After someone recently read my Blog article on Vision (1/9/11), he pointed out that I had written of success without defining it. In that piece I had mentioned that having a sense of vision is crucial to success. It was a valid observation that rightly calls for some clarification because defining success is critical to vision for oneself and for a church, business, etc.
When it comes to success we find that everyone is pursuing it in one form or another, according to their own understanding. In other words it seems especially in our times that success is a deeply personal matter. This is consistent with the nature of post-modern thinking which tends to resist more objective notions of reality. Though it seems trite to say so, current thinking about success is largely a case of “everyone doing what is right in his own eyes.” For some success amounts to a form of self-fulfillment; for others it will mean a certain measure of material prosperity. Still others will think of success in terms of a certain level of popularity or an enviable place to live. In the end most pursue success quite vaguely and unconsciously. Success then is that ‘something’ that people pursue in their lives because they think they see it in someone else or imagine it to be that experience that would give them the ultimate kind of pleasure.
But is there a genuinely Christian definition of success? Is there something in Christian theology that would lead us to conclude that success is definable and achievable? Well yes, there is! While never defined as a specific word, there are many allusions to the nature and meaning of success. In the Bible, success is best summed up in the word, blessed. To be blessed means to have achieved a state of well-being in which one is at peace with oneself because of accomplishments in relation to God and others. So in Christian theology the ultimate idea of success would be to experience the favour of God to the extent of being at home with Him forever. I think if we were to ask Jesus what success is he would say it is “eternal life” and that “eternal life is to know God and his son, Jesus Christ” (John 17:3).
To Joshua, God said, “Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth: meditate in it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful” (Joshua 1:8). It is the same idea we see in Psalm 1 and also in Jeremiah 17:7, 8. In these passages success is illustrated as a healthy tree that continually produces fruit nourished by the waters by which it is planted. It brings to mind images of the tree of life described in the last chapter of the Bible.
From a Christian perspective, then, success is really about this essential connection with God that gives a person a sense of eternal well-being. It is experiencing the love that flows from the very heart of God and includes the creation of all that is good for the benefit of others. It is the pursuit of this eternal life with God which can also exist as an established fact in one’s life in the here and now.
So it is that Jesus said, “My food (or my whole reason for existence) is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work” (John 6:34). For him success in this life included a terrible death which ended with the words, “It is finished!” (John 19:30). So also St. Paul was able to come to the end of his life and say, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day – and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:7,8).
It is important to see in these expressions of success that it really has nothing to do with the accumulation of material possessions for their own sake. In fact, true success will inevitably entail deep suffeirng. Life in God includes an appreciation and enjoyment for what He has made but success is missed if the world itself becomes one’s focus in some way. Success views the world and its blessings, not as ends in themselves, but as a means of helping us experience and fulfill a larger purpose. Biblically, success is all about receiving God’s approval as in those classic words of Jesus’ parable: “Well done, good and faithful servant! … Come and share your master’s happiness” (Matthew 25:23).
From a Christian perspective then, for an individual to achieve success, he or she needs to pursue what Paul described as the “the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14). The Bible makes it plain otherwise that this involves both a confession of faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour as well as on-going obedience to Him. It is knowledge with a view to the worship of God and obedience to Him. And one’s personal vision is best defined by what constitutes God’s kind of success.
For a Christian, God’s idea of success should also determine his/her vision for work, family, business, and even recreation. A church’s vision for success entials how it can pursue the accomplishment of God’s will and purpose, summed up in the Great Commandment which is to love the Lord with all one’s heart, soul, and mind, as well as one’s neighbour as oneself (Matthew 22: 37), and the Great Commission to go and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19, 20). Since the latter especially is a measurable achievement, a church may judge whether it has been successful by whether or not it is making disciples who love the Lord with all their hearts, souls, and minds.