If you ask just about anyone if they think there’s a problem with being successful, you’ll probably get a strange look. And in a matter of nanoseconds, they’ll also start mentally sorting through a multitude of replies.
- Uh, no. Obviously you’re not successful, or you wouldn’t ask such a stupid question.
- Maybe success is a problem for somebody, but it’ll never be a dilemma for me.
- I wish I were more successful . . . Thanks for bringing this up and making me face my disappointing life.
The average person likes success.
We like successful people (unless they’re jerks).
Nobody makes it their life’s goal to be a miserable and unsuccessful loser.
I want to be a successful leader and pastor. I’d like to be a successful author. (I’d even enjoy being an Amazon bestseller for a day or two.)
So why does success matter?
Because whether we want to admit it or not, most of us get a lot of our value and sense of self-worth from feeling successful. It’s why you post pictures on Facebook and Instagram of the latest cool project you just completed or of you or your kid doing something amazing or of you holding a picture of your latest book.
From our childhood, we are conditioned to strive for the “smiley face” or the star on our homework papers. We want to be good—or even great—from time to time. We also like to be recognized for our accomplishments, and we long to tell a watching world, “Look at me. Look at me. See what I can do!”
For the record, there’s nothing inherently evil about wanting to be successful, appreciated, and recognized.
God the Father attached importance to and praised Jesus when He said, “This is my beloved Son . . . and I am very pleased with Him.”
Jesus gave a huge attaboy to the disciples and praised their successful endeavors when they returned from a ministry trip.
The Apostle Paul gave a high-five to Timothy for his faithfulness.
So, it’s okay to be successful and recognized for your accomplishments.
The problem comes when you’re definition of success gets goobered up.
What do I mean? (I know you’re wondering about my use of the highly technical term, goobered, huh?) I submit that success isn’t a problem unless you allow our culture to define what it is and isn’t rather than letting God define it for you.
In fact, here’s an important distinction: With God, success is always about obedience and faithfulness. (Please read that line again.)
You can be dirt poor and highly successful if you are doing what God asks you to do, when and where He asks you to do it.
You can be completely unknown in our culture and be famous with the Father—if you are doing your best to follow and obey Him. Eugene Peterson wrote about twenty years ago that faithfulness and genuine success result from going “a long obedience in the same direction.”
We mess up our understanding of success when we make it all about being successful rather than being obedient and faithful.
Another way we get tripped up is when we determine our success by comparing ourselves with others.
- I have more than so and so; therefore, I am better.
- I know more than you; therefore, I am more important.
- I do more than most, so that makes me of greater value.
This kind of thinking leads to pride and never ends well.
The parable of the talents (i.e., bags of gold) teaches us to be faithful with what God has given to us as individuals—to responsibly and faithfully use whatever we have from Him—regardless of what He’s given to others. The point is personal faithfulness rather than laziness or envious comparison. I am not successful just because I have five bags of gold and you only have one. (By the way, every good thing we have comes from God anyhow.)
I am successful when I invest and use whatever I have for God and His glory, not mine.
Comparison robs you of true joy.
Comparison either puffs you up or tears you down, and neither is God’s plan for you.
Comparison keeps you from a heart of worship because it takes your eyes off the Giver.
And comparison might make you feel successful, but it never leads to lasting contentment.
I love these words of the Apostle Paul: “May we never be arrogant, or look down on another, for each of us is an original. We must forsake all jealousy that diminishes the value of others.” Galatians 5:26 (TPT)
You are an original, and a healthy person delights in God’s creative genius seen in every one of us.
So go ahead. Be successful. But don’t measure your success by some unholy and unhealthy standard that makes you the champion of your story. You’re not the hero. God is. And remembering that fact is the way you truly succeed at succeeding.
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