The Definition of Success

God’s definition of success is different than mine.

Most of the time, those of us who call ourselves believers, are still trying to live out the world’s definition of success.

We expect that giving our lives to God will save our souls, while our American dream will be enhanced because God is on our side.

Churches proclaim the words of Jesus, “You have to lose your life to gain it”, yet still define success much the way corporations define success.

How many people attend?
How much money is coming in?
How large is the building?
How do we ‘compare’ to other churches?

The apostle Paul reminds us that Jesus showed us what the true definition of success is:
“Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!”

The older I get, the more I realize that the “real” successful people in this world will never be recognized this side of heaven.

I think of a man I know, 85 years old, a widower who lost the love of his life years ago, who quietly serves the poor in his local town, serving meals to the hungry, delivering groceries to the elderly, while sponsoring 20 Compassion International children all around the world.

He will never get on CNN, yet he is one of the most successful people I have ever known.

I think of a woman I know, who has suffered much tragedy in her life, her only son murdered, who is helping people who are experiencing severe loss, helping them heal and find hope.

She will not become rich by doing this, though there is a richness she is experiencing that cannot be explained.

She is one of the most successful people I have ever known.

I think of a couple who lost their son to drugs. As they are raising their beautiful granddaughter, they are helping broken young people move away from the destruction of drugs and moving them towards hope and God’s Grace.

They will not get their son back, this side of heaven, but his legacy will now be about the saving of hundreds of lives from the destruction of addiction.

They are two of the most successful people I have ever known.

Life brings pain.

God takes ashes and makes them beautiful.

God takes darkness and tells us to hang on because the morning promises joy.

God says in this life their will be tears, sorrow and loss but one day that will cease.

God redefines success.

Henri J.M. Nouwen wrote, “We fail to see the place of suffering in the broader scheme of things. We fail to see that suffering is an inevitable dimension of life. Because we have lost perspective, we fail to see that unless one is willing to accept suffering properly, he or she is really refusing to continue in the quest for maturity. To refuse suffering is to refuse personal growth.”

To refuse personal growth keeps us from true success.

One of the things that concerns me about the American church is that it is possible to be “popular” without still being “relevant”.

Our definition of success is too often about how many people like us and is what we are doing fashionable.

God’s definition of success states that however unpopular and uncomfortable the cross is, it is possibly the most relevant gift the universe has ever received.

Risking our lives feeding the empty belly, rescuing children out of the dark dungeons of trafficking, inviting people to the kingdom party who have nothing to offer, praying for, forgiving and loving our enemies, giving God our first 10%, putting others before us, investing in the next generation where it is hard to see instant fruit may not be the most popular thing to do in the church world, but I believe it is the most relevant thing.

The true definition of success is far more about relevancy than popularity and comfort.

True success is about trust.

Success is trusting that my life is safe in the arms of my almighty creator.

Brennan Manning wrote in Ruthless Trust, “The way of trust is a movement into obscurity, into the undefined, into ambiguity, not into some predetermined, clearly delineated plan for the future. The next step discloses itself only out of a discernment of God acting in the desert of the present moment. The reality of naked trust is the life of the pilgrim who leaves what is nailed down, obvious, and secure, and walks into the unknown without any rational explanation to justify the decision or guarantee the future. Why? Because God has signaled the movement and offered it his presence and his promise.”

3 thoughts on “The Definition of Success

  1. Well said, Ken. People tend to not see that it is in suffering we can draw closer to God. Sometimes they get mad at God and push him away when something bad happens. But God can turn every dark situation around and shine his light into our lives when we seek him. What may feel like the end of the world to someone, could just possibly be the beginning of a new life.

  2. The church’s job is not to make itself into a “popular” place to hang out or a social gathering spot. Jesus defines the church’s role as a place to know Him, make disciples, reach out to a hurting world, and to preach “the whole word of God” in love. Yet, many of today’s churches fall short of growing up their members in the whole truth and the knowledge of the Bible itself. This does not make a successful church. The difficult parts of Scripture, ie the role of the men as the head of the house, how God sees divorce, compromise with the world, the role of women in the church, and others are often seen as divisive issues. Paul warns against spiritual laxity and chastises those who “remain infants in Christ”, 1 Cor 3: 1-3. So, part of being successful is becoming like Jesus, knowing what is important to Him, and knowing His Word. Success will come when become grounded in all of the Truth. Then we begin to achieve a measure of maturity and are more effective in our ministry and better tools for His use! This makes for a successful church. Sometimes churches can become unbalanced by directing their efforts (however valid) toward programs before “growing up” its congregation, grounding them in His word, and encouraging Biblical maturity. Paul speaks to it in the 6th chapter of Ephesians when he encourages believers to …”be strong in the Lord…to put on the full armor…having gird your loins with the truth…and shod your feet with the preparation of the Gospel and most especially in vs 17 when he says, “…and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God…”
    It is almost always uncomfortable to preach the Word of Truth to the world, and it will make us unpopular, but our citizenship is not of this world. Yes, the cross is the most relevant gift this world has ever received and it is worth our time and effort to be grounded in all it stands for.
    So glad to see you write about this….just some more thoughts from one who is still learning about true servanthood.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s