Thursday, November 18, 2010

What is Success?

Everyone feels pressure to be someone. The influences around us, in the form of people, media, and culture, scream and push and pull us one way or another. One of the main things we feel the need to be is successful. But what defines success? How do we know if what we do, who we are, is successful?

This is what Everett Bogue, a minimalist blogger, wrote about what our society thinks success means, as seen by the barrage of advertisements:

"- Coca Cola wanted us to think success was sitting at the movies chugging cokes watching Tom Cruise dodge explosions.

- American Airlines wanted us to think of success as once a year taking an expensive flight to the caribbean.

- Nikon and Canon want you to believe that you'll be a famous photographer if you just buy one more camera lens."

Is success the size/style/make/ability/newness of your car, or house, or clothes, or gadgets?

Is success equal to your education level or grades?

Is success a job?

Is success a family?

Success to me, at its root, seems to be finding a goal or goals and setting out to accomplish them. But what should our goal in life be?

When I was little (I have no idea how old exactly, but sometime around middle school), I read a verse in the Bible that went like this:

"He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?"
- Micah 6:7

As I read those words I felt a great relief. I often felt bogged down as a child with the weight of wanting to do "right", but not knowing exactly how to do it. Yeah, obey your parents, don't steal, don't fight, blah blah blah... I felt like I knew the basics, but if that was all there was to being a God-follower, then that seemed pretty boring. It gave no direction on what I was supposed to do with my life! I knew that music was my talent, but how could I use something that seemed so mundane to "do right"? 

The answer came in looking deeper into Scripture. Over and over, the command to serve God came up, all through the ages. The nation of Israel was called to serve Him as their leader and God. The prophets were told to serve God as an example to the people when they went astray. What really struck me was the many stories of regular people, men and women, who were called to serve God in the life situation they were in currently. Sometimes they knew they were in a place to serve Him, other times it only became obvious later. There are dozens of stories all through the Old Testament that show individuals in the middle of their everyday lives being given the opportunity to serve God by following His commands to do right. 
I won't list out all the instances I'm talking about, because they are readily available for anyone who is interested in picking up a Bible and reading it with the intent of searching for these people and their stories. My church is going through the book of Ruth right now; it's a tiny book that most people forget about, but it focuses on one woman and the impact she had on history because of her desire to do what was right in the ordinary, common life she led. 

In the New Testament, I saw more evidence of regular people being called to serve God. Now, the twelve disciples of Jesus were called to a life of ministry out of their jobs as fishermen, tax collectors, etc., but I don't think that the average person is supposed to leave their job and fly to Africa to become a missionary (although that IS the calling for some people, so I'm not just dismissing it!). The disciples, after Jesus' death, resurrection, and ascension, didn't just sit around. They went out to the world and talked to ordinary people, young and old, male and female, slaves and wealthy. They taught many things, the central message being the saving grace of the God-man. What amazed me was that the people who were became believers were not told to drop everything and live a "Christian" life: they continued in their current vocation; all that changed were their intentions. 
Success is defined in the dictionary as "the accomplishment of an aim or purpose". It is safe to say then that having a purpose in life and working to fulfill that purpose is vital to being successful! The men and women in the Bible had found their purpose in life: to follow God by serving Him with their abilities and doing right, which meant doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with God. It went beyond following strictly the Laws of the Torah or the Ten Commandments. It was a purpose that transformed their entire lives, thought, word, and action. 

I firmly believe that every person has been given abilities to do particular things in life. They are gifts, because we can use them to help others. Unless something is particularly directed at doing wrong (people who steal, murder, cheat, lie, and so on), any vocation and any person's life can be used to serve God. 

When I look back on my life as I reach death, no matter how soon or long that may be from now, I want to be able to say that with the Lord's strength in me, I was successful. That by His power I was able to bring a tiny bit of justice to the world. That I sincerely loved kindness by showing it to others. That I walked with God and wanted to follow His will for my life. There would be nothing but failure and inevitable despair if I tried to do any of that on my own. I see in my heart the selfishness that sabotages my attempts to do right every day. But with God's spirit at work in me, there is the promise that I will not be broken, that no matter what happens, I will always see the purpose of life and do whatever I can to fulfill it. 

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