Friday, April 22, 2011

Flailing at Success

Today I was reflecting on success and it brought to mind some of the thoughts I shared a few years ago in my book Becoming Real.

After interviewing people about their definitions of success, author and speaker Denis Haack wrote, "Most people I've asked seem to have little trouble identifying the predominant version [of success] in society: Success means attaining some measure of money, fame, power and self-fulfillment—and then looking the part."
When I first read that, I had to ask myself how much of my life is spent in the pursuit of money? Or fame? Or power? Or self-fulfillment (however you define that)? And then looking the part?
Photo courtesy of nuttakit

For instance, why do we wear the clothes we do? Or drive the car we do, or live in the house and neighborhood we live in? 

"But," I can hear a voice inside of me argue, "I can't afford a nicer car or a better house!"
True. But if I had the money, if I had the opportunity to get a better car, or nicer clothes, or a bigger home, well, admittedly, just like most people, I’d probably get them. After all, in our society, how successful are you—really—if no one notices?
Money. Fame. Power. Self-fulfillment.

It struck me that when I die, God is not going to ask to see my bank account or my 401K plan or my abs. He's not going to ask me how many friends I had on Facebook or if any of my books were New York Times bestsellers or how much I can bench press. But I think he is going to ask me if I was faithful with the gifts, with the ideas, with the time he gave me.

I came across an instance when Jesus said, “A person is a fool to store up earthly wealth but not have a rich relationship with God,” (Luke 12:21) and I realized that, for me, whenever my work becomes more focused on accomplishment than on faithfulness, I'm no longer on the road to true success, but am actually on a detour around it.

So, I'm curious. What are the criteria you typically use to measure success? How do you identify or define a successful person? And maybe, most pertinently of all, are you a successful person?


Jarrod Terry said...

First of all I want to say that I love your work! I've been reading the Patrick Bowers series and I havent been able to put them down. But the biggest influence you've had on me is through your book "Story". The imagery, the writing, the questions and ideas you posed really shifted my thinking on the concept of narrative and the overarching big picture of the Bible. Thank you so much for your work and keep it up! By the way, I was at your church on Sunday in Johnson City with my girlfriend. You may know her family, the Stoltzfus family? Mrs Carol says she sees you all the time. Thanks for listening!

Jarrod Terry said...

And I have a blog of my own if you want to check it out.

Thank you so much!

Phil Geissler said...

I echo what Jarrod said about loving your Patrick Bowers series. Your books are the reason I'm here on your on your blog.

Concerning the definition of Success, my wife and I run our own business. The story of how our business came about has God written all over it and we are thankful. Our approach to how we handle business dealing is Since God gave us this business we believe that we are God stewards of his blessings. We are successes totally and 100 percent because of God and for no other reason. It is this attitude that dictates how we handle the financial side of the business. We are deternined this year to start tithing 10 percent on our business gross to God's work in some way or another.

Whatever view of success others see in us we give the Glory to God!

Anonymous said...

I believe that success - or should I say "true success" - is obtained by living our lives for Jesus. Learning to walk in step with the Spirit. Hungering after and doing the work and will of the Father. Laying down ourselves as living sacrifices, submitting to God, and becoming willing participants in God's great plan for the world. Becoming instruments of His redemption.

Never easy, but totally fulfilling. It's definitely something to work at, something I'm not nearly perfect at (grin), but our Triune God has promised to help us in our weakness, and I'm hanging on to that promise until Kingdom come, literally!

Christy Tennant said...

Steven you might appreciate this talk Makoto Fujimura gave at International Arts Movement's Encounter 10. The title of his talk was, "The Quest(ion) of Success."

LauraBo said...

my son one time said he heard someone ask how you measure success as a pastor? It's not how big your church is, how much money you make but if your kids follow God. To me that is success. We all know your family knows you better than anyone else and if your life exemplifies God then they will see it.
Sometimes I have to remind myself of that as these last 3 years have been extremely hard. When you feel discarded by people and the money is all gone but your kids are still there serving God then everything is alright.
I love A HEART EXPOSED and plan on looking for your other books.

Bill Chance said...

I remember a discussion in school in my Western Civilization Class (a long, long time ago) about our goals for the future and the desire to make a lot of money. I expressed my desire to do something “important” and not caring so much about becoming wealthy. There were two sorority girls in the class and they could not even comprehend or understand what I was talking about.
They said, “If someone walked up to you and gave you a million dollars, wouldn’t you take it?”
I responded, “Sure, I’m no idiot, but that’s not going to happen. To have a chance at making millions of dollars I’ll have to make certain decisions and sacrifice things that I don’t want to. I’ll probably make different choices.”
They looked at me like I had lost my mind. That was almost forty years ago and I have stayed true to my goal – I am still poor (whether I’ve ever done anything “important” – I don’t know).
I hope those two girls were able to get what they wanted and were happy with it when it came.

Really enjoy your blog - keep up the good work.

Ruth said...

I love the verse you referenced. The verse that comes to my mind is the one in Matthew: "For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, but lose his soul." I think you were using the Luke version. Anyway, I just wanted to give you a cyber high five for talking about who really matters: Jesus! And by the way, I'm just starting and enjoying: The Pawn...although as a Christian high school librarian, it is a little more gritty than I expected. :-} Blessings to you.