Success Syndrome

What do you view as success? When something is “successful” what comes to mind? It usually has to do with one of two things; achievements or something quantitative.  A successful season for a sports team is reaching the playoffs or winning the championship. Or if a business nets a nice profit, maybe even a greater one than the previous year, then that would be a “successful” year. At my secular job we used to have annual meetings where we were shown how many new customers we received over the last year and how much profit was made. To them this was how success was measured over the course of the year. For me as an employee, I would get monthly report cards measuring all types of analytics and statistics to see how “successful” I was as an employee.
But what about for you and your life? What is success for you? The answer to this question is probably different at various stages of life. For a little kid success is not getting in trouble or getting treats and rewards. For a teenager it’s graduating and getting into a good college. When coming out of college it's getting a good paying job in your field, at a place you love to work at. As a young adult it may be to own a home, marry the “right” spouse, have enough money to be comfortable, having healthy kids etc. etc. As you get older you want a solid retirement plan or pension secured for your older years and then maybe you want “success” for your children. For them to have just as good a life or probably a better one than you did. To have better health, a better job, better relationships, better living conditions and more. Then as you get to the later years of your life, success may be having a good report from every doctor visit and test that you have to go through and still living healthy on your own no matter how old you get.
Yet, should this be our focus? Should we be measuring our life by “success”? Does God call us to go and be successful as followers of Him? But we always seem to measure so much (maybe too much) by how “successful” something was or was not. If you bombed a job interview, then you weren’t successful. If you ask someone out on a date and they turn you down, you failed. If you can not provide for your family, or provide more, you sense you’re being a failure as a parent. If a church doesn’t grow from 100-130 over the course of the year, then they didn’t have a successful year. If no one gets converted when you evangelize, then you aren't very good at it are you? If you have to work at McDonald’s instead of a place that you went to college for, you are a disappointment. And somehow we think that “success” is the goal. That achievement, progress, or triumph is the end game. Think about our younger generation being sucked into this vortex. So many are leaving high school to go to college to get a degree and get a good paying job in a field that they love,  i.e. success. And yet so many are finding themselves in unbearable debt they can’t pay, not being able to find jobs in their field of study and then pushing off so many other things in their life like marriage, buying a home or starting a family. All in the name of being “successful”. Because for some reason living in a low income neighborhood and learning a trade is a “failure”. Or wanting to be a stay at home mom and raise kids is not a very healthy outlook on adulthood.
To give you an example of what I mean, I was talking to an older lady the other day about her children. She told me with a proud grin “They are all doing well”. And then she proceeded to tell me that her one son is a police officer, her other son was a concrete mason and her daughter was a counselor. And isn’t that how any of us would talk about life in general? That this type of outlook is “success” and is what we are looking to accomplish. But is it biblical? Is this what God calls us to? I could reword one of Jesus’ lines and simply say what good is it if a person is successful (however you measure it) and yet forfeits their own soul?
Instead of success, we should be looking to be faithful. Let's look at Paul. Many would view his ministry in hindsight as “successful”. Think of all the converts, all the mission trips, all the evangelism, all the church startups, all the persecution he faced and still stood tall for God, all the pastors he trained, all the money he collected for other churches etc etc. Now I want you to read how he wants to be judged as an apostle: “This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful.” (1 Corinthians 4:1–2) Never uses the word “success” or a variation of it. Because what is the point of being successful (again however you may define or measure it) if you are not faithful? Kent Hughes talks about how he and his wife were searching the scriptures about what success is in the bible and this was their conclusion: “As Barbara and I searched the scriptures, we found no place where it says that God’s servants are called to be successful. Rather, we discovered our call is to be faithful.”
Let us look at another biblical example. In Numbers 20 we have the Israelites complaining once again about the conditions. They need some water and they go to Moses and Aaron to get what they want. So Moses and Aaron went to God to get some water. He had done a miracle before by having water come from a  rock (Exodus 17) maybe He can do it again. God told them, “Take the staff, and assemble the congregation, you and Aaron your brother, and tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water. So you shall bring water out of the rock for them and give drink to the congregation and their cattle.” (verse 8) So they go ahead and gather everyone together and…”And Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice, and water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their livestock. (verse11) Success! Right? Can't you picture the overflow of joy?! God had performed another miracle! This is wonderful! But again, God does not care about “success” but faithfulness. Moses didn’t go about this the way God had told Moses too. Did they still get water? Yes. Wasn’t that the mission? Wasn’t that the point? So isn't this a successful endeavor? But what God cares about is faithfulness, not success. “And the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.” (verse 12) Faithful is what we should aspire to be, not successful.
Charles Colson started the Prison Fellowship Ministry to minister to prisoners all over the world. In one of his newsletters where they were celebrating the ministry’s Jubilee he said, “ By the time you read this we will have dedicated our new national offices near Washington, D.C. As a result of this and other recent expansions, many people have written to me to the effect that ‘God is obviously blessing Prison Fellowship’s ministry.’ As much as I am sincerely certain that God is indeed blessing us, I believe even more certainly that it's a dangerous and misguided policy to measure God’s blessing by standards of visible, tangible, material ‘success’.”
We need to stop measuring our life on the scale of “success” and “failure”. You could be having a horrible marriage because your spouse is not a christian, your children disown you, you live in a poor neighborhood, been wearing the same clothes for years and years, have no friends, hardly have any money, have a rustbucket for a car, ravaged with health problems, and yet still be “successful” in the eyes of God because of how faithful you are to him. Let our aspirations not be for worldly achievements. Let us instead aspire to be faithful to our Lord and Savior.

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