God has designed us and is equipping us to be successful. But what is success? In America we often define success by our position and possessions. The higher our position at work or school or church or the social club then the more “successful” we are. The more stuff we have, then the more we are a success; be that houses, cars, name-brand clothes, exotic vacations; fancy this or that.
However, position, possession, or even our number of followers is not God’s standard for success. And if that’s not how God defines success, neither should we. Scripture gives us a definition of success quite contrary to the expectations of this world. “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord . . . that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and may share His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death” (Philippians 3:8, 10).
Let’s try this definition: Success is living our life in complete surrender and obedience to the Lord. Unlike the world’s definition the tangible results are not the focus, rather it is the willingness to make Him great and us little.
Success is not about us
Moses argued with God in Exodus chapter 4 about his qualifications and abilities. “I’m a lowly man; unable to speak; just a shepherd; who would listen to me; why are you calling me up?”
God’s patience with Moses is amazing to me. The Lord showed Moses signs of His power and told him that He would be with him all the way.
And yet, how did Moses respond? He continued to argue until the Lord became angry (Exodus 4:14). God had picked Moses and wanted to use him to deliver Israel from captivity. Was Aaron God’s plan B? It appears so based on the change when God became angry with Moses. Also considering Aaron’s later errors (e.g. golden calf) it would appear that Aaron was not God’s first choice as spokesperson. We’ll never know what could have been had Moses accepted the Lord’s plan from the beginning.
I have a laundry list of faults, shortcomings and reasons that God couldn’t use me for much, especially big things. I’ve been through church planter assessment and been deemed by man unfit for a lead role and funding. I’ve had personality profiles done that say I’m not a natural speaker. When I was a preschooler, people would often ask my mother if I was mute, because I chose not to speak in the presence of others. I’ve heard it said many times “God doesn’t call the equipped, He equips the called.” That is exactly what occurred with Moses and many others in the Bible. It is also what He is doing with me. Our response needs to be “Yes, Lord.” The rest is up to Him.
Success may look like failure
When we say “Yes” that doesn’t mean instant success. In fact, much of what the Lord asks us to do may look like failure. We believe that when we are obedient to God that we should see immediate results of positive things. But that doesn’t match up with Scripture.
Look at what happened when Moses went to Pharaoh in Exodus 5. Not only did Moses fail to get what he requested of Pharaoh for the Israelites, he got worse conditions applied to them. The Israelites were very upset with Moses and Aaron. They blamed them for making their already hard lives worse. It seemed like all that Moses did had the opposite effect of what was desired and expected. Yet, God said to keep going back to Pharaoh again and again.
We must continue to trust in the face of difficulty
When I taught my daughters to ride a bike, it was a process of repeated failure until there was success. It would have been easier to tell them to just give up. It certainly would have been easier on me. But instead, I continued to work with them, giving them tips, running alongside, picking them up, having them yell at me, going again and patiently, persistently working with them until they were riding down the street. Why did they keep trying? Partly because they wanted to learn to ride a bike. Mostly because they trusted their father to teach them and get them there.
To trust God even when we don’t understand is difficult. When we are trying to learn yet continue to get scraped up from the falls, it is tempting to blame God, our teacher, and to walk away. To keep trusting Him and doing what He says when things go backwards is extremely difficult. But that is what we must do. We must believe His faithfulness, goodness and love for us. Our desire to be successful is not enough to keep us going in the face of failure and opposition. We must trust the Lord as he picks us up and encourages us to press on.
Success is not an end result
Americans are good at defining success by the end result of what we have accomplished. We like to have plans, goals, objectives, formulas and systems that produce the desired result of success. But our walk with God is not about an end result or some method to get there. Yes, eternal life in the presence of God is the end result, but biding time until we receive our eternal reward is not what our life on earth should be focused upon.
God wants to walk with us. All the way back at the beginning of Genesis, we see that God walked with Adam and Eve in the garden. He desires for us to be in a relationship with Him. The Lord is far more interested in the journey than the destination. There is a common misconception that “God’s will” for a person’s life is attached to accomplishing something. But in the whole of Scripture it becomes apparent that “God’s will” is communion with His children.
I tend to be goal–oriented. I’m quite good at focusing on a task or goal and pursuing it. I’m not very good at noticing things and people around me that are being neglected as I pursue the goal. Working an 80-hour or so week is just what it takes to get to the end result. Or so I thought for many years. There was a time when I almost lost my family because of my devotion to work. Fortunately, the Lord woke me up before it was too late. Today I know that the journey is the goal.
Success is about obedience
Do you ever go to bed thinking that your day was a waste because you feel like you did not accomplish X, Y, or Z? There seems to be more days in the journey that we don’t have a success or even an event worth noting. Often it seems like we are going backwards instead of forwards. But when we look at our relationship with the Lord we see that He desires our obedience more than religious actions (see Hebrews 10:5-7). He wants us to walk in relationship with Him.
I’m not sure what He has in the future. What He has for tomorrow. What He is molding me to become. I’m not even sure what words He will have me say to someone today. But I do know that He is good and He is able to work all things for His glory. So we keep pressing into Him and the result is up to Him, not us.
Success is not an event, bank balance, degree, award or people’s recognition. Success is obedience to God and walking in complete trust and intimacy with Him.
Are you willing to count everything as loss to walk in obedience and trust with the Lord? He created you for relationship. He designed you for success. It’s yours to have if you are willing to surrender everything.
“But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.” Philippians 3:7
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