We all crave for success, but how do we know when we’ve really “made it”? Is it by your salary, job title, and achievements in life? Or, do you consider yourself successful when you’ve proved your naysayers wrong or sailed ahead of your fiercest rivals? Perhaps your lifegoal is to ensure you have a solid retirement plan in place, so you won’t have to depend on the next generation to survive.
We all have different measures for success. It could be determined by our parents, our peers, or by the changing standards of this world. But as Christians, the more important question is to ask ourselves, “Who defines our success?”
You might feel like you’re far from successful, or your life has been marked by disappointments, failures, and setbacks. But when God’s the one defining our success, we know that He has a different set of measures in mind.
What really matters to God’s heart when it comes to success? Here are some suggestions.
1. Prioritise faithfulness
Numbers help us track how we’ve grown, but as Matthew 25:23 shows us, it is faithfulness that pleases God’s heart. Perhaps you’ve experienced a string of setbacks and disappointments, and you’re tempted to throw in the towel. But instead of looking at how far we are from our end goal, let’s use these setbacks to push us towards greater dependency on God (2 Corinthians 12:10).
Success begins when we understand that our talents and resources are gifts entrusted to us, and recognise that failures and setbacks are part of God’s process in developing our perseverance (Romans 5:3-5), so that we may become mature and complete (James 1:4).
So perhaps, instead of asking ourselves, “How much further do I have to push myself?”, why not ask, “Does God take delight in what I’m doing?” And more importantly, how well am I stewarding what God has given me? Am I actively growing in my gifts or finding ways to hone my skills?
If you’re tired of facing setbacks and disappointments, take heart in knowing that God can use them to help us become mature and complete.
2. Don’t get caught in comparison
Many of us probably grew up with the sting of comparison—and with the rise of social media, it’s become all too easy for us to look at each other’s highlight reels and feel like we’ve achieved nothing in comparison. Maybe we’re tired of seeing photos of our friends’ happy families while we’re still struggling to accept our singleness as a gift. Perhaps that old school friend’s latest cushy job has got us green in envy and wondering what we’ve been missing out in life.
If that’s you, you might identify with Peter’s question to Jesus when He told him what kind of death awaited him. Pointing towards the other disciples, Peter asked, “Lord, what about him?” To his surprise, Jesus responded, “What is it to you? You must follow me” (John 21:22). Perhaps, like Peter, we too need to hear the same words from Jesus and not get distracted by where others are at, but focus on following God’s lead in our own journey.
As 1 Corinthians 12:4-6 reminds us, we’re all given a different set of gifts, called to different forms of service, and will see God working in our lives in different ways—but it is the same God who empowers us and calls us to obedience to Him. It doesn’t matter if we’re slow starters, hit roadblocks along the way, or need more help to strengthen our feeble knees at the end of our race—the endgoal is the same.
Instead of pitting ourselves against one another, why not ask ourselves, how can we run alongside and spur each other on to finish our race well (Hebrews 12:15)?
If you’re grappling with a sense of failure and inadequacy, remember that God has crafted different journeys for us to lead us to Himself.
3. Keep your eyes on the ultimate prize
You’ve reached the dizzying height of success, but it’s left you feeling a little empty. Or you feel the pressure to keep achieving even more to keep that thrill of success. Or perhaps, you have become so overly focused on building a good career, growing your wealth, or building your reputation, that like the rich man in Luke 12:16-21, you’ve started to put your trust in your hard work, your talents, and your intelligence, not in God and His provision.
When we’re consumed with staying on top, it can be easy to forget what this life is really all about. But as James 4:14 reminds us, our lives are like a mist—here today and gone tomorrow. If our lives are taken away from us in a night, “who will get what [we] have prepared for [ourselves]” (Luke 12:20)?
In Matthew 22:36-40, Jesus sums up our purpose in life with these two commandments: Love God and love others. What are you using your success for? Is it to build a good life for yourself or God’s Kingdom? Are you being rich towards God and using what’s in your hand to help those in need?
While it’s not wrong to seek and pursue earthly success—and we should definitely celebrate them when they come (Ecclesiastes 5:18-19)—let’s remember not to allow our success to distract us from seeking and building God’s Kingdom above all else.
If your earthly success has left you feeling jaded and disillusioned, look up and consider how you can use what God’s given you to build His kingdom.
4. Put your stock in what’s truly secure
Many of us believe hard work is the key to success. But what happens when you’ve put in all the hard work, come up with a solid 5-year-plan, and done all the right things—but life seems to be leading you nowhere?
If there’s one guarantee in this life, it’s that nothing is guaranteed! As the wise Teacher reminds us, we may “Ship your grain across the seas; after many days you may receive a return. Invest in seven ventures, yes, in eight: you do not know what disaster may come upon the land” (Ecclesiastes 11:1).
Our success and failure remind us that we’re not fully in control of our destiny, and that success is dependent on God, “the Maker of all things” (Ecclesiastes 11:5), not on our ability, efforts, or intuition. Fruitful lives matter to Jesus, but true success is about remaining in the vine (John 15:5), remembering that apart from him, we “can do nothing”.
When we do so, we can rest from the anxiety of making success happen on our own, but entrust the outcomes of what we do into His hands.
If you feel like you’ve been toiling endlessly without any fruit, take a step back to rest in Him and entrust the outcomes into His hands.
5. Focus on finishing well
The Bible is full of examples of characters, like King Saul, who started out well, performed great deeds over the course of their lives, but didn’t quite end well (1 Samuel 16:1). Their lives remind us that it’s not about how fast we rise to the top, but how far we can go. It’s not about short-lived glory, but finishing our race well (Ecclesiastes 7:8).
Is our success only for this world or also the world to come? How are we setting our eyes on our eternal purpose, knowing that the prize we’re aiming for is one that is imperishable and enduring (1 Corinthians 9:25)? At the end of our lives, will the sum of our existence be measured by what we’ve done or achieved, or by how we’ve proclaimed God’s truths and wonders to the next generation (Psalm 71:18, 145:4)?
If you’re wondering what’s the point of it all, work towards an eternal purpose that will outlast our lives on earth.