We all want to be successful. But what is success? Our definitions each vary a bit based on the things that are most important to us. The way I see it, our measurements of success are grown from some concoction of culture, personal experiences, family/friends, and individual faith.
Our definitions of success are not something we say, although we sure do try. We can say anything we want—anything that makes us look or feel better. We’re so good at this that we often believe our own lies.
Our personal definitions of success are actually more genuinely-defined by what we spend our time pursuing. It’s something that is shown. Jesus hinted to this when He said that our treasures are naturally located where our hearts are (Matthew 6:21).
As you wake up and do whatever it is you do, what convinces you it’s all worthwhile? Is it the pleasure, the money, the fun? Or is it something deeper—the source of that pleasure, money, and fun?
Whether you want to admit it or not, this motivation reveals your definition of success. It’s also what dictates the lenses through which you see the world. These two ideas—your definition of success and your worldview—are virtually interchangeable.
Now, whether what you say your definition of success is matches what your life displays your definition of success to actually be—that is something we all wrestle with. They often do not.
It’s a shame that so many of us live in ways that disregard the fact that we are mysteriously alive in the first place. Our worldviews often begin halfway through the whole equation. They gloss over the fact that we are breathing, thinking and feeling, acting like there is nothing special about these facts. I believe that any worldview equation that doesn’t begin with the acknowledgement of a creator is an incomplete equation. It can only lead to a distorted worldview because, without Him, the created thing doesn’t exist to pursue at all. The sentimental feeling of having created things at all is also His doing.
God speaks directly about this in Isaiah 42: 5-8.
“This is what God the LORD says—he who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and all that comes out of it, who gives breath to its people, and life to those who walk on it; I, the LORD, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand. I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles, to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison, and to release from the dungeon those who are in darkness.
“I am the LORD; that is my name! I will not give my glory to another or my praise to idols (NIV).”
When we take the miracles all around us and in us for granted, the way we live and think is defined by the pursuit of the items, thoughts, and feelings themselves rather than the source of each of those things. Defining success through these created things, in my view, is the blindness, prison-like darkness that God was speaking of in the verses above.
We rob ourselves of wonder and humility if we expect to receive love without first acknowledging where love came from or the miracle of how we can feel it to begin with. We take money for granted if we don’t consider where the feeling of true value originated. We lose the true meaning of work if we don’t understand why and how we were first designed to work, and with what purpose.
Believing in God doesn’t mean much unless His existence impacts your values—your demonstrated values. If your worldview doesn’t start with Him, and if the way you define success isn’t based on where He is trusted and pursued in your life, then regardless of who you say God is, you’re pursuing a different god.
Although our culture and government each fight endlessly to convince us otherwise, the point of life isn’t to get the job, make the money, buy the toy or, in my immediate case, catch the flight. It’s not even about looking the best, winning the girl, or having the kids. To live as if it is any of these things will only reveal a gaping hole in our satisfaction.
These things exist and are not evil. They’re necessary parts of the life God calls us to live. But He calls us to treat them as parts, not the whole. Tools for His project rather than projects in and of themselves.
The purpose of life is to live with our focus on God, acknowledging that everything we want to chase after and do is only here because of Him. The point is to live in relationship with our Creator, and to do it in such a way that others acknowledge Him and grow closer to Him as well. Our first and true success is being in community with Him, through Christ. Everything else we achieve is part of how we enjoy that success.
“Seek first the kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33).