“Four and Twenty years ago I come into this life, The son of a woman And a man who lived in strife. He was tired of being poor And he wasn’t into selling door to door And he worked like the devil to be more.
A different kind of poverty now upsets me so Night after sleepless night I walk the floor and I want to know Why am I so alone? Where is my woman, can I bring her home? Have I driven her away? Is she gone?” [4 + 20, Crosby, Stills and Nash]
“His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!'” [Matthew 25:23 TNIV]
I suspect most readers of this column will be able to articulate quite clearly what success is not. It’s not about money or fame or power or having the largest number of toys. We are quite apt at defining what success is not because daily we have to define ourselves in ways that resist these common definitions of success. We end up as experts in what success is not.
But how does God define success? It’s not enough to know what we are avoiding. We also need to know what we are becoming. Christianity is a positive faith. The bible should have something to say about success. I believe it does. Try this list for size.
1. I am successful when I have been faithful to the things that God has called me to do.
“His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! ‘” [Matthew 25:23a]
I am note that when God called Ezekiel to speak for Him, Ezekiel was specifically told that he would not be faulted if the people didn’t listen to him. He was only responsible for the actual carrying out of his duties (Ezekiel 2:1-9). He was called to be faithful.
Some people, in carrying out their duties, have resulted in being used by God to grow mega churches. Others have slogged away in hidden lands far away with little to show by way of numerical results. They lie in forgotten graves. But God knows who they are. They were faithful.
Some faithful people have been used by God to do spectacular things. Others have been homemakers who quietly cared for family in daily acts of quiet heroism.
God knows who you all are. Because He spells success f-a-i-t-h-f-u-l. This is perhaps the hardest aspect of a biblical understanding of success for today. We live in a time when people consistently use numbers as the only criteria for any success that counts.
But how do you tabulate caring for an aging and ailing parent day in and day out? How do you measure the worth of pastors whom God has called to small churches? And surely God must love small churches because there are so many of them in comparison to large churches!
I f our lives are defined by numbers then we need to succeed numerically. But if our lives are defined by God then we succeed when we are faithful to Him.
2. I am successful when I have been a good steward of my life.
“”Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” [1 Peter 4:10]
At first I wanted to say “good stewards of our talents” and yes that is true. As we grow we get a better picture of what we are good at. And we seek to spend more time honing and using those gifts.
Last Sunday, after I had preached, a sister came up to me and said, “You have the gift.” When I was younger I would probably be flustered in the face of such affirmation. Now I just acknowledge it. I thank God for entrusting me with this gift and I look for opportunities to preach and teach God’s Word in ways that will allow me to be conduits of His love and truth. I want to be a good steward of the abilities that the Lord has entrusted to me.
But I have also come to realize that I also have to be good steward of all that is in my life and not just my strengths. For example I have made some bad mistakes in my life. I can’t turn back the clock and undo them.
But I can learn from them, and seek to be a better person. I can use what I have learnt to help prevent people from making the same mistakes. Or empathize with those who have made the same errors as I seek to walk with them. I can be a good steward of my failures too.
To be a good steward of my life includes actively seeking to realize my full potential so that I can honour God with my life and grow in my capacity to bless others. There is the constant awareness that life is a gift and I have to give an account one day.
We succeed when we are good stewards of our lives.
3. I am successful when I have used the “twin loves” as the basic compass of my life.
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength?Love your neighbour as yourself.” [Mark 12:30,31b]
Jesus summarized the law and the prophets with these two loves, love for God and love for neighbour. This is staggeringly simple yet so simple that it can easily be overlooked.
Yet in these few verses, Jesus states in words that all can understand, and few take seriously, what life is all about. It’s about giving ourselves, to love God and to love others.
Therefore, when confronted with a new job offer for example, I can reflect along these lines: All things being equal, will this job better allow me to honour God and bless others? It is here that Christianity is clearly counter-cultural.
The pace and makeup of modern life gives little attention to relationships. No one gets to be on the cover of a magazine because of his or her outstanding walk with God and his or her walk with fellow human beings. Which may be why many of us are “successful” yet empty.
God has made us in such a way that we are whole, we are successful, when we love God and our fellow man.
I suspect this list can be longer and there may yet be a follow up column on this topic. But for now, we can say that God defines success in terms of faithfulness, stewardship, and love.
Invariably there will be those who are concerned that such an understanding of success will prevent them from excelling in their jobs. I have two responses to this. First, I think if we take stewardship seriously, and want to be the best “me” that there can be, that is motive enough to keep on growing and excelling.
But second, we need to honestly ask ourselves, what gallery we are playing to? The world? Our flesh? God?
If a person lives a life where she faithfully carries out her God given duties, striving to be a good steward of her life, motivated by her love for God and her fellow man, I think she is a success by any account, and definitely by God’s.
I believe that the whole debate concerning the real nature of success is right there at the front line of the battle to not to be conformed to this world (Romans 12:1-2). Chasing success as defined by the world means most of us are running on empty and that few of us will actually succeed. Living our lives to “succeed” as God defines it means we can all be winners, and touch the world with God at the same time.
Your brother, Soo-Inn Tan