Let’s face it, we all like or would prefer to be successful. Everything we read, see or hear nudges us to work harder, try harder, and achieve the goal of “success.” And considering that I wonder if that is why we fear failure as much as we do.
Have we tied our sense of value to success to a degree that we determine we have no value or worth if we do not achieve some measure of success?
Perhaps one of the big challenges here is to determine how each of us defines success. Of course, the dictionary tells us what it means. Ads of all types for all sorts of things identify what success is from their point of view, but that is just it – it is their point of view, their standard.
Success is influenced by many things and it can drive us if we put it in the driver’s seat. Reaching goals and attaining success are not bad things at all, but it can be easy to forget it is illusive and can change in subtle or major ways as we go along. Often the measure keeps moving forward just as we think we might have reached it. Suddenly it is not quite in our grasp.
If we consider the factors that influence our journey to success, some of the things on the list might be family background, birthplace, education, health, intelligence, drive, opportunities, network connections, age, and more.
Most of us would agree with that list and there is a lot of evidence to point to how influential they are, but are we determining what success is based on by how our society, culture, family, profession, church, or peers define it? If so, we may well be headed for trouble.
Perhaps one of the guideposts to consider when we look at success is to recognize the value of one of Stephen Covey’s habits for successful people: begin with the end in mind. Too often we don’t consider where we want to end up, not just in school or a job, but in life. What do we want the end of our lives to look like?
What does the Lord want to see in us at the end of our life?
How does He measure success? What does He see as failure?
Those are the markers that are key to the choices we make throughout each day. It’s those little decisions and choices that move us closer or farther away from what the Lord has called us to be/do and/or what we have determined will mean a life well lived. It involves living life with intentionality, being proactive toward that end instead of only reactive to what comes at us.
“Success is not final; failure is not fatal. It is the courage to continue that counts.”
This quote of Winston Churchill’s is a favorite of mine and he said it in some of the darkest hours of WW II. The quote is a reminder that success is fleeting and temporal in this life. It also reminds us that failure is not fatal unless we believe it is. What we believe guides our choices and makes all the difference.
When I look at the life of Peter there is one example after another where it appeared he was not a success and might never be one. Scripture makes clear that Jesus viewed that differently.
On that last Seder Passover Jesus and the disciples shared together, Jesus was clear they would all fall away and leave Him on that night. Peter protests that he will not, but Jesus makes clear that He will. He also doesn’t look at Peter as a failure. Instead He tells him that He has prayed for him and that he (Peter) will return to Him after he falters and that he should then use that to encourage and strengthen his brothers.
Jesus saw beyond Peter’s weakness that most would call a failure (including Peter).
What did success look like? That Peter would turn to Jesus after the weakness, his failure was not fatal.
I sometimes wonder if Judas had turned back to Jesus after betraying Him if his failure might not have been fatal as well.
Those that others deem as unqualified with little hope of success have often proven to be quite the opposite. (There are so many examples – David, Rahab, Samson, and Peter come quickly to mind – the end saw them quite differently than they were at the outset.)
There are other examples closer to current history – Abraham Lincoln, the Wright Brothers, Walt Disney, and Henry Ford come to mind.
The Apostle Paul might define success this way from a portion of Romans 13:9-10 (ESV):
“…any other commandment..summed up in this word: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.”
What does success at the end look like?
“Commending his servant, the master replied, ‘You have done well, and proven yourself to be my loyal and trustworthy servant. Because you were faithful to manage a small sum, now I will put you in charge of much, much more. You will experience the delight of your master, who will say to you, “Come celebrate with me!”’
Matthew 25:23 (TPT)