by Michael Kelley
How do you measure success?
All of us, I think, have some internal barometer by which we measure ourselves. And we apply that measure to all different kinds of activities. We apply it to everything from our career to our families to our relationships all the way down to our daily diet.
And of course we do. Because we all want to be successful, whatever that means in our particular version of it. But the problem with our version of success is the same problem we have with all of life – because of sin, this definition is misshapen. It’s warped and marred. It’s broken.
As a result of its brokenness, we need to feel successful in order to validate ourselves as people. We need that mark of achievement to make ourselves feel secure and worthwhile and, ultimately, lovable by others.
In other words, we fundamentally look to our definition of “success” to do that which can only truly and lastingly be accomplished in Jesus. But when we believe the gospel, when we become the children of God by faith alone and in Christ alone, we see our definition of success start to change.
How specifically does that happen? I’d suggest at least these three ways that, by God’s grace, I’m seeing in my own life:
1. Success is less about metrics and more about faithfulness.
If success was truly all about achieving some metric, then Jesus was an absolute failure. Abandoned by His friends, having failed to seize the momentum that was His, Jesus completely dropped the ball. But Jesus knew that success was ultimately measured in faithfulness to what God had called Him to do and be, and that’s precisely what He is and did.
In the same respect, there are all kinds of ways we might achieve some kind of metric. We might bend the financial rules in order to meet the required revenue at work, we might take advantage of others in order to climb the ladder, we might sacrifice our integrity on any number of altars to produce the right result. But the gospel reminds us that obedience to the will of God is what we are after.
2. Success is less about what you’re doing than who you’re becoming.
Apart from Christ, we will almost inevitably define success in terms of accomplishment. We have to keep getting promoted, we have to keep making more money, we have to keep moving up in the social circle. But the gospel steps onto this devastating treadmill and simply states, “Enough.”
When we believe the gospel, we come to understand that God is going to shape us into the image of Jesus. And to do that, He’s going to use any and everything at His disposal. One of the most effective tools He uses for this shaping is our failure. For it’s when we fail that we are pushed to remember again and again who we really are – that no matter whether or not we achieve some other measure of success, we are once and always children of God.
If God’s aim for us, then, is to be like Jesus, then the gospel helps us deal with failure by refocusing us not on what we are doing (or failing to do) but instead who God is making us to be.
3. Success is less about what you’re accomplishing than who you’re influencing.
We are people-users. This is one of the ways all our relationships are broken by sin. We will always default to looking at others as tools to be used for our own benefit our pleasure. And when we do that, we often find that people are a great stepping stone for our own goals.
But the gospel reshapes how we see others. No longer do we see them as tools of utility, but fellow image-bearers of God. We begin to understand that we cannot leave a wake of bodies in our pathway, no matter how much doing so might propel us toward some goal we have.
Consider today, friends, how you define success, no matter where you find yourself. Consider it, and then let the gospel speak through the power of the Holy Spirit. When we do that, we will stand apart from a world of people who are clamoring for their own piece of the pie.