I have had the privilege of writing for On Purpose Ministries. One of the series I was asked to write about was on the topic of success. What a good challenge this was because in America, we want to measure everything by success. We often identify and categorize ourselves, finding worth and value, by our successes, but I would argue, God’s view of success is markedly different. I hope you enjoy this upcoming series about the nuances of success. (P.S. Some of you may have already read this because it was sent out accidentally in December…yes, I’m bad with technology 🙂 )
In the early days of my dating relationship with my now husband, we got in a philosophical discussion about what does it mean to be successful. As we sloppily treaded through the nuances of the word “success,” we circularly argued whether it was profession verses skill or knowledge verses productivity or left-brain verses right brain. I’m not really sure if we came to any conclusions that day–the tension was similar to that of a presidential debate. Needless to say, we dated about three more years after that working through some of those differences.
How can such an apparent simple topic on “success” be fraught with such befuddlement? I think the answer is that being successful is such a personal matter. All of us want to be successful, but in our own right. Just because I’m not a Quantum Mechanics Engineer or a Computational Chemist doesn’t mean that I am less successful. Or does it? Is the fast food worker more, less, or equally successful as a doctor? Is a stay-at-home mom as successful as the women who was just announced CEO of a corporate business? How you answer depends on who you are. The topic becomes so personal, so challenging, and often so subjective. Tangled up in these senseless comparative questions, insecurity sets in, inferiority complexes ignite, and frenetic striving can seem like the only option.
I have a hard time believing that when I get to Heaven and meet Jesus face to face, that He will be scaling my success on the giant “Career-Meter”—high scores for the brainiac’s and corporate climbers, low scores for the quote-on-quote “less accomplished.” Yet if you look around society, we toil and race like our inheritance and self-worth depends on our earthly achievements. Matthew 22:35-40, “One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: ‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’ Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
Notice how the text says, “an expert in the law, tested him.” The religious leaders were acting from a place of pride, attempting to trick Jesus into giving an answer that supported their fake piety and excessive striving. But instead, Jesus didn’t fall to their scheme and instead turned a question of success into a subject of love. Jesus didn’t dismiss there were commandments and He didn’t ignore personal responsibility, but He trashed the notion of formulaic accomplishments and boldly spoke about Lordship.
Successful people take responsibility for their lives within the context of submission before Christ. “What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?” (Mark 8:36). We can achieve so much in our careers, with our intellect, against all social injustices, but if we have accomplished it all apart from God, we have only achieved worldly success and may have forsaken eternal success. The world will rate success based on education, paychecks, grades, and your uncanny ability to wear 97 hats– don’t get me wrong, these things are needed and beneficial. But what about God? Did we forget Him as we scurried along saving the world?
It is through obedience, stewardship, and love that we find success:
Stewardship: We must take responsibility for what has been entrusted to us. When we fail to risk, when we cease trying, when we choose to live with apathy, and ignore the God-given passions written on our hearts, we forfeit success. When things don’t go as planned or when we fail in ways we couldn’t imagine, prayerfully take it to the Lord. He will restore and renew. “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much” (Luke 16:10).
Obedience: Do things as unto the Lord. He has gifted you with your own unique beauty, creativity, and voice to add to this world. He longs to partner with you to bring about success for you and success for His Kingdom. Don’t get burdened by comparison, insecurity, thankless-ness, or mundanity because you don’t have to answer to people, you need only to answer to God. When you go to God for your marching orders, the rest will fall into place. Live fearlessly, except to fear God, and chase after the passions He’s given you and the open doors He’s provided. “Whatever you do, do it enthusiastically, as something done for the Lord and not for men, knowing that you will receive the reward of an inheritance from the Lord. You serve the Lord Christ” (Colossians 3:23-24).
Love: Love the LORD with every part of your being. Let that love permeate your speech, your thinking, your service to others, your work environment, your care for your family, your care for yourself. Make His priorities, your priorities. Prayerfully seek His direction and input so that your decisions are Kingdom seeking, rather than self-seeking. “He holds success in store for the upright, he is a shield to those whose walk is blameless” (Proverbs 2:7).
As you take responsibility for your own success, may you be able to remove the distractions surrounding you and run with arms back and heart abandoned towards the God who is 110 percent in your corner.