Friday, August 02, 2013

Redefining Success

How do you define success? There are many different definitions. Some measure success by the bank account balance, house size, or number of toys. Others would look at the letters beside their name, the recognition of peers, or plaques on the wall. Still others would simply look around them and gauge success by comparing themselves with their neighbors. What about you?

For many, it's probably not something that is consciously done, but rather, success would be what makes them feel good about themselves. So, again, for some success is a rare thing indeed. There are many who I have encountered over the years who hardly ever feel good about themselves.

I've thought long and hard about this subject over the years, and done a lot of striving and struggling to reach what I thought were worthy goals. More often than not, in my younger years, I was trying to reach some arbitrary benchmark. "I'll be successful when I get my first real job," or "when I get married... have children... buy a house... get out of debt, earn a promotion, etc..."

At one point I realized that a great part of my struggle was in trying, in my mind, to measure up to what I believed my father expected of me. That always seemed to be a moving target. For a great many men that I speak with, that is a common refrain. We fathers, while usually well-meaning, have a hard time communicating to our children that we love them and are proud of them. The result is a lot of men with driven personalities for whom enough is never enough. But that's a different subject.

A number of years ago I actually sat down and reflected upon what it meant to be successful. How is it defined? How is it measured? How do we know that we've achieved success? I realized that we can't begin with this question, or we are driven again to arbitrariness. It really leads to an existential question, why are we here?

The answer to this question frames the question of success, and the answer comes from one's worldview. For many who believe that we humans are simply the byproduct of the impersonal + time + chance any answer to this question must, of necessity, be purely subjective. We define success for ourselves. The problem with this self-definition is that the payoff for achieving success is fleeting, followed by the question, "now what?"    

But for those who believe in a Biblical interpretation of reality, our reason for being leads us back to a Creator God who made us on purpose. He made us for Himself and intended for us to live our lives in relationship with Him. The Westminster Larger Catechism  states that "Man's chief and highest end is to glorify God, and fully to enjoy him forever." This ancient teaching reminds us that we are not here to serve ourselves.

When Jesus was challenged by some of the legalists of his day to tell them what was the greatest commandment in the law, he replied, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37-40) So, Jesus tells us that the chief aim of our life is to walk in proper relationship with God.  

I have a definition of success that I've used for many years now: success is finding what God wants me to do and doing it. This, of course, begins with relationship. God wants us, first and foremost, to be reconciled with him. If we have never come to the place where we've acknowledged our sin and our need of God, that is the first step to take. Everything else flows out of that. God, who created us, knows what is best for us. We are to live our lives in such a way as to maintain that relationship.

I often have people ask me, "how do I know what God wants me to do?" My response is that most of God's will for your life and mine is revealed in Scripture: how we ought to live, treat others, handle our money, etc... When we are exposing ourselves to God's Word and spending time in prayer we learn to hear his voice - maybe not in an audible, weird way, but he still speaks to us. For a good book on the subject, read Bill Hybel's book, "The Power of a Whisper."  

I like this definition because it grounds my life in ultimate reality. This is God's world, after all. History is His Story. He calls us up into that greater story to play our part. I hope that, when I've come to the end of my life, I can say with the Apostle Paul in 2 Timothy 4:7, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith." This, to me, will be success.

Related Articles: 
Made For Relationship
Deserved Praise 
Book Review: The Leadership Secrets of Billy Graham
Which Me Will You Be?
Falling Idols

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