In response to an inner conviction I felt from the Lord, I’m currently attending Bible college. I don’t know if I will end up working at a church or missionary organization, but I know that this is something I need to do.
So while many of my peers are starting families and careers, I’m taking New Testament survey and theology classes. If I’m completely honest, there have been times I’ve wondered if it is worth it. I’ve wrestled with the thought that Bible college isn’t practical. Of course, learning the Bible is always a good thing, but shouldn’t I be putting my time and resources toward building a successful career?
It is easy to look at social media, TV, magazines, etc., and without even meaning to, develop a completely wrong idea of what a successful life looks like. We often view success in terms of numbers: bank account balances, number of friends, number of followers, number of homes, number of cars, number of people reached or impacted . . . the list goes on.
But I’m learning that a successful life in God’s eyes looks very different and can’t be quantified in numbers. In order to be successful by God’s standard, I have to surrender worldly standards of success.
This doesn’t mean I just give up my ambition or a desire to succeed. But it does mean that I have to ask God what He wants me to succeed at, and how using the gifts and talents He’s given me to serve Him and the body of Christ will look in my life (1 Corinthians 12:18-20). Since His purpose for our lives is unique and personal, God’s idea of success for my life might not look the same as everyone else’s.
Along the way, I have come to better understand what Jesus meant when He spoke to Peter in John 21:18-23. In this passage, Jesus indicated that Peter would eventually face martyrdom. Peter understandably looks to his fellow disciple next to him, and asks Jesus, “What about him?” In this, we see Peter very naturally comparing his life and success to his peers. If Peter had to face such a fate, then what about the other disciples?
But Jesus’ response is a revelation for us. He answers Peter in John 21:22, “If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow Me!” Jesus tells Peter that success is about following Him, wherever that may lead us in life. And it has nothing to do with anyone else—it is between us and Jesus.
I used to worry that if I didn’t accomplish enough in life, then I would be a failure. But the Lord has been showing me my error in using measures like owning a house, achieving some great professional goal, gaining notoriety, acquiring financial security, or other things, as my barometer for success. These things are fine, and if you have them that’s great, but they don’t determine success.
Peter was successful in life solely because He followed Jesus to the very end. It had nothing to do with what his life looked like in comparison to his peers, or what he had accomplished, or how great his following was.
This caused me to rethink what success for my life might look like. For example, we rightly view someone like Billy Graham as having achieved great success—he reached a countless multitude with the gospel over his lifetime. His name is known around the world in Christian and secular circles alike as the most famous evangelist of our time.
But less known is the name Mordecai Ham, the evangelist who led Graham to Christ. Ham never achieved the notoriety that Graham did, but we can see that Ham’s life as an evangelist was just as successful in spreading the gospel as Graham’s was, even though he was never celebrated like Graham.
Viewing success by God’s standard means not everyone will understand the choices we make. As a writer who has chosen to go to Bible college, I’m often asked why I don’t pursue a more traditional, lucrative career path, like medicine, architecture or law.
For as many times as I have had to answer that question, it’s still hard to find the words to adequately explain myself. What it comes down to is this: I want to be successful in life, but I want to be successful by God’s standard. This means obedience to Him no matter the outcome. So until God directs me otherwise, success for my life right now looks like being a struggling writer attending Bible college. No wealth, no prestige, just the pursuit of Jesus and His value system.
Whether I die broke, alone, and in obscurity, or wealthy, famous, and surrounded by loved ones, it should make no difference to me. I’m learning to rest in the knowledge that if I’ve lived my life following Jesus wherever He leads me, then I’ve lived a successful life.