The United States of America is considered the land of freedom. Because of this, from our conception, we are a people who are doers. We fought against the oppressor – a British monarchy, we fought them and won. We wrote our own constitution and then elected our own President. We’ve bucked authority and did our own thing. I’ve heard this before, and you have too – but we’re a “pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps” kind of people. If you’re clueless as to what this mean, ask a grandpa, they’ll know.
But since this time, as a nation, we’ve become a nation that cares about increase. We value growth. We value when things get bigger. I’ll never forget the first Super Walmart. I mean, it was like a mall of items that I didn’t need, but it was amazing! What’s happened in our culture is that because of the difficulties we faced as a nation, we value positive progress. If a stock doesn’t increase, we ask “why?” If church attendance is down, we look around for someone to blame. If revenues are not where they need to be, we point the finger at the department or person who failed to produce. It can get messy.
Now, I’m not opposed to growth, and bigger margins of profit. This are good things! Goodness, as a church, if nobody is showing up, that’s a problem! And if nobody is investing financially into the life of the church, that’s an additional problem too! Nickels and noses matter! But does Jesus have a different view of success? Does He see things differently than the rest of the world?
The short answer, and obvious one, is, yes. See, God’s economy is different, God often turns success-oriented lifestyles upside down. God will often celebrate decrease rather than increase (see John 3:30 for example). My point is that God will often call us to set aside pursuing wealth, popularity, fame, and even security for His sake. God desires of us to lose ourselves in His mission by being obedient to the Holy Spirit. And often, our “success” impedes that mission.
See, following Jesus is often a call away from comfort and security, wealth and safety – it’s a call of mission which is about self-denial (see Matthew 16:24). That’s not that popular by the way. We live in a culture that is about self-expression, self-exultation, self-promotion, etc. We’re about increasing our twitter followers, or likes on Instagram, or blog traffic – or whatever.
But the way of Jesus isn’t popular. It’s about Jesus. Look at the disciples – they lost their lives for His sake. Ultimately, God will turn human values on their heads. “Whoever tries to make his life secure will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it” (Luke 17:33). So we aim to lose our lives for His sake, that’s success. That’s what we’re after together.
As I get older, I often ask myself the question – Am I being successful? Who doesn’t want that? I think all of us do. Personally, I want to look at my life one day and say, I was successful, but not according to the world’s standards – to God’s. And I’ve found that I’ve learned more of God’s grace and more of myself from my failures than from my “successes.”
What will success look like then? I think success will express itself differently for all of us, but one thing is for sure, obedience, submission, and faithfulness are just a few marks of those who love Him. And to those who have been faithful with whatever they’ve been given, Jesus will one day say, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ (Matthew 25:23).