I love the sense of humor of some people, including the anonymous author who wrote the following about success:
There are just two rules for success:
1) Never tell all you know.
Sarcasm aside, success can be defined many ways. The definition you chose is dependent upon your identity and your values. Success for one person might be considered a dismal failure for another. For a safe and politically correct example, consider baseball. A professional baseball player with a batting average of .300 is typically considered a star, especially if he keeps his average up for many years.
But what about a player whose batting average rarely, if ever, tops .125? Could he be considered a success? Yes, if the player is a pitcher, even in the National League where pitchers go to bat.
So, success has some parameters and limits on its definition in order that the definition can make sense personally. The game of baseball is not the only area where a definition has to make sense in context. In the realm of defending criminals in court (something I did not do) the definition of success can be difficult. I have a friend who tried capital cases in a Public Defender’s Office in Florida. Most of his clients had problems that made “winning” their cases difficult; most were guilty and they were not smart enough not to leave lots of evidence against themselves. My friend’s definition of success was often limited to whether he could avoid the death penalty for his client.
The definition of success also is flexible for most other professions. A teacher with students starting far below the average can’t be expected to have results comparable to a teacher in a highly ranked school with higher performing students. A salesman of an unpopular product can hardly match up to the sales of a candy salesman near Halloween.
So, let’s define success carefully in terms of where you are and where you reasonably would like to be, using reasonable goals and parameters.
How would you describe yourself (both who you are and what you do)? Before I ever really gave the question serious thought, my response was “I am (or was) a lawyer.” However, that was a poor answer and far from a genuine statement of who I believe am. For over 40 years, my profession and work was as a trial lawyer. But far more importantly to me, I am a Christ-follower and a husband of an amazing, now-retired kindergarten teacher. That more completely, accurately and honorably describes who I really am.
The question “What do you do?” as well as the question “Where do you live?” and the harder request, “Tell us about yourself” all present challenges. The challenges are on your priorities and perspectives and those of the person(s) inquiring. Often such an inquiry starts a relationship with impressions of your level of success as the inquirer views success. The answer can lead to impressions of how “impressive” your job is, how much you make, how smart you are, whether you live in a good neighborhood, or other views of what is or is not successful to the inquirer.
Start to frame your response to those and other similar inquiries based upon what you want to communicate about yourself, what you consider most important.
Is money that important to you? It certainly is to much of America because success is often measured by the value of your home, your neighborhood, the car you drive and the job you hold. Those are all based upon your accomplishments in the work world. But what people will never ask, perhaps never know, but which often goes hand-in-hand with wealth is the debt, the stress and the loss of family time that comes with that type of worldly success. The median American household income in 2020 was $67,500 with an accompanying average household debt of $145,000. Of course, if we are talking about success, we are talking about someone doing much better than the average.
However, is that really the standard by which you want to measure your life? If it is, plan on many hours away from home, children who grow up without you, possibly a two-income household, and many tired nights due to efforts to combine work, parenting and home ownership.
Instead, consider alternative ways to measure success. The many alternatives may not give you as many toys in the closets and garage, but may leave you with children who know and love you and a lot less stress. Try measuring your success by your integrity, your faithfulness to God and your loved ones, service to God and your loved ones, your family, your friends and how you are viewed by those who know you best.
God has given us some guidelines in this area.
16 For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.
Efforts to meet the world’s definition of success almost inevitably lead to exactly what James warned against, envy and selfish ambition. Those can then lead you to bad judgment in reaching the false goals of the world.
On that topic, Christian author Oswald Chambers wrote, “Our spiritual life cannot be measured by success as the world measures it, but only by what God pours through us – and we cannot measure that at all.” From My Utmost for His Highest: Traditional Updated Edition.
Chambers is right. So instead of trying wealth, power, position, or the other ways of the world, perhaps there is a better way.
Try it God’s way
Success that means something and that lasts is success in the eyes of God, our Creator and Sustainer. Any other success is temporary at best and possibly just an illusion.
British Theologian James I. Packer wrote in Christianity Today:
“Faithfulness, Godliness, and loving service are the divine measure of real success …”
The author of Hebrews instructed us in a similar way when he wrote that we were to “throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, …” Hebrews 12:1.
James, the brother of Jesus gives us the final piece, that we are to be doers of the Word, faithful not just to read it but to act upon God’s instructions to us. James 1:22. God is looking for followers who read, and then act in accordance with His Word.
To be a success in God’s eyes, consider three steps for believers to take:
• Surrender. Jesus did despite the pain and suffering ahead. Luke 22:42. Each of us needs to submit completely to God and allow His Spirit to take control of our lives. Life is not about us; it is about God. History properly defined is His story.
• Obey. We are called to be stewards of all of the resources God has given to us. Those resources include our lives, skills, abilities, influence, time, and financial resources. The choices we make with all that we have should reflect faithful stewardship of all God has so generously given to us.
• Persevere. Nothing in life is easy, at least nothing worth doing. We will face both worldly opposition and difficulties and often Satanic difficulties. Through all trials, we know that God is building us up.
3 Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance;
4 perseverance, character; and character, hope.
An anonymous Christian author wrote well of success and I cannot say it better:
“The formula for success is Be, Do, Have. If we seek abundance, we must be abundant in spirit. We can begin to cultivate spiritual wealth by opening our hearts in gratitude. Start a gratitude journal today. Each evening, write down at least 5 things for which you are grateful. This simple tool will help you open your eyes to the abundance of your world right now.”
Be authentic about your relationship to Christ, live out that authenticity in your daily life, and know that we all have a great deal for which we should be grateful.
15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.
About the Author
John Campbell has retired from a 40-year legal practice as a trial attorney in Tampa. He has served in multiple volunteer roles at Idlewild Baptist Church in Lutz, Florida, where he met Jesus. He began serving as the Executive Director of the Idlewild Foundation in 2016. He has been married to the love of his life, Mona Puckett Campbell, since 1972.