What is Success?

There is a preoccupation in the western world with the pursuit of success generally measured by increased numbers, increased revenue, the development and implementation of strategic plans and the accomplishment of one’s goals. I am increasingly concerned that Christian leaders are seeking the answer to success through books written from a secular humansitic mindset, which may have some measure of wisdom to be sure, but there seems to be little comparison of the advice given in these books with the advice given in the Bible.

I have dozens of books on my shelves regarding management, leadership principles, sound business practices and changing organizational structures. I am a Christian leader who has bought these books and enjoyed, for the most part, reading them. Unfortunately, in our quick-fix, super-sized western culture, Christian leaders are buying these books in record numbers and are often making potentially fatal decisions within the church and ministry organizations as they follow this or that latest fad in leadership and management practice with little or no evaluation of that advice against God’s Word. Although some of the advice offered in these books may be good advice, a good dose of Godly wisdom and discernment would go along way in avoiding painful mistakes. The Christian’s measure of success is not based on humanistic assumptions, i.e. strategic accomplishment, production, increased revenue, and other “bottom-line” concerns of the corporate world.

God’s “bottom-line” is not man’s “bottom-line.” We often forget what we know, that God’s ways are not man’s ways. Jesus stated in the Beatitudes, at the beginning of His Sermon on the Mount, that “the gentle will inherit the earth.” Does that sound like man’s ways? If we’re honest, that statement sounds a little bit odd and peculiar. We don’t have to be a Jewish person looking for a Kingdom to think these are outlandish sounding words. They were outlandish sounding words then and they are outlandish sounding works now. Even to believers who ought to know better, Jesus words go against everything we have ever been taught, observed and experienced in our world.

Conventional thinking would say that the meek get ground INTO the earth. The one-time baseball manager, Leo Derosher, once said, “Nice guys finish last.” The concept of meek people gaining anything is such a problem for us.

I use this as only one example of how God’s wisdom is often such an alien concept in our society and in human experience. Books being written from a humanistic standpoint are guiding much of the Church in the western world today, being written by successful money-making businessmen who do not run their businesses by being gentle and humble. High-powered corporations are not operated on the concept of gentleness. Human governments don’t run by meekness. Our world says that if you want something, you’ve got to be tough. You need to be assertive and aggressive and go after it. You make decisions irrespective of who gets hurt; but, you do it for the sake of the mission (bottom-line).

The philosophy of our world is the survival of the fittest, the most shrewd and the powerful. If the world could rewrite this beatitude, it would read, “Blessed are the proud, the aggressive, the intelligent, and the dominating for they shall inherit the earth.” But Jesus says that when it comes to His Kingdom, His followers are governed by a different principle.

One needs only a cursory glance at what God considers to be success to see the perils of human reasoning and measurements. Success in God’s eyes is measured by how much we love God and and how much we love our fellow man. This is observable (measurable) through our relationships with God and other people during the best and worst of circumstances. The Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-11) really sum it up. Success is measured by these standards:

  1. A spiritually-helpless life.
  2. A spiritually-remorseful life.
  3. A gentle life.
  4. A justice-seeking life.
  5. A merciful and care-giving life.
  6. A pure life.
  7. A peacemaking life.
  8. A suffering life.
  9. A forgiving life.
  10. A rejoicing life.

There is no place in Scripture where I have found success measured by numerical or financial growth, by strategic development and implementation or by climbing the ladder of influence, power and control. These are man’s measurements that have the appearance of wisdom, to be sure, but they deny the measurements of God. In our zeal for ministry success, let’s be sure to measure the advice we are reading and hearing against the words of the ultimate determinator of success, the Lord God Almighty, found in the Word of God. Take what nugget of advice we might find in another book, evaluate it’s consequences in light of the Word of God and prayerfully implement it only after asking God to give us the wisdom to do so. Success is not doing, it is being.

“Then Jesus said to the disciples, ‘If any of you wants to be my followers, you must put aside your selfish ambition, shoulder your cross, and follow me. If you try to keep your life for yourself, you will lose it. But it you give up your life for me, you will find true life…For I, the Son of Man, will come in the glory of my Father with his angels and will judge all people according to their deeds.'” Matthew 16:24-27 NLT.

“But many who seem to be important now will be the least important then, and those who are considered least here will be the greatest then.” Matthew 19:30 NLT

“Jesus relied, ‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind. this is the first and greatest comandment. A second is equally important: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the other commandments and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.'” Matthew 22:37-40 NLT

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