What is success?
Our culture is consumed with a particular vision of success. But this vision of success often is counter to what the Bible teaches about our purpose as believers in the Lord Jesus Christ.
What ought we to believe about attaining success? Are you successful? Is our school successful? How will we know when we attain success? Should success be our goal? Perhaps a more useful question is, What is not success?
I came across a wonderful article at the Gospel Coalition’s blog by Emily T. Wierenga called “8 Lies Christians Believe About Success” that helps us and also challenges our subchristian or unchristian notions of success. I commend it to you to read prayerfully.
I have spent my whole life trying to be successful. I thought it was what we were supposed to do. Worse than that, I thought success was the mark of a blessed Christian.
If God loves you he’ll bless you, says the prayer of Jabez and North America’s favorite verse, Jeremiah 29:11. His desire is to prosper us, not to harm us—to give us hope and a future.
Just look at all those megachurches, with their million-dollar sanctuaries. Look at all those bestselling Jesus-loving authors and speakers.
But then there are the 21 Egyptians, or the 30 Ethiopians, martyred for their Christian faith. There are the faithful pastors who don’t have megachurches, who suffer heartache and setbacks. And there is my own journey as a Christian author, through anorexia, miscarriage, and anxiety. And there are countless other believers who do the right thing, who say the right prayers, who believe, and yet who know the anguish of Job.
At some point in my life, Christianity had become a magic wand instead of a humble posture.
Here are some lies we in the church often believe about success.
1. Bigger is better.
No, in fact, small is good. Small is the only way to get into the kingdom of heaven. We are to become like a child. A child is defenseless, dependent. A child has no “status” in today’s world. He or she doesn’t strive, but rather dwells. “Unless you become like one of these,” Jesus says, “you will not enter the kingdom” (Matt. 18:3).
2. God’s blessing is tangible.
Blessed are the poor, blessed are the meek, blessed are those who grieve, blessed are those who hunger and thirst, blessed are the pure in heart. These beatitudes have nothing to do with physical or material blessings, and everything to do with entering eternal life now by knowing Christ fully.
3. God helps those who help themselves.
When God tells us to become like a child, he doesn’t mean “become like a child emotionally but make sure you have life insurance and pension and a stocked pantry.” No, he means seek first the kingdom of heaven and all of these things—the food, the clothing, the future—will be added unto you. He wants to take care of us while we devote ourselves to him. And it will probably mean appearing foolish to the rest of the world.
4. You are what you make of yourself.
There’s a lot of pressure to speak up, to be assertive, and to make your name known lest you get lost in a sea of pixels. But Jesus says the last shall be first. Despite being God, he made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant and becoming obedient to death—even a cursed death on a cross (Phil. 2:5–11). He trusted God to glorify him, even as he emptied himself of glory. We’re called to do the same.
5. Suffering is a sign of failure.
When did North American culture become averse to pain? If we begin to feel uncomfortable, we pop a pill. If we struggle with depression or discouragement, or if we encounter a terrible diagnosis, we rush to therapy or the doctor instead of first going to the Father and asking him what he wants us to learn through this suffering. God uses suffering for our good, even if it should end in death. We carry around within us the death of Christ, and we will never know the power of Christ’s resurrection if we don’t enter first into suffering.
6. If it feels good, do it.
We are big on praying for answers, but not big on waiting for them. We figure if we’ve prayed about something, it’s been heard and blessed. But God so often asks us to wait for his timing, and this waiting hurts. It’s so hard to be patient when you want something now. The world, and the prosperity gospel, teach us to seize opportunities and chase after our dreams. But the Bible says, “Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Ps. 37:4). Become pliable to the Lord, submit yourself to him, and then He will give you the desires of your heart. Why? Because his desires will have become your desires, not the other way around.
7. Believe in yourself and anything is possible.
On the contrary, we are like dust. Apart from Jesus, we are nothing (John 15:5). Indeed, God “chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; he chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him” (1 Cor. 1:27–29).
8. Only trust what you can see.
Our faith depends on the unseen. True value and true success cannot be measured, it won’t be witnessed or grasped until we reach heaven. Look at Hebrews 11. Consider these Christians of the past who “were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect” (Heb. 11:39–40).
They never received what they were promised, and yet they believed until the end—because they knew life wasn’t finally about them. They knew they were but a thread in a beautiful tapestry of faith God was weaving through his people. Many of us have lost this collective sense of story, trying independently to make a mark. But what would happen if we laid down our lives for one another, for the greater story, for the gospel?
I spent my whole childhood thinking the point of life was to become an adult. Now I’m spending my adulthood trying to be like a child. Because that’s where the pearl is (Matt. 13:45–46).