Rethinking Success

For this post, I wanted to try something different. I began this post with paper and pen (I know, archaic) and later transposed it electronically. It’s more of a stream of thoughts than an carefully edited piece of writing. Here we go.

In the last month, both Megan and I have been offered new jobs, both of which we decided to accept. It’s been a very exciting time for both of us. After getting married in May, we faced some uncertainty in our future. Both of us were in unsustainable jobs and we were unsure whether we would be staying in Bellingham for any length of time. Both of these new jobs provide a stability and certainty to our lives that we haven’t enjoyed together until now.

At the beginning of the year, Megan and I set goals for ourselves for the next five years. A lot of these goals were just guesses but they set a direction for our immediate future. They allowed us to visualize where we could go, what we could do. We had seen some of our friends in our small group do something similar and we wanted to try it out. We set our goals separately, talked about them together and then prayed about them, giving them over to God. Within a month, all of our goals related to our occupations had been met. And not simply met but very specifically and uniquely met. We had set pretty specific criteria for how we wanted to see our jobs change and both of these new jobs uncannily met the criteria we had set. The perfect amount of hours, the perfect amount of compensation and benefits to boot!

Our goals were met in a way only God could have arranged. I don’t usually attribute everything to God’s hand, I believe he gave us free will for a reason, to make our own decisions. Yet in this instance, He provided for us in a way that specifically fulfilled our desires and our needs. We were pretty ecstatic. I wanted to be able to celebrate this provision but I also wanted to understand the gift God has given to us. He is the source of every good and perfect gift. His provision is not earned nor is it our right; it is given to us by His grace alone. So often I see people taking their gifts, their provision, for granted. Sometimes they even believe they are entitled to them. This isn’t a ground breaking observation. I think its probably part of our fallen human nature. We want to believe our success is of our own volition. That’s the heart of the American Dream – pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps. That kind of mindset doesn’t leave much room for thankfulness or joy.

The great thing about the Kingdom of God is that we are all part of something greater than ourselves. We don’t have to carve out our own space in the Kingdom to be successful. In the Kingdom, success is redefined. Remember when Jesus tells the story about the three servants (Matt 25:14-30). Their master is going away for a long time and he gives them each some of his property for safe keeping. When the master returns two of the servants have made a profit on their share of the master’s property. The third servant was fearful and hid his share away returning the exact amount to his master. The master celebrates the two fruitful servants but chastises the third servant because of his fear. The master wasn’t disappointed he hadn’t gotten more profit from the third servant, he was disappointed because the third servant wasn’t able to use the gift given to him successfully.

For Jesus, success looks like obedience. God doesn’t compare what we do with what other people do. In the Kingdom, all that matters is the way we have used what is given to us to bring Him glory. God is doing something great on this earth and He wants to give us a place in those plans. He doesn’t have to include us but He wants to because He loves us. He wants us to see what we’re capable of when we rely on His provision and become full partners with Him. He doesn’t care about how much money we make or what our job titles are. He cares about His Kingdom being spread to the ends of the earth and He cares about the people who want to be a part of that mission.

It took a step of faith, a lot of trust, and recognizing God’s gifts before Megan and I were able to fully celebrate His provision for us. The Greek word for rejoice is Chairō (it can also mean “greetings”); “rejoice” appears 25 times in Paul’s letters alone! I think we can assume celebration and joy are important to Paul and his theology.

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:4-7).”

When we were able to celebrate, we were able to rejoice in the Lord’s provision, recognizing that without Him, we were nothing. To Jesus, our success was our obedience and our celebration.

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