What is Success?

I've been thinking a lot about success and failure in the past few months. What constitutes success? Is it making a lot of money or having lots of friends and acquaintances? Is it having great status (fame) or power? Is it found in your job and what you do? Is it measured by your ability to create solutions to very difficult problems? Does it come by helping to alleviate suffering for thousands of people or by how big your house is?

In the Christian world we have our own means of defining success. Often we measure the number of decisions for Christ or the number of churches started. We look at how fast and how much a church grows over a period of five or ten years. We count the number of children saved from malnutrition and starvation. We look at how many people have gone on a missions trip in the past year. Are these accurate measures of "success"? I don't want to underestimate the value of numbers and statistics, but it seems to me that these are only superficial ingredients in our measurements.

What then is success? Is it simply remaining faithful to God and His calling? We've stuck it our for 16 years in a very hard place. And the result has been....what? Failure? If you look at the situation based on numbers of people coming to Christ or growth of the church, it sure looks like failure. Several people have written to tell us how they admired our grit and determination in the face of "impossible" odds. I don't know that I'm worthy of such praise. I certainly haven't done everything I could or should have done. And I've made plenty of mistakes. And except for Mike we haven't been able to recruit anyone to join us in the ministy. Is this failure? Or is it a success merely because we've been faithful and persevered for so long on our own with minimal help?

I'm not sure that even faithfulness by itself is an adequate measure of success. If you're faithful outwardly, but your attitude stinks, is that success? That was the case of the older brother in the parable of the prodigal son. I think there are several factors that constitute success.

Winston Churchill once said that "success is going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm." That's quite a statement. If you look at many of the world's greatest people, you see failure over and over in their lives. Both Churchill and Lincoln had periods of great failure. The apostle Peter also failed miserably. What distinguishes these men from other people is that they were able to pick themselves up, dust themselves off, and kept on going. Am I like that? Can I get up from this "failure" and continue to be faithful to God, to the church, to my family. I want to be like that. I don't want to give up because of failure. Perhaps that is the key to success. Even if the failure seems unfair or unhappy, I will keep going. I will put one foot in front of the other and continue to take the next step as God leads. I want failure to make me grow, not make me quit.

I want to be a success.


Hannatu said...

These last two posts are excellent. I think you should work them up as articles for EMQ.

Dusty Penguin said...

Good thoughts. In my mind I would never label you or your work in Tera as a failure, but I would not be able to put into words why not. It is just something in my heart.

Anonymous said...

Uncle John,
WOW. I really enjoyed this post. What a lot of wisdom!

Palmer said...

I printed out this post earlier this week and read it along with my devotions, which happened to be reading Philippians 2. Ironically, some parts of that chapter seemed to tie in with the questions you ask.

It also occurred to me as I reflected on your post, and the fact that in the "here and now" we really can't know what success means, that it is even possible that your "real success" may prove to be something that isn't seen in your generation but will be realized in your kids as they go through life influenced by their experiences with the people of Niger.