By Sharla Fritz, Crosswalk.com
How do you define success? Our world seems to have definite ideas about who is successful and who most definitely is not. Elon Musk? Yes. He's the world's wealthiest man. Tom Brady? Of course. Everyone admires the GOAT in football, right? Meryl Streep? Sure. Her acting abilities are second to none.
But what about the clerk at the grocery store? The teller at the bank? The custodian at your son's school? Are they successful too?
It depends on what you believe about success.
Here are five things that many people believe about success that is, in fact, lies. Have you ever believed any of these statements?
1. Success is Only Measured by Wealth and Fame
Most of our modern culture behaves as if this is true. The Elon Musks, Tom Bradys, and Meryl Streeps of this world get all the attention, headlines, and trophies. So we think we need to make a name for ourselves. We believe that we must do something outstanding or we will be considered a failure. If no one notices us, we wonder if we've wasted our lives.
But when I look at how Jesus interacted with people, I find that it wasn’t the rich and famous that He praised. One story about a woman who would never make the list of “Who’s Who in Jerusalem” demonstrates this point. Jesus went to the temple and sat down across from the place where worshipers left their offerings. He saw many wealthy people deposit large amounts of money in the treasury box. Yet, He praised a woman who only dropped in two small copper coins worth only a few cents. Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on” (Mark 12:43-44). Jesus measured success not by the amount given but by the amount sacrificed.
We don’t need to have great wealth to find success in God’s eyes. Instead, He notices those who give generously.
2. Success is a Destination
Often I find myself thinking: Once I reach this goal, I’ll know I’ve made it. Or: If I could only have this one particular possession or position, I’ll know I’ve arrived. But even when I’ve achieved the goal, I’m rarely satisfied. When we view success as a destination, disappointment may meet us at the end of the road.
Psychologists have a term for this success lie: arrival fallacy. This phenomenon is the false belief that achieving a particular goal will ensure happiness. Joy may come after completion of the objective yet quickly fade. Experts tell us pursuing goals can benefit us, but the problem lies in expecting the accomplishment to deliver contentment when it is actually the journey toward the aspiration that brings life meaning and purpose.
Apostle Paul demonstrated this principle when he wrote, “Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14). Like a runner desperate for a gold medal, Paul stretched toward the ultimate prize of eternal life. He admitted he had not yet reached the goal of perfection but continually pressed on and strained forward toward heaven.
We find joy not in reaching a destination but in delighting in the journey with the Lord at our side.
3. Success is Defined as Being Greater Than Others
Perhaps we see this most in the corporate world. Workers vie for the next rung on the corporate ladder. Everyone hopes to find the top position in the company.
But we all tend to play the comparison game. Who has the biggest house? Who has the fastest car? Who has the most Instagram likes?
Even Jesus’ disciples participated in this kind of game. In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus asked the disciples what they had talked about on the road to Capernaum. They sheepishly hung their heads and didn’t answer because they had argued about who among them was the greatest. They instinctively knew that Jesus would not approve. His humble life demonstrated that God defines greatness and success very differently from how our world interprets it.
When the disciples didn’t respond, Jesus said, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all” (Mark 9:35). In God's kingdom, greatness doesn't happen by climbing the corporate ladder. Instead, greatness comes by taking the back stairs down to the servant quarters.
God doesn't measure success by wealth and fame. He measures it by faithfulness and service.
4. Success Will Fill the Gaping Hole in My Heart
I, for one, have been guilty of believing this lie. I have thought: If I could just reach this goal, I'll feel better about myself. If I can achieve this accomplishment, people will notice me. If I win this award, it will make all the difference. I won't feel so alone or inadequate.
But, of course, that never works. Even if I achieve the goal or accomplishment I've set out to attain, it doesn't magically change my life. I still feel deficient and flawed. So I decide I need to set some more goals. Achieve more. And when I do, I still feel deficient and flawed, so I decide to...
Even King Solomon, the wisest man in the world, realized this. He wrote:
"So I became greater than all who had lived in Jerusalem before me, and my wisdom never failed me... But as I looked at everything I had worked so hard to accomplish, it was all so meaningless—like chasing the wind. There was nothing really worthwhile anywhere." (Ecclesiastes 2:9, 11 NLT)
Earthly success will not fill the emptiness in your soul.
5. If I'm Successful, God Will Value Me More
For a long time, I subconsciously believed this. Even though I would never have said these words out loud, I felt that doing something big for God would increase my standing with Him.
But a few years ago, the Holy Spirit uncovered this lie hidden in my heart. In truth, God does not love me more or less based on my accomplishments. He loves me—period.
God loves us not because of what we've done, but because of what Jesus has done for us—erasing our sin through His death on the cross. He considers us precious because He made us that way—specifically creating each one of us with amazing gifts and talents.
Defeat this lie with the words of Isaiah 43:4, “You are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you.”
Live in the truth that God loves you, not based on your accomplishments, but because of His grace.
The world may still measure success in the commodities of wealth and fame. Everyone around you may spend their lives striving to get to the top. They may still worship success stories like Elon Musk and Meryl Streep.
But in God’s kingdom, we find success when we live a life measured by His grace. Our lives have meaning and triumph when we serve Him in whatever role He places us, whether as a company CEO or stay-at-home mom. We can find joy and satisfaction in His unconditional love.
For more on Christian success, check out 3 Signs Success May Be Your Favorite Idol.
Photo Credit: ©Getty Images/jacoblund
Sharla Fritz is a Christian author and speaker who weaves honest and humorous stories into life-changing Bible study. Author of the new book Measured by Grace: How God Defines Success, Sharla writes about God’s transforming grace and unfailing love. Sharla lives in the Chicago suburbs with her amusing pastor husband. Get her FREE ebook 21 Five-Minute Soul-Rest Practices or connect with Sharla at www.sharlafritz.com and Facebook.