Success is something that drives many of us. We are prone to compare ourselves to others and strive to accomplish riches and accolades. There is something inside us that desires to be the best, and we kick ourselves when we don’t measure up.
This is a never ending pattern. If we define success by comparing ourselves to those around us, our drive will never be satisfied. We will never be content or at peace in this definition of success.
I was praying with someone recently, and with fresh revelation, discovered a new definition of success. Success is measured by our obedience to God in season. It is not based on our accomplishments. This is not to say there won’t be evident signs. Fruit is a result of our obedience. We will see the evidence of life and abundance in our areas of obedience as we walk in step with God. But fruit does not define the success. The voice of the father saying well done my good and faithful servant is how we define success.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:1-2)
Paul was acutely aware of what obedience looked like in his life, in a larger calling and in specific legs of the race. He understood there were weights and pressures pushing him to pursue other things. But Paul had his eyes set on Jesus. He allowed Jesus to define what success looks like.
“However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.” (Acts 20:24)
Paul gives us a glimpse into what obedience looks like for him. Knowing his call, Paul could look back and measure his success. He could ask,“Have I faithfully testified to the good news of grace?” Paul’s life, as we read in Acts, is defined by this. From the moment he is commissioned, his life is directed and focused on this obedience. He is not comparing himself to others. In fact, he chastises the people of Corinth for looking to him or Apollos rather than to Jesus.
As you have read in my posts to this point, I believe that studying the lives of both the heroes of the faith and our brothers and sisters today is transformative. The purpose in looking at them, however, is not to measure success, but rather to learn how to become obedient to the living God.
Although God does give a lifelong invitation, there is a more seasonal approach to our lives with God. I find that God often shares with me what he wants to teach me, and then refines me in that area.
I remember seasons of learning how to forgive, then having people from my past show up who I had harbored bitterness towards. At these times, my obedience looked like forgiving, and casting my wounds onto the cross, then living in freedom. I remember coming face to face with my doubts about the goodness of God before being given opportunity to trust God is good in a season of both difficulties and blessing.
As God reveals what he wants to teach us or invite us into, we must pay attention to the opportunities which arise. Success is defined by our obedience to his invitation. If he is telling us to stay, we must stay. If he is revealing our need to share the good news of Jesus, we must be vocal. If God is inviting us to learn how to pray, we must be spending time in prayer, discovering new ways to converse with the living God and hear his voice. If he is inviting us to live a life of thanksgiving, we must praise God and share our thankfulness with others.
Success in the world is not evil. Success in career, education, the arts, sports, or whatever you find yourself doing, is not bad. In fact, we should be doing all things as if unto the Lord. Our accomplishments, however, do not define our value or success. The standard we set our lives to is within the kingdom of God and not that of this world. Our pursuit of excellence is good, but we need to make sure that is not how we define success. Obedience does not always create success from the world’s perspective. Jesus tells his disciples, when he sends them out, that some towns will reject them. The disciples are still successful when this happens. It is their obedience and not their being welcomed that has our Lord saying well done.
Success is measured by our obedience to God in season. Our decision making, our focus, our goals should be defined by the invitation of God. The good news is, the grace of God always calls us back to obedience. There is no failure that is final. There is no point in which we cannot come back to the place where God says well done. It takes a moment of repentance and we can step back into a life of success. The weight of failure can be nailed to the cross, and we can continue in the race. We don’t start back at the beginning.
Like Paul, our aim should be to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given us. May we be aware of his invitation in season.