One of the lessons I’ve had to learn is to accept God’s definition of success for my endeavors over my own. Our world has given us its own definition of success. We measure it in money, numbers, clicks, likes, comments, etc. The more we get of any of these, the better we feel about ourselves and the more successful we feel. However, when we don’t get a lot of money, numbers, clicks, likes, comments, etc., it leaves us feeling insecure and unsuccessful. I’ve had to learn the hard way that my worth, and my success, are not contingent on those things. In anything God has called me to, obedience is what gives success, not numbers. Most of the time, what God calls us to do reaches or touches just a few, sometimes one. If you’re being obedient, that is success. Yes, the numbers would be nice, but those often fuel pride.
In Acts 8, the apostle Philip was preaching in Samaria. It says that large crowds came to hear him preach. People were being healed, demons were being cast out, the lame were healed and the city was filled with joy because of his ministry. It was going so well that news reached Peter and John in Jerusalem and they decided to come take over this “successful” ministry. That’s when an angel appeared to Philip and told him to leave this great work and head south. As he was traveling, he came upon the treasurer of Ethiopia, a eunuch who was probably denied access to the Temple, and the Holy Spirit told Philip to walk by the carriage. Philip heard him reading Isaiah, explained it to him and led him to the Lord. God took him away from man’s definition of success to show him that crowds are nice, but God is also after the one.
In 1 Kings 2:3, David told Solomon, “Observe the requirements of the Lord your God, and follow all his ways. Keep the decrees, commands, regulations, and laws written in the Law of Moses so that you will be successful in all you do and wherever you go” (NLT). If you want to be successful in God’s eyes, simply obey. He may give you success by the world’s definition or it may be on a very small scale. Whatever it looks like, be obedient and content. Your value, worth and validation can’t come from the world’s definition of success. You will struggle in all of those areas and more if it does. God’s plan usually involves one touching one. Learn to be content with the success, or “failure” by the world’s standards, that God gives. Your success comes from God, not man.
Sometimes when I’m teaching a sales skills class I’ll ask people to share their undisputed secret to success in sales. Everyone has a different answer it seems. Some tell me how they never give up. Some say it’s their personal skills. Others talk of determination, relentlessness or positioning. Books have been written, classes have been taught and lectures have been given on the subject, but there’s no one answer really. Because of that people keep looking for it hoping it will make them rich in the process. Yet, some of you reading are thinking, “If I had to make a living in sales, I’d starve!” It’s a good thing there are other ways to make a living.
We typically equate money or winning with success, but that’s not always the case. In Judges 20, eleven of the tribes went to fight the tribe of Benjamin because of an evil they had allowed. The eleven prayed asking God which tribe should lead the fight. God told them Judah should. They marched 400,000 men out to battle and we’re quickly beaten by 26,000. They went back to camp, cried and prayed again asking God if they should fight again. God told them yes, and the same thing happened. A third time they prayed and asked God if they should fight or stop. God told them to fight. They were successful this time, but only after taking some devastating losses in the process.
In Philippians 4:12 Paul wrote, “I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little” (NLT). His secret of living was to be content with whatever season God brought him to. Whether he was winning and had all his needs met or was losing and didn’t have anything, he trusted God through it all. Success in life isn’t defined by wins or losses or even your bank account. It’s found in trusting God to be your source no matter what you’re going through. Can you keep going back to Him daily asking if you’re doing the thing He wants you to? Can you trust Him when you don’t have much? Can you recognize Him as your provider when you do? Can you be content with what you have?
Today is my 2,000th post to Devotions By Chris. In a few weeks, I will have been writing devotions for eight years. It’s taught me a lot about being faithful to what God has asked me to do. It has also taught me to redefine what success looks like when you’re doing what God has asked you to do. Success in God’s eyes isn’t measured by subscribers or by clicks. It’s measured by our faithfulness to the ministry we receive from Him. Success is found in being faithful in the little things and doing what He’s asked with all your strength whether you understand the reason or not. Can you obey and be faithful even when it’s difficult and you don’t understand?
My pastor said something that is along these lines. He said, “If you ask God for an Oak tree, He’ll give you an acorn.” God plants seeds of the things He’s calling us to in our hearts. We have to water them and tend to them even when we can’t see anything. Even when it shouts through the ground, you have to stick with it even though it may be years before it’s what you’ve envisioned. In Luke16:10 Jesus tells us that if we’re faithful with the little things, He can trust us with greater things. Managing the growth of an acorn can be tedious at times and unremarkable. No one may notice your efforts or the small steps of growth, but you’re not doing it for others or for those reasons. You’re doing it because it’s what God planted in your heart.
As Paul was wrapping up his letter to the church at Colossae, he tucked in a little note to a minister who may have been thinking of giving up because he wasn’t seeing the growth or success he thought he should. In Colossians 4:17 he told the believers, “Be sure you give Archippus this message: ‘Be faithful to complete the ministry you received from our Lord Jesus!’” (TPT) That’s today’s message to you. Be faithful to what you have received from the Lord even if it doesn’t look like you pictured it. Keep going even if you’re not being successful in the world’s eyes. Your faithfulness is noticed by God, and He counts your obedience as success. You may not change the world, get noticed by anyone or even feel like you’re making a difference at times, but if you will keep doing your part, God will keep doing His.
Almost every measure of success has to do what some type of key performance indicator. People judge your success by how much money you make or how many items you sell. We brag about how many hours we work each week too. Somewhere along the way, we have also made busyness an indicator of success. The more busy you are, the more successful you must be. We’ve just about made busyness equal to godliness. Our constant for us is on what are we producing today. Because people measure us by our outputs, we focus solely on those, but how are your inputs?
Jesus was a busy person by all accounts. Thousands would come to Him to hear Him preach and to be healed. The Bible often says that He had compassion on them and healed them all. The output of His ministry was strong, but that is because He focused so much energy on His inputs. You constantly read where Jesus went alone to pray. He knew that if all He did was focus on His outputs, He would burn out and have nothing left to give. If He needed to replenish His innermost being, how much more do we? You can’t keep giving without putting anything back inside. Inputs matter.
Proverbs 4:23 says, “Pay attention to the welfare of your innermost being, for from there flows the wellspring of life” (TPT). Your wellspring of life depends on you focusing on your inputs. Every one of us have different ways of recharging. For some, it’s solitude. For some, it’s going for a walk. Think of the times you feel most energized. What we’re you doing? Those are things that keep you going and need to be scheduled into your life regularly. Life drains everyone. We all must pay attention to our inner health if we’re going to be able to accomplish all God has for us. Jesus found the balance between being about His father’s business and recharging. So can you.
When someone is staring something new, whether it’s a business or ministry, I usually give them the same advice. I tell them, “Start with Timex, not Rolex.” You want to build something that will take a licking and keep on ticking. You also don’t want to over spend. So many times when we’re starting something new, we make it about the sizzle instead of the steak. If you want to build something that will last, take your time, do things right and lay the foundation work first. No, it’s not sexy and it may not get a lot of attention, but if you do the small things right from the beginning, the larger things will take care of themself later. God puts it this way, “If you will be faithful in the small things, I’ll make you faithful over many things.”
In Zechariah 4, the Lord showed him Zerubbabel in a vision. He was the man who would lead the first group of Jews out of Babylonian captivity around 500 BC. This first set of Jews went back under his leadership, and with money collected by all Jews, with a mission to rebuild the Temple. The work was tedious and hard. People tried to disrupt them and stop them, but Zerubbabel kept working and kept the people focused. The Lord reminded him that it wouldn’t be completed by his might or strength, but by the Spirit of the Lord. Then in verse 10, the Lord sends him a reminder, and one to us too. He said, “Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin, to see the plumb line in Zerubbabel’s hand” (NLT). It was a reminder to not undervalue the beginning work of laying the foundation.
If we don’t get our foundation right, the rest of the structure is unsound. God is not concerned with whether or not we’re making things attractive enough. He wants us to do them right and to do them well. Whatever you’re starting won’t be a success because of your might or power, but by God’s Spirit. Yes, you should work like it depends on you and pray like it depends on God, but don’t despise the small beginnings. Don’t compare yourself in the beginning stage to where someone else is that has been doing it for a while. Put your head down, do what God called you to and leave the results up to Him. He doesn’t measure success the way we do anyway, so quit trying to build something that’s successful in man’s eyes. It’s not their approval you’re after.
When you’re in over your head, who do you seek guidance from? I’ve made a few of these calls, and I get a few of these calls from time to time. Each time I’m talking with someone who is asking for guidance, I immediately start praying, “God, give me wisdom. Give me the right words that will help them make the right choices. Give them the courage to make the hard choices necessary. Amen.” I know that my wisdom is flawed, but God’s wisdom is perfect. He sees the whole picture and knows what they need to do. Too often we seek His guidance, or other godly guidance late in our journey rather than at the beginning.
In the books of Chronicles and Kings, you can read about many of the early kings of Israel and Judah. In almost every case, the writer quickly tells you whether they were a godly King or whether they did things that were evil in God’s sight. There were a couple Kings who took the throne when they were kids. In at least two of the cases, they were heavily influenced by godly people. They were taught and encouraged to lead with godly principles. They also continued to seek God’s will and direction for their nation as they ruled. Because they followed God’s plan, they prospered during their reign.
2 Chronicles 26:5 says, “And as long as the king sought guidance from the Lord, God gave him success” (NLT). That’s an important lesson for us to learn. If you and I will seek God’s guidance and wisdom, He will give us success in the things we do. God loves to give us wisdom, but it’s our choice whether to follow it or not. The path God gives is rarely the easy path and requires us to make tough decisions. Sometimes it doesn’t make sense to us, but remember, He’s not looking at what you see now. He’s looking ahead to the parts of the road you can’t see. The guidance He gives is based on His plan for you, and we know He has good plans for each of us. No matter where you are in your journey, there’s still time to start seeking God’s guidance.
One of the questions I ask young adults is, “How do you personally define a successful life?” If they struggle with the answer, we fast forward until their 80 and look at their life. Then I ask, “If you had a successful life in your eyes, what would you see?” Many times I hear people say, “Lots of kids or grandkids,” or “A full bank account,” or “Lots of property.” If they know where they want to end up, they can start working towards getting there. Now let’s flip the question, “At the end of your life, how will Jesus know you lived a successful life?”
I don’t mean that question as a Jesus Juke. I want you to think about whether you’re living for yourself or for Him. Do your goals match up with the goals He has for you? 2 Corinthians 5:15 says, “He died for everyone so that those who receive his new life will no longer live for themselves. Instead, they will live for Christ, who died and was raised for them” (NLT). If at the end of your life, you attained your measure of success, but not His, you’ve failed. In Mark 8:36, Jesus said, “And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul?”
2 Corinthians 5 goes on to tell us that when we are in Christ, we receive a new life. With a new life comes new purpose. We no longer are to live for ourselves (old life). We are to now live for Christ (new life). This new life produces different fruit than the old one. The definition of success changes because your purpose changes. If you’re still working under your old definition of success in your new life, spend time asking God what His definition of success is for your life. It’s not too late to begin fulfilling your purpose in your new life.
One of the words God uses over and over in the Bible is courage. He wants us to be courageous when doing what He asks. One of my favorite passages is in Joshua 1. Verse 7 says, “Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the instructions Moses gave you. Do not deviate from them, turning either to the right or to the left. Then you will be successful in everything you do” (NLT). Success starts with being strong and courageous, but what does it mean to have courage?
The simple definition is strength in the face of pain or grief. It’s the ability to keep going when things aren’t going the way you thought they should. It’s the most difficult thing to have when you need it the most. If you’ve lived life at all, you’ve been discouraged. You’ve lost battles you thought you should have won. You’ve suffered defeat after defeat and wondered where the strength comes from to keep going. How do you find courage in those times?
In those moments, I simply prayed that God would just help me to take the first step, which was survival. We often think of courage as this great thing, but I believe it’s found in facing a new day, taking one more step or breathing one more time. It says, “I’m not going down. I’m not giving up!” Where do we get that courage from in those moments? As I’ve said, I found it in prayer and through God’s help.
Psalm 3:3 says, “But you, O Lord, are always my shield from danger; you give me victory and restore my courage” (GNT). God will restore your lost courage and give you the victory when you ask. Quit worrying about trying to win the war, and focus on getting courage from God to win today’s battle. Keep God’s Word in your heart, and be careful to obey it. Then, as Joshua 1:7 says, you will have success and victory.
When I was a teen, someone told me, “You become like those you run with.” When I was a young adult, someone told me, “You show me who your friends are, and I’ll show you who you are.” Then several years later, someone told me, “If you want to soar with eagles, you can’t be scratching around in the dirt with turkeys.” All these reminders have been about the importance of choosing who you choose to hang out with. Either the group you’re with will hold you back or help you get to that next level.
As I’ve lived my life, I can honestly say that these messages are true. Close relationships are the greatest influencers of your success or failure. If you’re constantly failing and are stuck in a bad place, you need to walk away from the relationships that are holding you back. Your life will not change until you change your relationships. If you want your life to improve, associate with people who are ahead of you and are moving in the right direction. This works for spiritual and economic growth.
As Paul was grooming Timothy to be a leader, he gave him the same advice. 2 Timothy 2:22 says, “Strive for righteousness, faith, love, and peace, together with those who with a pure heart call out to the Lord for help” (GNT) Paul wanted Timothy to understand it’s difficult to grow on your own. You need other like minded people who are headed in the same direction to help you get there. Proverbs 27:17 tells us that as iron sharpens iron, one person sharpens another. You need people around you who will make you sharp.
When coaching or counseling people, I let them know that they need someone ahead of them that they can follow. They need someone beside them that can challenge them. They also need someone behind them that they can help get to the next level. Finding the right relationships is one of the most difficult tasks in life. That’s why it’s preached to you since you were young. It’s never to late to make the changes you need to make. If you’re ready to soar with eagles, spread your wings and leave the turkeys behind.
One of my favorite pictures we took on a trip to Haiti was where one person was pretending to cut a board with a skill saw while another person held up the power cord with a confused look on her face. We took it to make people laugh, but the more I think about it, the more I realize that’s how many people live their lives. They have the right tools to be successful, but they lack the power to utilize those tools properly.
Part of what I do for a living, and also do here on this site, is to give people the tools they need to be successful. Power tools work best when they’re plugged in. Imagine how long it would take to cut a board using a skill saw that wasn’t plugged in. Think about the effort it would require and what that cut would look like if they had to do it manually with that saw. Even though we had the right tool, without the power to use the tool to its potential, we wouldn’t be very successful.
In Deuteronomy 8:18, Moses was speaking to the Children of Israel just before they went into the Promised Land. He was giving them final instructions to remember since he would not be crossing the Jordan river with them. He said, “Remember the LORD your God. He is the one who gives you power to be successful” (NLT). He was reminding them that they have the tools to be successful, but God is the source of power behind those tools. He wanted them to remember that their success wouldn’t be of their own power.
The same is true for us. While we hold the tools and do the work, it is God who gives us the power to be successful at whatever He calls us to put our hand to. Like a professional athlete who takes a knee after a touchdown or points to Heaven after a homerun, we need to take time to honor God for each success we have. It keeps us humble and it reminds us and others that God is our source. Apart from His power, we are trying to cut a board with an unplugged skill saw.