So in the last post I explored several common definitions of success, and settled on a road definition that involved “getting the best out of life”, maximizing my potential and getting what I want.
But for me as a Christian, success has to be more than that. Prior to me getting what I want, I want my desires to be reshaped in accordance to what God wants from me and from the world. (Romans 12.1-2)
So here’s an even more basic question: does God want us to be successful?
There is a large segment of American Christianity that answers an unequivocal yes. They say that God wants his people to be rich and prosperous. They say it on television and invite you to call in for special blessings and plant a seed of faith (read: money) in their ministry. We’ve successfully exported this to the third-world. It’s called the prosperity gospel.
It seems like the success gospel could be a near cousin.
I think about this teaching.
Then I consider all the saints who have endured and embraced the path of suffering throughout church history.
I consider the fact that the majority of Christians in the 2/3 world still live in relative poverty and pain.
I consider the fact that when God himself came to earth he identified with the poor, was summarily rejected and crucified. (He also rose again, but he was beaten to a pulp and to hung naked on a cross first).
I consider Mother Teresa’s statement about her ministry to the poor and dying in Calcutta: “God did not call me to be successful; he called me to be faithful.”
Taking this into consideration, it seems like God doesn’t want a significant portion of faithful people to be successful – AT LEAST when it comes to how most of us would define success.
It also seems like there is another side to this. While most people fear failure, there are many good reasons to fear success:
Success means added pressure to keep performing, to literally enhance our performances. Success can be a merciless master. It’s the reason why winning one SuperBowl isn’t enough, or why Rocky had to keep proving that he wasn’t a bum through endless sequels.
Success often means distinguishing yourself from others and it’s lonely at the top.
Success can corrupt you. There are countless examples of this, whether it be athletes who live an entitled lifestyle, musicians who “sold out”, or politicians who used their power oppressively. We can add the “success” of the Church to the list (study the history of the Popes pre-Reformation).
Bottom line: maybe we should not so quickly rush to join our culture in its zeal to measure our worth or significance by how successful things appear to be.
Does God want us to be successful? Maybe.
Maybe we have to begin by refining our definition of success.
Question: Does God want us to be successful? What do you think?