(This article first appeared on May, 2011 in the Light of Life)
Have you ever quizzed a kid about his/her future plan? If yes, the following lines must be familiar to you. “When I grow up I will earn a lot, buy a big house and drive the BMW” or “I will become like that actor, famous and always surrounded by fans” or “I will work in a big office like my dad”. In our modern society almost everyone believes that only the above mentioned things make a man’s life successful. All others who don’t possess those things envy those who have them and live their life in dreams of being successful one day in future.
Our world evaluates success by the symbols of power and wealth one possesses. If those symbols are missing in one person, he is ranked among the lowly. This trend has even crept in the Church. One gets recognition from other members only when he/she wears fine dress and drives a posh car. All these patterns point in one direction: Success is measured by the outward things and not by the inward criteria. With these things in mind, we shall ponder on the Christian concept of Success in the light of the Scriptures.
Symbols of power like position, authority, clout etc, and symbols of wealth like material possessions, pompous living etc are firmly entangled to the concept of success. Unless one gets hold of these things, he/she is unlucky, unfortunate and an utter failure. This standard set by the world drives people to pursue any means to achieve success. People of this orientation feel that it is okay to bend the rules and forget ethics in order to win the ‘rat race’ in which the world is caught in. They achieve what they want at the end, but they leave a trail of bodies, broken hearts on the way. Their philosophy becomes ‘the end justifies the means’ and ‘only by stepping on another person’s head one can go higher’.
The followers of Christ cannot be a part of these fanatic attempts to succeed, not because they are not destined to be successful but, because success as taught by the Word of God radically differs from the one world holds. Sadly, the church stands convicted on the dock for allowing worldly standards to influence its conduct, rather than it being salt and light to the world. Christians have ‘confirmed to the world’ without scruples. Instead of us setting a pattern for the world to follow, we follow the world shamelessly. Christ has ceased to be Lord over his body.
Gordon MacDonald says in his book “Ordering Your Private World” that worldly people are driven to achieve something to prove that someone else is wrong or to establish their worth by possessing the ‘symbols of power and wealth’ and get recognition and applause from others. Christians, on the other hand, are called by Lord Jesus Christ for a specific purpose. That purpose could be anything from ruling a country as a leader to working as a clerk in an insignificant office. Our success lies not in the possession of ‘symbols’ but in fulfilling the task or mission for which Christ has called us. His argument catches the essence of Christian concept of Success. We should not be driven but ought to be called.
One thing all the Christians would agree up on is that God has a plan for each of us, but we do not allow this knowledge to touch our daily lives. The usefulness of any knowledge depends on how much it is assimilated in our being. When the fact of ‘Plan of God’ is mere knowledge it is hard for us to accept the Lordship of Christ in all the areas of our activities and lives. We want to keep something for ourselves. The ego is still alive even after we claim to have died with Christ and rose to live a new and transformed life. When we apply the fact that ‘God has a plan for us’ in our lives, success denotes fulfilment of that plan and not other things which are not part of God’s plan. God might reward us by giving us the ‘symbols of power and wealth’ when we are committed to his plan, but this should not be our priority. If God rewards us, let us thank God and use those things for his glory, instead of being trapped by it.
Paul was completely given to this truth. He is writing to Colossians that he had been ‘commissioned’ by the Lord to be a servant and to proclaim the Word of God (Col 1.25). He also adds that “to this end I labour, struggling with all his energy” (1.29). Persecution is part of that labour and struggle which he is mentioning (1.24). Though from a worldly point of view, a educated Jew who is a Roman citizen have no need to struggle like this if only he could do something else other than preaching the gospel. But Paul was committed to do the will of God though it meant tough life full of discomfort, ridicule and hardships. His mission was to proclaim the gospel. He did that and was not distracted by any other things. His old friends might have considered him a failure in life, but he says in 1 Timothy 4: 7 that, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished the race”. He accomplished the mission for which God called him. That is the real success.
Christ is our model and guide of conduct. We can see that Jesus applied this fact that ‘God has a plan’ in his earthly life. He came with a mission. He strived hard to fulfil it. Each of his actions was directed to accomplish the work for which he came. On the cross he cried, “It is accomplished”. We also believe the work for which he came is done and it is for us to accept it or to reject it. Let us now pause and consider the work of Christ in human terms. Was Jesus Christ successful? I would say no. He lived like a vagabond. He did miracles, but out of thousands of blind, lame, deaf and sick in the Roman Empire he could heal only few. The percentage of healing compared to the total number of invalid people in the Palestine region could be very minimal. He died like a criminal on the cross, charged with treason. Was he successful? From heaven’s perspective: Yes; but from worldly perspective: No.
Life of Christ and Paul’s lifestyle gives us the Christian perspective. It is not being famous, well-to-do or recognised by people makes us successful, but rather doing the will of God for our lives make us successful. Remember, we are called. We do set our priorities, plan for the future, make schedules but ultimately we submit it in God’s hand and say “God if these things are your will, help me to do it perfectly”. When we are confident that God wants us to do one particular thing, we give our best to fulfil it, be it great things in the sight of people or inconsequential things which would not be recognized by anyone. We should sell ourselves for the primary purpose for which God has called us.
The world in which we live is full of strife and conflict. The reason is that each treats their neighbour as a competitor. Each tries to ‘manipulate’, ‘utilise’, ‘use’ the people around them for their elevations. Distortion, lies, malpractices abound in our society. People make use of every opportunity and persons to promote their agendas. The religion and morality becomes a part of their lives only if it supports their claims and help them to achieve what they want. Instead of fitting into the wonderful purpose of God, man tries vainly to fit God into his plan and purpose. It takes lots of humility and faith to accept the will of God in our lives. Only then we would be successful in the Christian sense.
Thus, it is God’s purpose in our lives and our fulfillment of it, which determines our success. We should never get caught in the patterns of the world. A student should treat his studies as God given responsibility and a labourer should treat his work as his vocation given by God. A man who handles the photo copy machine in a Seminary once said that, “I am serving God by helping these men of God to make photo-copies and study better”. There is a saying which touched me immensely, “If a person is called to be a sweeper, he should sweep the streets just as Michael Angelo painted and Beethoven composed his music, so that when angels pass by they would stop and say here lived a sweeper who did his job well”.