I am turning 29 this year and I can’t help but wonder to myself, “what have I achieved in this life that I have lived?” I thought by 29 I would be somewhat successful: a brand manager of an internationally acclaimed company; married with 3 children, living in a modest mansion in an estate; and driving a pretty decent German car, but nothing too fancy since I’m not really into cars. I thought I would be more of a success.
I feel like I have done nothing with my life and achieved nothing.
What Have I Done with My Life?
But, from where I’m standing, the thought of approaching 30 makes me cringe. I feel like I have done nothing with my life and achieved nothing. I seem far from what we might term ‘successful.’ How many of us feel this way? We can assume that the answer to that question is: all of us.
But do we ever wonder why we feel this way? It surely has something to do with the advertisements bent on making us discontent consumers. What about social media? Daily our feeds are flooded with images that show our friends and colleagues flourishing. The fast, flashy and financially flush Joburg lifestyle beckons from every quarter. So, we measure our success by comparison and accumulation.
The fast, flashy and financially flush Joburg lifestyle beckons from every quarter.
Does God Care About My ‘Success’?
Yet I wonder if God was to look at us, was to look at me, would he deem me as someone successful? Does God even care whether I’m successful or not? How would he want me as a young Christian to go about being ambitious and wanting to be successful? We would benefit from reflecting on such questions more often than we tend to.
One dictionary definition of success is “the attainment of fame, wealth or social status” or “the accomplishment of an aim or purpose.” Of course many of us would argue that the meaning of success is a personal thing, subjectively determined. But what does God say about success, if anything?
What Does the Bible Say?
Some biblical verses speak about success: “My son, do not forget my teaching, but let your heart keep my commandments, for length of days and years of life and peace they will add to you. Let not steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you; bind them around your neck; write them on the tablet of your heart. So you will find favour and good success in the sight of God and man” (Proverbs 3:1-4; also see 1 Kings 2:3).
How we define success is what we should be concerned about as Christians, because it will shape how we live
Seeing that the Bible speaks of ‘success’ as a reward, I think it’s safe to say that there is nothing wrong with a desire to be successful. In fact, we are not wrong to say that God wants us to be successful. How we define success, however, is what we should be concerned about as Christians, because it will shape how we live. It will shape our drive and motivation, it will shape how we interact with others as well as what we do with what God has given us. We need to look at success through the gospel lens.
Looking At Success Through a Gospel Lens
Addressing the topic of success is made easier when we have the big picture in our minds. By big picture I am referring to what God has called us to do on this earth, along with what he intends for this world. A core tenet of the gospel message is that God saves us from our sin. Following this he calls each of us to serve him and others in accordance with our gifts and abilities. Thus the apostle Peter wrote, “Just as each one has received a gift, use it to serve one another as good stewards of the varied grace of God. Whoever speaks, let it be with God’s words. Whoever serves, do so with the strength that God supplies, so that in everything God will be glorified through Jesus. To him belong the glory and the power forever and ever. Amen” (1 Peter 4:10-11).
Therefore, striving for success means:
- Our motivation is rooted in God and what pleases him. It means being more concerned about Christ and making him known than merely fulfilling our selfish goals and celebrating our self-centred accomplishments.
- We use our God-given gifts, abilities and possessions to serve God and others, turning the focus off of us and seeking to serve God and his people.
But how do we make sense of our ambition? When is it sinful? How will we know if we have taken off the gospel lens and are losing perspective? Is the way in which we think of success in line what God has called us to do on this earth and in line with what he intends for this world, within the story he’s writing?
What Really Drives Me?
Our definition of success may differ but nearly everyone falls into the trap of measuring success by how much wealth and possessions they have. This is because money and possessions are what’s most visible to us, especially to our friends and family. Yet the Bible warns clearly against the pursuit of wealth. “But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs” (1 Timothy 6:9-10). What is condemned here is the desire to be rich, not material things.
Wealth, coupled with the desire to glorify God, can be far reaching. But the desire for wealth in and of itself can be spiritually fatal
Wealth, coupled with the desire to glorify God, can be far reaching. But the desire for wealth in and of itself can be spiritually fatal. This is quite a difficult one to get right. On the one hand we shouldn’t be driven by the pursuit of wealth. But, on the other hand, we live in a world where money talks. School fees cost an arm and a leg. Buying property is not cheap. The price of food just keeps climbing. What ends up happening is that we pursue wealth in order to provide and live a comfortable life. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with this.
The problem is when pursuing wealth takes priority over living for God and serving others. So how will we then know if we have lost the plot? Whenever in doubt or you are not sure, ask yourself these four questions.
Sanity Check: 4 Questions to Ask Yourself
- Are you willing to do something for the sake of getting more money, even at the cost of your godliness? (e.g. take a bribe, lie, cheat, steal) basically anything that doesn’t glorify God.
- Does getting wealthy and wanting to live a comfortable life take priority over spending time with your loved ones and your church community? Are you always working late and not able to go to church or bible study because of work?
- Do you fail to use the little that God has blessed you with for his kingdom? (e.g. having a house but never inviting people to your home or offering lodging, not giving to the church or supporting missionaries, hoarding clothes and shoes and not giving the needy).
- Do you find your identity in your possessions rather than Christ? Thinking that because you are wealthier than others, have a better home, drive better cars, that somehow you are more esteemed? Not only that, but that you deserve God’s grace because “you have made it in life”?
In light of all that is said, I shouldn’t be freaking out about turning 29. In the eyes of the world I may well fall under the category of unsuccessful. However, success to me is using the voice that God has given me to bring about change; Godly change.
Let’s have another go at that definition: Success is being a servant hearted wife and a mother who ensures her children grow up in a home that demonstrates the grace of God through my imperfections. So now, if I had to answer the question “would you say that you are successful?” I would say “yes! In Gods eyes I am”. Though I often don’t get it right, God’s word and grace keeps reminding me of God’s plan and intention for my life – to glorify Him and serve His people.