Defining Success

“Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will be established.”  (Proverbs 16:3)

I cleaned out my office during Christmas break.

Books were re-arranged. Folders were reorganized. Shelves were dusted.

Inside my closet required a purge. Notebooks bursting with old notes, training materials, office supplies and various odds and ends were bit of a mess. On the top shelf gathering dust included more articles, notes, and hand-written journals. Tucked away amidst the clutter was a brown, hard-bound manuscript.

As a young man struggling to find purpose, raise a new family, and flailing in his profession, the manuscript I was holding in my hand represented a pivotal point in my life.

It all started with a well-known quote.

“Every man should plant a tree, have a child, and write a book. These all live on after us, insuring a measure of immortality.”  (attributed to the Talmud or Jose Marti)

The Lord had already blessed me with two children, a tree was recently planted in my front yard in Minnesota, so it seemed at the time that writing a book was the next thing I needed to do to build a legacy.

Since I was a new father and had little idea what I was doing, I felt that writing a book about fatherhood would be an appropriate subject. I knew there were young men like myself who were struggling with materialism and the pursuit to be somebody. We were inadvertently following in our father’s footsteps by not knowing how to be an engaged father. Weary of reading “how-to” books that mostly made me feel guilty about what I was not doing, I wanted to write a book of encouragement. For two years, I arrived early at the office to research, write and re-write.

The studying and research led me to this conclusion. The best way a Christian father can be the father he desires to be is to trust Christ’s promises and steadfastly remain in his Word. Only Christ takes away the baggage that hampers our ability to be a God-pleasing father and husband. Only Christ takes away the guilt. He takes us – the complete mess that we are – and molds us to be his own. By remaining in Christ and committed to the task God ordains for us, we will be a good father whether we feel like it or not.

The manuscript that carried this truth was sent to dozens of publishers and rejected by all of them.

When it appeared that the Lord was closing the door on this project, I needed to move on. The manuscript was bound for safe keeping.

After wiping away the dust, I asked myself, “Was this project a failure?”

Nobody was impacted by its words, but it certainly changed me. A spark was created – a desire to proclaim the message of the cross. It spurred me to consider becoming a full-time servant of the gospel. And the Lord miraculously opened a door for me to serve.

+++++

Success is defined by faithfulness.

Whether it be a father struggling to figure out how to be a good father, a young man attempting to establish a career, or a called servant out serving in the field, God does not judge a person’s effectiveness by outward success.

I wonder how successful Daniel felt when he was sitting alone in the lion’s den.

I wonder how successful Moses felt while wandering in the desert.

I wonder how successful Paul felt while under arrest in Rome.

Success is much more about being and remaining in Christ rather than planning and doing.

Success in God’s eyes is determined by faithfulness to the task for which God places before us.

This thought is totally contrary to our human nature. We desire – even demand — fruits for our efforts. When they do not appear according to our timetable, we tend to wring our hands and consider ourselves as failures.

Faith trusts God’s work on our behalf but faithfulness always works.

Faith rests in God’s promises but faithfulness never rests.

It’s a life-long quandary that only can be sharply defined by what can be perceived by our human nature as a failure.

There was a king born in a lowly manager in the small town of Bethlehem.

The long-awaited Messiah then disappeared in Nazareth for thirty years.

The Son of God revealed himself, then lifted on the cross.

In humility, in what was perceived as total defeat, there was victory!

Gospel ministries flourish and they close. God opens doors and closes them.

I sometimes have experienced ministry “success” and yet, it’s never enough to satisfy my ego.

I have often experienced ministry “failure” and yet, it’s always enough to keep me humble.

If I said that I have been blessed with four adult children who are making good life decisions, remaining in Christ, and not carrying excessive baggage, I would risk patting myself on the back and proudly take the credit.

If I said that all four of my children were making difficult life decisions and have turned away from Christ, I would risk scourging myself on the back and take all the blame.

“Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will be established.”  (Proverbs 16:3)

Success is defined by faithfulness – even when we feel like a failure.

Though our human nature demands results – visible monuments of our labor (successful work, ministry, or children) – our new nature in Christ trusts that our labor for him is never in vain.

Trusting in Christ – committing your work to the Lord — and his plans will be established.

Through his tender grace and everlasting mercy, God allows us to wrestle and pray, live and stay, so that he may begin a good work in us, for us, and through us according to his will and purpose. And that good work never ends until he calls us home to his eternal presence in heaven.

6 Comments on “Defining Success

  1. So you are human. Nice to hear at least part of your story. Keep it up.

    • Haha. More human than I care to admit. Thanks for the encouragement.

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