Defining Success


(Originally published 8/28/13)

I’ve been thinking about success a lot lately. It was never really something I considered much because to me it used to mean ‘go to work, don’t get fired, get home safely.’ Mission accomplished. I never really aimed high in any job or position I had because I’ve never been career oriented.

Don’t get me wrong, I had work ethic and I always (usually) tried to give my best to my job, whatever it was at the time. After all, I was called to do all things to the glory of God and I was gonna put my back into it. But it was never for the glory of me. So long as I got my paycheck, I was happy.

Then I started writing. And now all of a sudden, success is not only a goal, it’s a necessity. And by success I mean a published manuscript. And maybe a writing award or two couldn’t hurt. The thing that bothers me, though, is how desperately I want it. Need it, even.

A few months ago, publishing my book wasn’t even a priority. Now, if it doesn’t happen, I will feel like a completely worthless failure. I feel that pressure on a daily basis. And the thing is, I don’t think God cares all that much if I get published.

I set out to glorify Him with my writing and I really did strive toward that end. At first.

Now? I can tell I’m striving for my own glory.

The reasoning that I need to do this for God is a laughable lie. The Bible tells us that all our best efforts are as filthy rags to Him (Is.64:6). Furthermore, neither he who sows nor he who waters is anything; it is God Who gives the increase (1Cor. 3:7). I could win a Pulitzer and it would be only by the extraordinary grace of God.

I keep forgetting that He is the one who gets to define success. I may have this grand idea of what His plan should look like but only He knows the end game. And it could have nothing to do with books. Not to mention, I can achieve nothing without Him.

In Luke 19, Jesus tells the story of two servants who were faithful with their master’s money and gained an increase for him. Yet look what they say when he asks them how they did;

‘The first came and said, “Sir, your mina has earned ten more.”’

Luke 19:16

See? These servants recognized that they alone were nothing and there was nothing they could do for their master without his help. Even when they went out and worked with the gifts he had given them and produced a profit, they surrendered the extra with a humble heart that said, “Look what You have done.”

God doesn’t need me. He doesn’t need any of us. He didn’t even need great Biblical heroes. Remember Jonah, who was so dead set on leaving the people of Nineveh to die in their sins? He headed the other way and God sent a fish to swallow him and put him back on course. Was that because God needed Johan in order to save the people of Nineveh? Jonah 3:4 says

‘Jonah began by going a day’s journey into the city, proclaiming, “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.”’

Does verse 5 say that Jonah then got on his face and fasted for thirty days and tore his clothes and wept and begged and pleaded with the people until, after many years of living among them and pouring his life out for them, they finally repented? Nope. It says,

The Ninevites believed God. A fast was proclaimed, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth.’

Whoosh. Just like that. God did not need Jonah. He saved the people of Nineveh because He is good and merciful and because He loved them. And he sent Jonah because He loved him and wanted to do a work in his heart.

It is so easy to fall into the mindset that we have to be successful in order to be valuable, to God, to ourselves, to the world, etc. But that is such a lie. Jesus died for us, while we were yet sinners (Rom. 5:8). There was nothing we could do to earn that. We weren’t even alive yet. And there is nothing we can do now to make it up to Him.

He adopted us not because of any merit on our part, but because He, in His unfathomable love and goodness, chose to love us.

Chose to love me. Chose to love you. Because HE is good.

And even if we were rejected by every other person on earth, God would remain faithful and His love would be more than sufficient.

So what does it look like to be a successful Christian? Mother Teresa once said, “I am not called to be successful; I am called to be faithful.” Good point, but I think it’s even more than that.

More than striving and working hard for the kingdom, I think that true success is finally, finally, accepting what we mean to God. I think it means resting in His love for us, setting our value in Him and not in the world. Fully accepting His freely given love, grace, and forgiveness. And walking in that.

When my life is said and done, I want to know that I was successful in delighting in the fact that I am the beloved daughter of the awesome Kind of kings.


About Leah Ness

I am a self-professed story addict. Ever since I was little, I've had an overactive imagination and a passion for a well-spun yarn. When I grew up, I was blessed with a passion for God as well. It was then that I noticed a relative shortage of unique Christian fiction, the kind that can both captivate you and glorify God. So, despite the hurdles of things like commas and homonyms, I am endeavoring to write some of my own. Check out my Books page for updates on current and future books. View all posts by Leah Ness

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