How Should a Christian Define Success?
There is a television commercial that shows a man in his 60’s walking from the first class cabin in an airplane to take a seat next to a younger version of himself who is working away in a coach seat. The older man gives financial advice to himself as a younger person. Then he returns to his first class seat, either because he can now afford it or perhaps he just needs to be closer to the bathroom.
This is a bit of intriguing fantasy.
What would we say if we could go back in time and give ourselves one piece of advice, if we had just one shot to influence our lives based on our life experience?
Here’s my answer. I would tell my younger self, “Pay attention to how you define success, because it will drive everything you do.”
I wish some older mentor would have challenged me in my twenties to decide on what success meant to me. Looking back, it is crystal clear that the various definitions I’ve held have definitely driven my thoughts, words, attitudes and actions.
So here is my challenge.
Do you know how you define success?
We may believe that there are countless ways to define it, but I disagree. In fact, I propose that there are really only two.
That is, every definition will fall under one of two broad definitions. We define success either by what we do or who we are becoming.
Success by ‘doing’ measures accomplishments, wealth, power, influence, reputation, etc. It is success by accumulation, and the world tells us that this accumulation determines our value and provides us our happiness and satisfaction. Another way of stating it is that we define success in terms of ownership. The problem with this view is that we never have enough. How many of us can attest to pursuing these things only to be rewarded with gnawing dissatisfaction? There is a Christian version of this definition. It tells us that we are measured by how much we have done for God, even if it means that we leave no time or space for Him to do His work in us. It is the recipe that leads to burnout, unfaithfulness and disillusionment. Either version comes at a high cost if we choose to chart this course and let our productivity define our success.
The alternative is to define success by who I am and who I am becoming.
If we believe we were created to know God and enjoy him forever, then our daily passion is being conformed to His image and transformed by the renewing of our minds. This is success in terms of becoming a faithful steward. It means we chart a course that lets faithfulness define success and we discover that it is the journey of greater faithfulness that brings joy, satisfaction and peace. And the kicker is, in God’s great economy, when we focus on faithfulness, productivity flows.
The best scripture to help you see the difference is John 15.
Jesus tells us that we are called to bear fruit, and that kingdom definition of productivity is only achieved by abiding in the vine. Did you hear that? The kind of productivity that God honors flows from the time we spend with Him. He desires to work the fruit of the Spirit in and through us, if we will be stewards and stay connected to Him. As His Spirit flows through us we, like the passive branch, bear His fruit. This fruit of faithfulness is out of reach for those who seek to produce the fruit of their own hands at the expense of abiding. But for those who seek first the kingdom of God, He promises we will bear much fruit, showing ourselves to be His followers.
So how will you define success from this day forward? Which definition will drive you?
My prayer is that you will choose to pursue a life of faithfulness as your driving passion and trust God to do the impossible in you and through you. Abide in Him, and let that be your definition of success.
This is a guest post by Scott Rodin. Scott is president of The Steward’s Journey, an organization dedicated to equipping and inspiring God’s people to be free and joyful stewards of life. You can follow him at www.thestewardsjourney.com