionaire,” most of Musk’s undertakings actually appear to be terrible investments financially speaking, at least initially. The only way to understand how all of these exploits fit together is to understand them in terms of Musk’s long-term vision.
Elon Musk is a secular humanist who is intensely interested in the preservation of the human race. And as sci-fi as it might sound, his long-term vision is to do that by helping humans establish a colony on Mars. This is a mission he says is “going to be very difficult, very expensive, and probably take a long time.”
It’s only when we see what Musk or other visionaries do through the lens of ambitious, long-term goals that we can really understand them, their success, and their responses to what look to us like massive failures.
SpaceX defined success for the launch of Starship not in terms of whether it made it to space but in terms of what they might learn in service of achieving their long-term goal of going to Mars.
With a test like this, success comes from what we learn, and today’s test will help us improve Starship’s reliability as SpaceX seeks to make life multi-planetary – The SpaceX Team
That is why even amid the falling debris of their rocket, they celebrated.
But it’s not just Musk. You see similar long-term thinking among other über-successful people as well.
Why Billionaires Have Rocket Companies
It probably won’t come as a surprise to you that Jeff Bezos was valedictorian at his high school. But you may be surprised to learn that in his 1982 high school graduation speech, the future founder of Amazon.com, like Musk, had the ambitious goal of getting humans to space colonies.
At the time the Miami Herald printed a roundup of different speeches from local high school valedictorians, and it included a brief summary of Bezos’ own address.
″[Bezos] wants to build space hotels, amusement parks, yachts and colonies for two or three million people orbiting around the earth…. The whole idea is to preserve the earth”
And in 2000 Bezos founded his spaceflight startup, Blue Origin.
And it’s easy to forget, in the midst of all the other craziness going on at the time, but in 2021 Jeff Bezos and another billionaire/rocketship hobbyist, Richard Branson, both went to space within 9 days of each other on their own rockets. That’s super weird, right?
And, at the time, the media portrayed their modern space race as just the eccentricities of billionaires. As if one day each of these guys woke up and said simultaneously, “Well now that I’m rich, I guess I’ll find a way to move humanity to outer space.” It just seems like a bizarre coincidence that three of our generation’s most financially successful people were into this whole space thing. But the order of events matters.
I’m not sure about Branson, but at least with Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos the ambition to colonize space didn’t stem from some billionaire midlife crisis. It was the long-term vision that’s driven them since their youth. And my contention here is that their success in other areas of life is not coincidental either.
What I’m saying is that the man with the longest-term vision tends to win.
But what’s this have to do with Christians?
The Christian’s Even Longer-Term Vision
I believe the great weakness of our generation of Christians is our lack of a long-term outlook. Call it love of comfort, fear of man, or whatever you like, but at heart, it’s a byproduct of earthly-mindedness.
When I look at the inspiring, yet ultimately misguided, aspirations of people like Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos I can’t help but wonder at the impact believers might have if we rediscovered the long-term mindset that God intended for us. We ought to have a much longer-term view than anyone. Not because we hope mankind’s salvation will be found in space colonies, but because we know it is found through faith in Jesus Christ.
Ours is not just a long-term vision, it’s an eternal-term vision. And it’s not a pipe dream but an already secured reality. We long to see Christ reign both now in the hearts of men and women and in fullness when He takes up His throne in the New Jerusalem. And this great long-term vision should sharpen our focus today.
If long-term vision can guide unbelievers to success in the here and now, what might happen if the Church recovered her eternal mindset? How might the world be blessed by our focused pursuit of God’s glory as our chief end, the proclamation of the gospel, and faithful stewardship of our time, talents, and treasure in our families, jobs, and neighborhoods?
5 Side Benefits of Eternal Mindedness
Aside from the obvious benefits of seeing men and women converted to Christ and God glorified by more worshippers, I suspect, like these long-term thinking unbelievers we discussed, eternally-minded Christians would experience other tangential benefits of such a long-term outlook as well.
1. Temporal Success
As noted, I think the examples of success we see in Bezos and Musk are directly correlated with their proclivity for long-term thinking. And the same is true for believers. Being eternally-minded means we aren’t pursuing success in this life as our primary aim, but temporal success does tend to come anyway as a byproduct of long-term thinking.
At the risk of being labeled a proponent of prosperity teachings (which I am certainly not), I’d point out that Proverbs consistently ties diligence, wisdom, and righteousness to earthly gain (Proverbs 11:18; 13:21; 15:6; 21:5). This, of course, is not always the case in practice. Suffering, privation, and persecution also tend to follow righteous living. It’s a proverb not a guarantee. But as a principal, the Lord does bless the righteous both eternally and temporally (Psalm 5:12). The essence of faith is believing that God rewards those who seek Him (Hebrews 11:16).
It’s ironic, but when we pursue temporal success, it usually evades us. But when we pursue heaven as our highest aim, earthly blessing often tends to follow anyway. As C.S. Lewis put it, “Aim at Heaven and you will get Earth ‘thrown in’: aim at Earth and you will get neither.”
2. Peace in the Face of Failure
Anyone who has spent time investing knows that when it comes to markets, the short-term always looks rocky. But when you zoom the graph out far enough, things tend up and to the right. This is true of time preference more generally. When you zoom in too far, the bumps look like mountains. But when you have a long-term view, failures look more like temporary setbacks in comparison to where you’re headed.
When the apostles were beaten by the Sanhedrin in Acts 5, their response was celebration. “Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.” (Acts 5:41). That sounds like a strange reaction to persecution. But when the early church counted suffering as joy, they weren’t acting irrationally. Their response was perfectly consistent with an eternal mindset. Prison, beatings, and even being executed are not a failure in the light of eternity and a God who rewards faithfulness (Revelation 2:10).
When Christians have a long-term view they press on with joy.
We too can have peace in the face of life’s worst failures, but only when our eyes are fixed securely on the promises of God. An eternal mindset breeds peace even in the midst of life’s most vicious trials. And if it can get you through those, it can get you through a tough work week. Because the inverse is true as well. Complaining is a symptom of short-term thinking.
3. Risk Tolerance
“Nothing ventured, nothing gained.” So goes the famous proverb of John Heywood. Risk is the necessary cost for reward. Sometimes we wonder how successful people are able to take such big risks, whether starting a company, betting on new technology, or trying something entirely untested. They seem to be cut from a different cloth.
Musk runs a variety of companies based on ambitious and untested ideas. Because long-term thinking leads to risk tolerance. Long-term thinkers know the way to greatness does not come by following the crowd. You try new things, you fail, and you get back up and try again. The risks are worth it when the goal is big enough.
We Christians are often far too cautious. Be it with our reputations, careers, or otherwise. We fear the smallest loss for the sake of Christ because our vision is far too short-sighted. It can only be our lack of eternal mindset, for example, that makes us find the risk of losing our jobs for evangelizing to be a reasonable trade-off for not warning our co-workers about the wrath to come. Long-term Christians take God-glorifying risks.
Another benefit of long-term vision is patience. This is a necessary check against the previous point. We rightly praise the risk-tolerant for taking big swings, but it’s the mark of a fool to swing at every pitch that comes across the plate. You’ve got to have the courage to take big risks but also the patience to wait for the right opportunity. But confident patience like that only comes from having a long-term outlook.
Because we trust in Christ’s promises, believers are willing to play the long game. We’re also more willing to do things that appear unproductive in the short term but of which we are certain of their efficacy in the long term.
A great example of this is prayer, an activity that certainly requires patience. It’s the focus on the short-term, always being in a rush, that keeps many a believer from the prayer closet. Charles Spurgeon offers some of the best productivity advice you’ll find on this, “Do not be in a hurry. Make time for prayer, for this is the way to gain all the time you need.”
5. Readiness to Serve
Related to patience is another perhaps unexpected result of an eternal mindset—a readiness to serve others. The short-term Christian is so busy they forget what’s most important. We are like Martha, worried and upset about many things because we’ve lost sight of the one necessary thing (Luke 10:38–42).
The short-term Christian views a productive life as one in which they meet their little goals—finish the project, pay the bills, and do the week’s tasks. And often we think we are being productive when this pursuit is made at the expense of relationships. But the eternally-minded Christian sees the necessary slowness of relationships as a worthy time investment. Because He knows investments in people pay the greatest rewards in the long term.
Love is never efficient. But it’s always worth it.
Thus you’ll find it is the long-term Christians who are more ready to serve in the slowness, volunteering at church, helping someone move, giving generously, or sitting and talking with someone in distress. As Randy Alcorn writes, “The more focused we are on eternity, the more focused we will be on the lives of the needy here on Earth.”
What blessings we surely forfeit in our short-term thinking. Would that we might gain an eternal vision for our lives and thereby become a people who see personal productivity not as a sprint, but as a marathon, people with an unflappable joy that’s not rooted in present circumstances but in the promises of God.
Because the man with the longest-term vision wins. And in Jesus Christ, we have the longest-term vision of all.
So let’s live like it.