Success - What it has to do with me
Sadikin Djumin and Lily Yanurita
TABLE OF CONTENTS
the world defines success*
the "unpopular" success*
writing a new story*
warnings!!! you're off!*
failure – only for losers?*
Jesus is our hope!*
We, as the students studying at The Ohio State University, have, at least, a dream to become successful in our lives. And as Christians, we, of course, want to bring God glory in whatever area we will involve – in family, church, business and society. Thus, the question for us to ponder is "What does success then mean for Christians?" How can we become successful while bring glory to God in this world with all its systems?
Many Christians are forced to think that Christian faith is somehow irrelevant to today's world. It seems that Christian faith does not apply in their lives outside the church door – business, culture, and society. It seems that the world operates on its own different values and standards. This creates frustration in many Christians who really wants to apply their faith in their lives outside the church door. On the other hand, many Christians, probably lack of alternative, choose to live "double" life – a disconnected Sunday life and a Monday-Saturday life. Therefore, how should we live our life then?
In this short paper, we want to address several key issues in understanding and practicing the biblical definition of success in the line of Jesus Christ's command for us to be the light of being salt and light of the world; being Christ's ambassadors in this world. We want to look at what the definition of success by the world and its systems is. Why is the worldly defined success so attractive to people even to Christians? Then we want to look at how God through the Bible defines success. Thirdly, we want to address the challenges and struggles in putting our faith in practice in the business world. Furthermore, we think it is very important for us to have some kind of "warning system" that will signal us when we begin to be drifted away from our faith and sucked into the world and its systems. Lastly, we want to touch on the equally important issue failure, and how we can learn from the life of Jesus Christ, the One who gives us the eternal hope.
What is success? If we look at the dictionary, the word "success" means "favorable result of something attempted"; "the gaining of wealth, position, honor, etc."; "a successful performance or achievement" (Webster). Most of us think success can be measured by the outward signs, they way the world views us. As student maybe, we can be considered successful if we graduated from university with honor. We are successful if we had a good position and large amount of salary. We are successful if we provided well from our family and earned respectful status among the society. Some relate success in terms of having enough money. Others relate success to power or authority or status. From all those definitions, the ways we view them are very subjective. The standards we use is either we define them for ourselves or allow others to define them for us. Either way, they are our definitions when we accept them. Strangely, although other people may think we are successful and may even tell us so, unless we believe we are successful, we are dissatisfied.
So, why we the need to feel successful is important for us? One of the important reasons is our desire to feel significance. We want to believe that our lives can make different in this world. We want to be known and appreciated. We need the sense of worth. It is what we called self-esteem. According to Abraham Maslow, the noted secular psychologist, in Motivation and Personality (1970), he said that the every person’s ultimate goal is self-actualization. It is the point when we have peace with our self and no longer worry about who we are. We need complete freedom to be and also to serve, and it is the self –my personal definition of success- that I have to live up to. Comparing with the biblical views, Maslow in here asks us to leave God out of the equation and find the source of peace within ourselves. In contrast, the Bible tells us that peace and freedom are found only in Jesus Christ.
Who influence us in defining success? Our definitions of success are shaped not independent of the world around us. We seldom not aware that how our ideas of success are shaped by our past, our present, and our vision of the future. If we can gain a better understanding of how our present ideas were shaped, we can set readjusting them. According to Edward Dayton, in Succeeding in Business without Losing Your Faith (1992), family, school, society, advertising, business are some factors that influence us in defining the meaning of success.
John Bradshaw, the host of Public Broadcasting System series, "Bradshaw on the Family", points out that the much of what we think about ourselves is shaped by the family within we grew up. "In healthy family systems there are healthy roles. The parental role is mainly to model. Parents model: how to be a man or woman, how to be a husband or wife, how to be a father or mother, how to be in an intimate relationship, how to be functional human beings, how to have a good boundaries." Our parents are the first influence that defines for us what it means to be "successful".
Unfortunately, not all of the children were raised from a healthy family system. There are many "dysfunctional families" where the children had to cope with alcoholism, abuse, divorce, busy or lack of attention parents, rejection, and so on. Bradley tells us that 96 percent of all families are to some degree emotionally impaired and hand down from one generation to the next unhealthy rules and values. Those rules and values in our childhood are carried on into their subsequent lives. They begin to shape our views about the world and how the world sees us. Another way our parents influence us maybe, when they have defines success for us in somewhat less destructive ways. They try to indicate firmly which occupation we should pursue. Although we don’t like it, we want to fulfill our parents’ wish by pursuing that occupation. So many times facing our dissatisfaction in lives, we may blame our problems on our parents, our bad luck, our boss, or our dog. But remember it is our life and we have to be accountable for it. Sin –missing the mark, falling short- is our responsibility. No matter how we have been shaped by our past, at this point in life we have to accept responsibility for our future.
Beside our family, there are other socializing institutions that define success for us. One of them is school. At school, the rules of success are defined as a series of milestones that must be successfully achieved. Teacher has a role as someone who knows what the rules should be and our role in here is following the rules. As educators, teachers constantly search for new ways to help us learn to be independent being. They may move from disciplined style with memorization to a free-flowing discover-it-yourself approach. But by nature, they have to define success for us because they believe their task is to make us successful. Then, how do they (and we) know we succeeded? We graduated. Society also have an assumption that no one is really an adult until he or she has left school and gotten a full-time job (another milestone on the "road to success").
The society, as larger community than school, also has other measurements in defining success for us. One of them is social class where various class, such as lower, middle, and upper classes are measured based on wealth. In order to fit higher class, we forced to strive to "be better". It means having more things, more wealth, more financial freedom, and to be someone in the society. We need a "better" house, a "better" job, a "better" title, and so on. We need "perks" to let us know we are important. The car we drive, the clothes we wear, and the briefcase we carry all indicators of "better", which equal success.
Many advertising today are very skillful in telling us that we are missing something in life, if we don’t have a certain product without which we are less than whole. Advertising also tell us that we can’t be successful unless we look good, smell good, experience lots of wonderful things, and above all feel good. Advertising magnifies all the wrong images of success. It robs us our humanity by telling us we are not OK and that’s not OK.
Therefore, the definition of success is usually come from our own family, school, society, advertising, and business.
THE "UNPOPULAR" SUCCESS
The Bible looks at success radically different from the way the world defines success. Jesus was not very successful if measured to the standards of the world. He had virtually nothing in his life; he has no money, house, other material possessions, and affluent lifestyle. He was hated by the people of His time and was accused as sinners' friend and glutton. He was even killed, crucified on the tree as a criminal. According to the world's definition of success, Jesus was a total loser and failure! Therefore, if worldly success is basically based on external approval or recognition from other people to us, Christian success is more on Christian characters (internal). In Philippians 2:5-11, Paul urged us to imitate Jesus and His attitude in our life:
Further, the parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14-30 teaches us that we experience the real success if Jesus affirms it. What a great joy it will be when at the end of our life, Jesus greets us by saying "Well done, good and faithful servants."
From Philippians 2:5-11 and Matthew 25:14-30, we see, therefore, the main characteristics that define Christian success. They are as follows:
God measures our success by the depth of our relationship with Him – how we understand and know Him personally and intimately, as stated in Jeremiah 9:23, 24:
Thus says the Lord, "Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches; but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the Lord who exercises lovingkindness, justice, and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things," declares the Lord. (NASB, emphasis mine)
Jesus was willing to come down to the earth, to take a form of human servant, to suffer and die on the cross for our sins for He knew that His love and sacrifice for us was at the central of the heart of God the Father. On the other hand, in the parable of the talents, we see that the servant of one talent did not really know and understand his master in a personal way that he wrongly accused his master. As the result, the servant found himself at the outer darkness where a weeping and gnashing of teeth accompanied him.
It is faith that enables us to please God (Hebrews 11:6). From Hebrews 11, it is very clear that God gave His approval to His people and declared them successful, although they all died without receiving the promises. Not only that they did not receive God's promises in their life, but many of the faithful people of God also experienced persecutions – tortured, mocked, scourged, chained, imprisoned, stoned, ill treated, and even died in a cruel way. However, it is their faith that brought them into God's "hall of fame." It is their faith that enabled them to please God and to fulfill His calling on them. "Well done, good and faithful servants!"
In Philippians 2:5-11, God the Father declared Jesus successful in His mission on earth. Jesus was highly exalted He chose to humble Himself and to obey God even to the death on the cross (v. 8). The master of the talents declared the servants of the ten talents and the five talents "Well done, good and faithful servants" because they were faithful and obeyed the master by doing what they were entrusted with.
Therefore, Christian success is totally and radically different from worldly success. If the world views success as the ability of acquiring more money and possessions, more status and power, and more affluent lifestyle, God defines our success by our intimate relationship with Him, faithfulness, obedience, and perseverance in accomplishing His will in our life.
Nevertheless, we need to make two qualifications on the issue of material and possession acquisition. First, it is not to say that Christians should not have money and possessions. The Bible clearly shows that God does bless His people with prosperity as His blessings. God richly blessed Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Job, David, Solomon, and even the early churches – just to name a few. Secondly, it is equally unbiblical to claim that Christian success is accompanied with the visible accumulation of more money, material possessions, power and status, and affluent lifestyle. The problems with this theology of prosperity is that:
Therefore, it is very important to remember that it is His will only to bless us or not with wealth, not ours.
The key issue here is not that God is against material possessions He himself created, because "the earth is the Lord's, and all it contains, the world, and those who dwell in it." (Psalm 24:1, NASB) But it is our attitude toward money and material possessions, which can jeopardize our relationship with God and other people and the true meaning of our lives in this world. It is about our stewardship over what God has entrusted to us. It is about our responsibility toward other people who need help from our resources.
If world success is derived from the external factors of ourselves, Christian success is our inner struggle to be faithful and obedience to God in fulfilling our mission He has given us in this world. Therefore, in achieving Christian success in our life, we have to change our paradigm of success to be in line with the principles and values of the Bible. According to Edward Dayton, we need to understand the five steps to success in writing this new successful life story of ours.
These values actually give the birth to the values of individualism, capitalism, unhealthy competitiveness, and human confidence in science and technology in solving all world problems. Beside that, these values lead to the degrading appreciation of human and his/her rich potency.
Besides trusting God and His values, understanding our potency, role, responsibility, and the world's values, we still need to work out our part in several practical key issues to success. They are as follows:
- Preserve life
Define your personal life vision
Working out your vision and value system
In working out our vision and value system, we need to:
- Plan purposely
- Pursue persistently
From the above passage, we can see that love is for the sake of others; it protects others from evils. Love trust in God's kindness and His justice. It does not revenge but forgives. It perseveres despite personal defeat, lack of encouragement and support, and the stress of everyday life.
Do all our activities point to our vision? Do I start to compromise for 'quick fixes' and my personal comforts?
Where is God's place in our vision, value system, and activities? Do they violate God's commands and moral standard?
The above list is not intended to be comprehensive to cover every issue that will face Christians, but to give a general guideline how we can realize that we may be sucked into the attractive and seductive offers of the world and its systems. Each of us must know our own weaknesses that we can be strong enough, with the strength and grace of God, to resist worldly temptations put by Satan to lure us. Of course, our relationship with God again is the most important thing we should have in living out our lives in this world. Studying God's Word, praying and fellowship with other Christians should not become less in our spiritual lives, but they should be increasing in their significance in our lives.
However, it will be illusion if we believe that because we are Christians, we are always to be successful in our lives. Surprisingly, our experience tells us that failures seem to accompany our lives. If the world views failures as the worst thing one could get, how about Christianity? How are we as Christians supposed to view failures in the light of Christian success?
Like a road map, we see "success" and "failures" unfold together in our lives. Most of us do not like failure, but we cannot deny or run away from it in life. Failures cannot be separated from success. Successful people are those who apply God’s remedy for failure.
In the biblical perspective, we learned that God’s standard of success is far from the worldly standard many Christians have accepted as their measuring stick. Most of us have unclear ideas of success. We hear testimonies of converted movie stars, professional singers, or those who are "successful" in some vocation. Unconsciously, we assume all Christians should be like them. We might judge others and ourselves by a false standard. Perhaps we have forgotten that God chooses not many wise, noble and mighty. Only few are noble, wise, and gifted are called. But, they are exceptions. God usually chooses the weak, the ordinary, and the despised. Why, then do so many of us believe we are failure? Perhaps we have a totally false notion of success.
Many Christians feel trapped because of ugly circumstances. Some have made wrong choices or have been discouraged because they are "out of God’s will." For example, someone who faces failure in her marriage asks, "Was my marriage in weary of life itself? If not, can God ever bless me again? Where does someone begin when it’s too late to begin from the beginning? Is any type of success still open to someone who has been trapped in a senseless marriage?" Such question can only be resolves be a correct understanding of the will of God. Often we assume that God is unable to work in spite of our weaknesses, mistakes, and sins. We forget that God is a specialist; He is well able to work our failures into His plans.
Others maybe feel failure because it seemed to them that God was not keeping His side of the bargain. They promised to do a ministry if He would bless. They went, but there was no blessing. In their minds, they think that they were now the doomed to be second-class citizens of the kingdom of heaven. Some have been forced into marriage by pregnancy; others have faced bankruptcy. Many parents have had to watch their children rebel against Christianity. Countless others are defeated, pessimistic, and guilt- ridden. They are convinced that they will be second-class citizens in the kingdom.
There is another class of failures: those who mistakenly believe they are successes. Many respect them as Christian leaders but they don’t realize from God’s perspective they are failures. It’s like climbing the ladder of success only to discover that my ladder was leaning against the wrong wall."
Many who consider themselves failures in this life are maybe great successes in God’s eyes. Likewise, those who consider themselves successful, even models for others to follow, may be sadly surprised when arrive in heaven.
So, what is actually the standard on justifying our "success" or "failures." By nature, we tend to judge based on the outward sign. We tend to judge base on abilities, money, friends, or result. We compare what we have "made it" in life, or assume the opposite that we have failed miserably and are beyond hope.
We justify success base on abilities. For example, one says "I got an A", and others reply, "he gave me F". From this example, we see that we tend to blame others from our failures and take credits for our success. The spirit comparison breeds envy and discontent in our heart. Others, on the other hand, feel in inadequate of doing something. He even might disguise his pride and called it humility. Actually, he is so concerned that people think well of him that he will not expose himself to any situation where he can fail. He plays it safe and does nothing.
We have to remember that God did not give everyone the same ability, intelligence and aptitude. And if we wish to make everyone the same, we discrediting the wisdom of God. Our abilities(or lack of them) are not accurate barometer of success and failure."
We justify success base on money. Money is the most popular basis in determining success. Many people think that the chief end of man is to earn money and enjoy it forever.
However, if money is a basis of judging success or failure, Jesus life cannot be consider as successful. He was born under stable’s roof, and even when he died the soldiers cast lost of His clothes. The foxes have holes, the birds of the are haves nests, but the Son of Man din not have a place He could call home. Of course, earning money is both legitimate and necessary. But we have the amount we earn is not a barometer of God’s blessing.
We justify success base on friends. In the society, we often like to be associated with the "right" people.Our pride is nurtured if we can dine with the famous and be entertained by the wealthy.
The fact is that God has chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom often does not dampen our enthusiasm for celebrities. Knowing the greates men and women doesn’t elevate us one cm in the sight of God. He chooses the base, the lowly, and the unknown.
We justify success base on result. So many people feel failures when they see the inadequate statistical results. For example, there is a pastor who afraid going to conference because minimal result of his church. He has a small church and had a history of difficulties. On some occasions, the pastor was publicly humiliated and there are some bitterness, complaining, and fractions. Is he failure?
There is a story at least one instance in scripture where God called a man to be a failure – according to human standard. After Isaiah responded to God’s call, God gave him a discouraging assignments. God tell him that the people whom he will preach will not listen to his message. (Isaiah 6:9-10) It doesn’t mean that statistical number are irrelevant to success, but results are not necessarily a proof of God’s blessing.
Moreover, if we look at Moses story in Meribah, where he was impatient and hit the rock. Moses disobeyed God’s command. Maybe a small minority said, "Moses disobeyed. He will be punish." Yet possibly the majority responded, " Why complain? Aren’t you glad that we have water? Who cares how it got here. At least we can drink". Was he success? Yes in eyes of men. No in the eyes of God.
When Christ predicted Peter will die in suffering, he was distressed and wondered whatwould happen to his friend John. But Christ reply, "If I want him to remain until I come what is that to you? You follow me" (John 21:21-22) If God wishes to bless others more than us, if they are famous and we are unknown, if they are wealthy and we are poor, if they are gifted and we are mediocre – what is that to us? If Christ say "You follow me!’. A spirit of comparison is worldly carnal, and devilish. Paul says "For we are not bold to class or compare ourselves with some of those who commend themselves; but when they measure themselves by themselves, and compare themselves with themselves, they are without understanding." (2 Corinthians 10:12)
Then, why as Christians, we cannot be easily classify as either success and failure? Most of us agree that success and failure are poles apart. What could be more obvious than the fact that some people "make it" and others don’t? After all, the differences among people are striking: there are the rich and the poor, the beautiful and the ugly, the winsome and the boring. But God isn’t impressed with such distinctions. His ways are not our ways, He doesn’t see us as others do. As Christians, there is a "mixture" of both in us all.
Based on the biblical perspectives, all of us chips off from the same block – Adam. In one sense we are all the same. By natures, we are identical. We are all the children of warth (Ephesians 2:3); we are all conceived in sin. Christ says, "For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts and fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness." (Mark 7:21-22) All of us has the potential for every imagineable evil. "The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick, who can understand it?" (Jeremiah 17:9) It is decietful because we convince ourselves that we are not really wicked! We tell ourselves that we, by nature, are better than murderers and adulterers. But God knows better. Some people commit greater sins than others, but by seeing the hearts, God knows that the differences between us are negligible. Our sinful natures are essentially the same.
On the other reality, as we accept Christ as our savior, by new natures we are identical. We become a new creation, we receive a new nature. The sinful nature remains, but the new nature is now also within us. All who believe in Christ receive the same nature and the same Holy Spirit. On that score we are identical. Both of these nature are mixed within us, and create inevitable conflict. "For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh, for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you pleas." (Galatians 5:17) As Christians, we now find that there are spiritual victories –freedom from sins, and also spiritual failures- the times when we lapse back into our former ways. We have all experienced a mixture of failure and victory.
As conclusion, Christian success is radically different from worldly success. Christian success focuses more on our Christian characters such as our relationship with God, faithfulness, obedience, and perseverance. On the other hand, worldly success is more on the approval and recognition from other people to us. It values more on money, accomplishment, career path, individualism, competitiveness, and humanism. Christian success relies on trusting God and our personal struggles with His calling in our lives. However, it is very important to note that Christian life does not always guarantee successes. It is accompanied by failures. However, failures are not the worst thing that can happen in our lives, because God uses our failures to shape our characters and our faith in Him. We should not throw the towel too fast and too easy when we are in the downs of our lives. We should continue to focus on God and trust Him that He desires to give us the best in our lives. And remember the teaching of Jesus that life is more than food, clothing and shelter (Luke 12:23), and therefore; as Jesus encourages us, "seek first His kingdom and His righteousness; and all things shall be added to you." (Matthew 6:33). So, we need to carry out our task and responsibility in this world excellently and persevere until Jesus says to us, "Well done, good and faithful servant!"