What is real success?
We can define success in many different ways. For many, success is measured in money. For some, it is only about education, degrees, certificates and qualifications. For others, success is all about promotion and position. Our definition of success is heavily influenced by society through movies, advertisements and propaganda from those attempting to ‘milk’ the system for personal gain. It is also shaped by how we see different ‘classes’ of people treating others, based on their perceived position or status in society. Slowly but surely we form a mental image of what success is and it doesn’t take too long before we choose which end of the food chain we want to be.
On the other hand we find ourselves bombarded with religion, which seldom seems to have a balanced approach to wealth and success. Whether it is Judaism, Buddhism, Christianity or even Atheism, we are either conditioned to be selfish and self-centred, completely unselfish and selfless, or to feel guilty when we desire or achieve any significant degree of success.
On top of it all, very few of us grow up knowing what our true purpose is – the very reason we were created in the first place. Since very few of us are privileged enough to have someone instruct us in these matters, we subconsciously accept the doctrine that we are here only to have fun, to praise and worship the Lord, not to squander our talents and to make an incorrectly defined success of our lives.
We end up with a mental image that shapes and develops our character, to the point where we are completely driven by our own personal and selfish aspirations, inspired by this false impression of what success is. We end up in a very vicious circle, caught in a battle where we abandon sound, biblical guidance in exchange for pointless achievements and a false sense of success, with no eternal value.
When this happens we find ourselves feeling empty, hollow and frustrated with life. When our accomplishments fail to make up for everything else that is wrong in our lives, we need to go back to the Bible for new insights and sound advice to replace our wrong thinking about success. Once we are able to redefine our definition of success according to the Word of God, we are able to reshape and redevelop our character as well. As our character begins to line up with the Word of God, true success becomes inevitable.
What Success Is Not
To put things in perspective, it is useful to know what success is not. While the world lures us into believing success is measured in terms of material wealth, position and education, we need to understand those things are merely a means to an end, not the end itself. Big houses, fast cars and enough money to retire with come with their own problems. If you are not mature enough to handle the extra property taxes and levies, paper and admin work, capital gains and losses, insurance and sound investment strategies, to name only a few of the responsibilities that accompany material success, you will become overwhelmed and risk losing everything.
Being promoted at work or in the public arena is great, but this should not be seen as success if it robs and prevents you from attaining true biblical success. Having a specific rank, title or status comes with responsibilities not everyone can cope with. What good is a promotion if it prevents you from spending any time with your family, or if it takes you out of the place where God might want you for a specific reason He has in mind? Real biblical success does not depend on a position at a company which defines your pay grade. God will provide, regardless of your pay grade, qualification or position.
An education can be helpful, especially if it is in line with God’s plan and purpose for your life. However, there are countless examples of people who made their mark in history, regardless of their education. If you take too much pride in your degrees and diplomas, you might miss the mark entirely when confronted with a situation that requires the guidance of your conscience or your heart, instead of resolving it cognitively as per usual. For example, I once heard of a brain surgeon who had to cut a lump out of someone’s brain. It was a standard procedure, requiring an exact operation. However, he received a very strong feeling from the Holy Spirit that he should cut away less than what was originally assessed. Only after doing so did he notice that if he had cut any more, he would have killed the patient instantly. He was only able to see this new information after taking action.
While I am a proponent of prosperity and promotion, I am only so for sound biblical reasons and never if it will affect your right-standing with God.
The Biblical Definition Of Success
The Bible is full of examples of how success can and should be defined. It is not necessarily the same for all, as a lot hinges on your particular situation or circumstances. For example, someone who is called to be a preacher will not have the same objectives or obstacles as someone who is called to make money for the preacher to be supported and enabled in his ministry.
However, there are certain matters in the Bible that pertain to all of us and our definition of success should be built around them. When we don’t, we fall into the trap of becoming part of the rat race and we end up pursuing hopes and dreams with no eternal value. For true biblical success, always take Philippians 2:13 to heart, “… for it is God Who is all the while effectually at work in you [energizing and creating in you the power and desire], both to will and to work for His good pleasure and satisfaction and delight.” The spiritual man has new but godly desires and his definition of success will always line up with what God is asking of him, instead of how the world defines success.
When we embrace these new desires, the illusion of success this world has to offer gets exposed and in its stead, we seek God’s will and favour above all else. We also get a new understanding of passages in the Bible, like Psalm 37:4, which states, “Delight yourself also in the Lord, and He will give you the desires and secret petitions of your heart.” John 12:26 says, “If anyone serves Me, he must continue to follow Me [to cleave steadfastly to Me, conform wholly to My example in living and, if need be, in dying] and wherever I am, there will My servant be also. If anyone serves Me, the Father will honor him.” This is true biblical success: being honoured by God for being faithful to the callings He placed in our hearts.
This brings us right back to our first, second and third callings in life. Firstly, the person who becomes born-again and escapes eternal damnation is infinitely more successful than the person who doesn’t. Secondly, every time we overcome evil with good we can make a tick mark on our success list. Thirdly, since every born-again believer was given the Great Commission, true success must always be measured in how effective and how faithful we went about this task. From God’s perspective, the person who never made a significant amount of money, but led a significant amount of souls to Christ, was far more successful in life than the person who became a millionaire, but never contributed in any way to the fulfilling of this Great Commission.
I am not saying we should not have a desire to make a lot of money in this life. However, if I do make a lot of money and if my focus is in the right place, I know my money will directly and proportionally benefit the advancement of the Kingdom of Christ. No matter what level of success I attain, my primary motivation is always directly linked to my primary callings in life. If I am promoted, I have a new sphere of influence from where I can share the gospel of Jesus Christ with the lost. If I make a million dollars, I can support a soul-winning ministry in a way I could never before. I can also give a significant amount of money to a homeless person and in the process, share the gospel with that person. If I attain the highest qualification possible, those who take me seriously for my professionalism at work can also take me seriously about what I have to say about Jesus Christ. If God blesses me with children, their salvation should be my number one concern. If someone crashes into my car because of his disregard for others, his salvation should be my number one concern as well.
Paul said in Philippians 2:15-16 “That you may show yourselves to be blameless and guiltless, innocent and uncontaminated, children of God without blemish (faultless, unrebukable) in the midst of a crooked and wicked generation [spiritually perverted and perverse], among whom you are seen as bright lights (stars or beacons shining out clearly) in the [dark] world, 16Holding out [to it] and offering [to all men] the Word of Life, so that in the day of Christ I may have something of which exultantly to rejoice and glory in that I did not run my race in vain or spend my labor to no purpose.” It is clear from this Scripture that true success is directly linked to our concern for the lost. If not, our labour and every day doings will be in vain and of no eternal consequence.
We need to redefine our definition of success to be in line with Matthew 6:33, “But seek (aim at and strive after) first of all His kingdom and His righteousness (His way of doing and being right), and then all these things taken together will be given you besides.” When we do, we are able to handle the things life throws at us in a far more mature and Christ-like manner. We can then turn distractions or diversions into opportunities to expand the Kingdom of God instead. While doing so we will experience the fulfilment of the promise from this verse, as well as the satisfaction and fulfilment that accompanies true biblical success.