Really, what is Success?

Written by Bungaran, Indonesia, originally in Bahasa Indonesia

“Success is my right,” the motivational speaker told the audience at a seminar I was attending.

He paused for effect, giving us time to digest what he said. With all his years of experience as a motivational speaker, I thought, surely there was some truth to what he was saying. After all, he looked and sounded pretty convincing. Perhaps success really is a right.

“You deserve to be successful,” the speaker continued. “You deserve to live in luxury and wealth. You deserve to have the support of others in all that you do and try to achieve. Now claim it. If you want the newest BMW car, visualize it in your mind and claim it. Claim all the things that you want!” The audience began to clap their hands enthusiastically.

In a way, their response encapsulated how most of us view success. But why do we get so excited about these things? Why do we desire so much to be successful?

Many people will do whatever it takes to be—and look—successful. Some women sell themselves to earn extra cash to keep up with the latest fashion trends and styles. Some students cheat in their exams to do well and in competitions to win them. Some businessmen bribe others in order to strike deals. Some government officials allow corruption in order to retain their luxurious lifestyles.

But who defines success? As Christians, who better to learn what success truly is than from the most successful man who’d ever lived: Jesus.

Jesus was born in a lowly manger and grew up in a small town in Israel. He was trained as a carpenter and later, went around doing ministry with a small group of disciples who were themselves lowly members of society. And He ended up dying on the cross—a death meant for criminals.

That definitely doesn’t look like success in our world today. In fact, Jesus’ life would seem to be the total opposite. Yet we can say without any qualms that He led a successful life. Why?

Jesus’ last words before He gave His spirit up was, “It is finished” (John 19:30)—which also means it is “paid in full”. His death on the cross fulfilled God’s redemptive work on earth by paying the price for man’s sin and reconciling us with God. Jesus finished the work God had given Him to do (John 17:4). In God’s eyes, therefore, Jesus was successful, because He fulfilled the will of the Father.

What does this mean for us today? It is this: success is not about having a luxurious life on earth. It might help us feel good about ourselves, but ultimately, it doesn’t constitute real “success”. Success is, in fact, following God’s will for our lives and living in obedience to Him.

I learned what it means to follow God’s will and leading when I was trying to set up my newly-bought knockdown wardrobe. Instead of following the steps on the installation manual, I decided to try assembling it myself. I managed to put it together—only to realize that it was tilted towards the left. Frustrated at myself, I unassembled everything and started from scratch—this time, according to the manual’s instructions.

Deciding how to live is like assembling a wardrobe. We each have the freedom to assemble life however we want—whether it is according to our own knowledge or God’s. If we live our lives our way, we’d probably end up with “crooked” lives. He will not be at the center of our lives, where His power can be evident in what we do. However, if we live according to God’s leading, we will be able to fulfil His will for our lives, and find true success.

Success isn’t measured by the things we have or receive. It is measured by our faithfulness and obedience to God, and in fulfilling God’s plans in our lives.

Maybe the motivational speaker was right: success is achievable and we can attain it if we set our minds to it. But may the success we dream of be one of following God’s will and living a life of obedience to His leading. We don’t need a luxurious life and all that wealth to feel successful—we already are successful when we walk with Him and choose His ways.

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