Written By Lim AL
Being involved in youth outreach and ministry for the last 23 years, AL had the privilege to befriend and witness the growth of some youths into adulthood. One constant challenge she faces is to rethink all of life from the gospel’s perspective and to encourage young people to do so.
Recently, I came across this lament by a very talented young person on his blog: “The reason why I hate attending lessons and going to school is that you are inherently born with lower IQ, so no matter how much you work, people with higher IQ will still win you.”
I believe many of us can identify with this struggle. No matter how hard we work—or how talented we believe ourselves to be—it seems that there will be someone who will surpass our abilities or achievements. To make matters worse, the societies we live in are constantly measuring our attainment of success. In this process, individuals are ranked against each other. As a result, success results in discrimination because some are “better” than others. Inequality is perpetuated because those who are more “talented” are more highly rewarded.
The pressure to succeed is an unavoidable reality. I believe man has an insatiable craving for success because we are really looking for significance, satisfaction, and security. Success establishes our significance or value in society, which brings personal satisfaction. It also builds up a sense of security, because we know we are of value. How many of us do not want significance, satisfaction, and security?
But craving success is one thing; achieving it is another. The young man’s blog entry is a reminder that many of us face frustrations in our efforts to attain success. Why is this so? Why do we struggle to succeed? Consider these challenges:
1. We have different starting points. Intelligence, looks, and talents are unequally distributed from birth, so those who have the qualities that are prized by society are likely to have a head start. American fashion model Cameron Russell, who has made it big on the runway and in the fashion industry, has acknowledged that her success was bolstered by her win in the “genetic lottery”. She had the physical attributes that were highly sought after—tall, pretty, and graceful.
2. There are different definitions of success. Where and when you are born can affect what you need to be or do to be successful. In Singapore (where I live), for example, society tends to reward academic achievements. The education system favors early bloomers and examination-savvy students, while those who are less academically inclined and unable to excel in exams are more likely to face greater challenges in employment.
3. We have different opportunities to pursue success. People from privileged backgrounds are more likely to have the means and connections to succeed. Successful personalities like Microsoft founder Bill Gates, investor Warren Buffet, pop idol JJ Lim and Olympic Swimming medallist Michael Phelps, for instance, came from privileged homes where they enjoyed strong parental support as well as material resources to develop their natural talents. Of course there are “rags to riches” stories, but today, these appear to be the exception rather than the rule.
So if success is so difficult to achieve, who or what can bring us lasting significance, satisfaction, and security? Many of us look for these things in people, possessions, and positions. But can we find the answer in a relationship with a significant other, in being appointed CEO of a big company, or in earning our first million dollars at the age of 30?
People, possessions, and positions do bring significance, satisfaction and security. They are blessings from the Lord to be enjoyed. But it is the gospel that offers us the ultimate answer to the 3 S’s. No other person can fully satisfy these needs but our loving Creator alone:
1. Our significance in Christ does not depend on us. Ephesians 1:4-5 tells us that God, in His sovereignty and love, chose us before the creation of the world to be made “holy and blameless” in his sight. We are valued by God because of His grace and will alone, and not because of our talents or efforts.
2. True satisfaction is to be found in a relationship with God. God’s love gives us satisfaction that surpasses that which we can find in earthly relationships. The extent of His love was displayed when He sent His son, Jesus, to die on the cross for us while we were still sinners (Romans 5:8). God’s sacrificial and faithful love fulfills our deepest longing.
3. True security comes from an eternal relationship with God. Not only God is eternal, but He has also promised us eternal life, which means we can enjoy our relationship with Him forever. This gives us true security, since this relationship will never end.
Blaise Pascal, the French mathematician, physicist, and inventor was known for his famous saying, “There is a God-shaped vacuum in every man’s heart”. He highlighted that man’s craving and helplessness showed that “there was once in man a true happiness”. Man tries to fill the emptiness “with everything around him”, but nothing works. Why? Because “this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself”.
So what perspective of success should a Christian take? The Bible shows us how we should understand success:
1. Success is ultimately a blessing from God. It is God who bestows us with talents, and provides us with resources and opportunities. We are to enjoy them, but we are not to forget who is the source of our success. The Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar, learnt this lesson the hard way. Daniel 4:28-37 records how the king was brought down low when he basked in his own abilities. He was reminded that “the Most High is sovereign over all kingdoms on earth and gives them to anyone he wishes.”
2. Success does not save us from death. James 4:13-15 reminds us that our lives are like “a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes”. Success is temporary; we will still die one day. This truth was brought home to me when one of my best friends developed asphyxiation on a vacation and passed away within minutes. She had no medical condition and was at her prime in many ways—she had a wonderful marriage, an adorable son, a lovely new home, a new position as head of a large organization, and was an active, well-regarded member of a church ministry.
3. Success should not distract us from seeking God’s kingdom. In Luke 12:13-21, Jesus tells a parable of the rich man who focuses on building a bigger barn to store his crops—only to be told that he would die that very night. Jesus then tells His disciples to focus on storing up treasures up in heaven instead, and “provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys” (Luke 12:33). Let us not be distracted by the love of money and success, and seek to do God’s will and His kingdom.
Do you know and enjoy true success?
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