Redefining Success in a Secular World
It is no secret that our culture idolizes the American dream and puts all those who have attained it on a pedestal. As Christians, it can be difficult to live in a world where success is commonly measured by how much money you make, how influential you are, or how well known you are.
Nevertheless, as Christians, we should not be concerned with trying to measure up to the world’s definition of success; rather we should be concerned with living according to God’s definition of success.
In God’s definition of success, it doesn’t matter how much money you make, how many followers you have on social media, or whether or not you own a well-known company. But instead, it is about being faithful to what the Lord has called you to and living your life in a way that pleases the Lord.
In essence, that means as a Christian, your success and worth is not determined by your degree, your occupation, your life experiences, or your connections, but rather it has to do with whether or not we are living our lives in absolute surrender to Jesus Christ.
Success in our Personal Lives
How we view success not only affects how we approach our careers, but also our daily lives. I don’t know about you, but I am a typical American and have a set agenda for what I want to accomplish each day. I am a planning addict. In fact, I have a planner, a daily to-do list, and, if that is not enough, I have a weekly to-do list. If for whatever reason my day does not go according to my plan, I become discouraged and feel like my whole day has been wasted. I have come to realize that my definition of what a successful day should look like will often cloud my vision. Now don’t get me wrong, I think it is very beneficial to strategically plan each day, but it is also important to be flexible.
My personal definition and view of what a “successful” day is entails getting all of my tasks checked off of my to-do list. But I have learned that the things that take me away from my to-do lists are often times meaningful “interruptions,” such as conversations with friends, spending time with my family, or taking the time to encourage someone. In the end, which one do you think has more eternal significance? The fact that I completed everything on my to-do list while neglecting the others around me, or attending to the needs of those around me and neglecting my to-do list? I do not think that any of us, when faced with eternity, will regret that we spent more time with those around us instead of completing our to-do list. But again, how we view success determines how we live our everyday lives.
May we live lives that are not so concerned about our to-do lists; rather let us live purposeful lives that are flexible and attentive to the needs of others.
Don't Let Failure Stop You
I think if many of us were truly honest with ourselves about what is keeping us from surrendering our life and career to the Lord, it would be the fear of failure. As a culture, we define failure as being the opposite of success. Pastor Steven Furtick said in his sermon How To Be Brave: Hold That Thought,
“The opposite of success is not failure: the opposite of success is unfaithfulness. So, if you are faithful to what God called you to do, then even failure will work for your good.”
As Christians, we don’t have to fear failure since we can be assured that nothing is wasted in God’s hands. Romans 8:28 so truthfully states, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (ESV). In addition, Psalm 18:25 says, “To the faithful you show yourself faithful...” (NIV). Even if the worst thing happens and you fail, the Lord will be faithful to you and will hold you safely in His hands.
During the summer before my last semester of college, I was overwhelmed with fear and anxiety at the thought of graduating from college. My fear of graduating was completely illogical: deep down inside I was truly excited about graduating from college, but yet I was overcome with anxiety whenever I thought about my life after graduation. One day, as I was on my way to my internship, I was listening to a sermon on fear, and in that moment I realized that I really wasn’t afraid of graduating, I was afraid of “failure” and what others would think of me. In that moment, I was allowing the fear of man to control my life and my thoughts instead of walking in the freedom that Christ has intended for my life.
In reality, the fear of man says that our life has to look a certain way to be considered successful. The fear of man stifles creativity and encourages uniformity. The fear of man is a cage to our very souls.
As Christians, our solution to battling the fear of man is simply to fear God.
Proverbs 9:10 says, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom...” (ESV). Not only does the fear of the Lord bring wisdom, but it also brings freedom. The fear of God takes the pressure off of us because it reminds us that we are not in control and to instead put our hope in the one who has the ultimate control.
Career Versus Calling
So if we completely redefine what success means, we can then redefine the essence of what a career is. What if instead of thinking of a career as having a steady job doing something you may or may not enjoy, what if we think of it as a calling? What if we stopped looking at a career as something we do during the week to make money, and instead thought of it as a ministry the Lord has called us to? If we thought of our careers as really being a calling, then we would no longer separate our lives into the secular and sacred. Instead, we would see our work as an extension and platform for our ministry.
Likewise, we must also redefine what we think a calling from God looks like. As Christians, we may think sometimes that pastors and missionaries are the only Christians who are truly “called” to ministry for the Lord.
Yes, certain people are called and ordained to do full time ministry, but in reality, all of us are called to a life of full time service to God, and for some of us that means that we are pastors, and for others that means that we are small business owners.
William Perkins stated in his book Treatise on the Vocations or Callings of Men, “The main end of our lives is to serve God in the serving of men in the works of our callings.” As Christians, we should not think that living a life of ministry in our careers is any less important and sacred than living our lives as a missionary in Africa. As Perkins puts it, the main purpose of our lives is to serve God by serving men through our calling.
There is no greater purpose than fulfilling God’s call in your career and personal life. Though some may not be able to understand why you are living the way you are, you can know that the world’s standard of success truly does not hold to God’s standard of success.
Now, ask yourself:
What is ultimately holding you back from embracing God’s calling in your life?
Ana Campbell is a social media and public relations professional living in North Carolina. She is a creative at heart, Liberty University graduate, and lover of all things striped. She is passionate about helping other creatives create successful businesses through marketing and social media and encouraging others in their God-given callings. Follow her on twitter or Instagram.