Recently I was able to get some extended time away from the daily grind of life. I try to do this about once a year. During my time this year, one of the questions that kept coming up in my mind was, “What is success?” I have to admit, I am attracted to success. I read Success magazine. I want success in every area of my life. I want a successful marriage, successful kids, successful health, a successful financial life, and a successful church. Who wants the opposite? Not me!
But what is success? Over the years, I have come across some really good definitions of success. Here are a few:
“Success is the progressive realization of a worthy goal or ideal.” Earl Nightingale
“Success is when the people closest to you respect you the most.” Andy Stanley
“Success is the maximum utilization of your potential.” Zig Ziglar
I love all of these. They are all true to some degree. It seems that success is winning–winning in relationships, with business, and with achievement. But is there more? I think there is.
Biblically, success can be summed up in the following three ways:
1. True success is fulfilling the plans that God has for you.
God has placed you on this planet to partner with Him to accomplish some good work. Ephesians 2:10 tells us this plainly, “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” If we do lots of things with our lives, but fail to accomplish the plans that God has for us, have we really succeeded? I don’t think so.
One of my favorite verses is Joshua 1:8. It says, “Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.” There it is! God tells Joshua he will be successful if he meditates on God’s Word. But what kind of success is this? Well, God promises that he will be able to take the Promised Land. He would be successful in overcoming the fortified cities, some of which were occupied by giants! This was God’s plan, not Joshua’s.
Steven Covey wrote, “If your ladder is not leaning against the right wall, every step you take gets you to the wrong place faster.” True success is living out and fulfilling God’s plan for your life.
2. True success is being transformed into the person God created you to be.
Absolutely nothing is more important in this life than the person you become. Transformation of your inner being is ultimate success. It’s the only thing that will solve your problems and the world’s problems. I have a Dallas Willard quote hanging in my office to remind me of this. He said, “God is in the process of overcoming evil with good by transforming human hearts.”
The problems that you and I have are rooted in the soul. Unless people are transformed in their souls to the point that their character is comprised primarily of the Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22,23), their lives and our world will be dominated by anger, hate, abuse and war. God cares far less about what we do than about who we are becoming. The truly successful person has taken on the character of Christ and has learned to simply love God with all of their heart, mind, soul and strength, and their neighbors as themselves. Can you imagine a world in which all people treated others as they wished to be treated?
3. True success is pleasing God.
Ultimately, the only opinion that will matter at the end of our lives is God’s opinion. Each one of us will stand before God one day and give an account of our lives. (Romans 14:12, 2 Corinthians 5:10). Our hope should be that on that day, we will hear God say, “Well done.”
Unfortunately, many people fall into the trap of chasing power, money, and material possessions because our world (other people) has set this as the standard of success. God never set such a standard. His standard for success is to be “rich toward God” (Luke 12:21) meaning that we invest our lives in things that are eternal.
Jesus lived his life this way as an example for us. In John 8:29, he said, “…for I always do what pleases him.” Jesus invested his life in the one thing that would last forever…people. He loved people, healed people, taught people, fed people, and eventually gave His life away so that people could live forever. We please God by investing our lives in things that last forever.
So, how successful are you today? When measuring your success, be sure that you are using the right standard.