One of the most thorough discussions of success from a Christian perspective can be found in “Success God’s Way” (Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000) by Charles Stanley, a Baptist minister and evangelist whose programs before his recent death were seen and heard on TV and radio worldwide.
“It is in being a godly person and then in obeying God in his directives that we find success as Christians,” Stanley writes (pg. 2). “Our life as Christians is not be to wrapped up in what we possess, earn or own. Life for Christians is wrapped up in what we are in Christ Jesus.”
Years ago I asked my favorite philosophy professor what was the most important thing he had learned in a lifetime of study and teaching. Without hesitation he answered, “The difference between having and being.” This is indeed one of life’s great truths, but it is hard to follow in our highly materialistic world, with advertisements and commercials bombarding us all day long to buy, buy, buy — often things we don’t need.
So what does being have to do with success? Stanley says, “Success is the continuing achievement of becoming the person God wants you to be and accomplishing the goals God has helped you set.”
Stanley admits he is an organized, orderly person, so for him success for the Christian and God-given goals go hand in hand.
Another approach is taken by Oswald Chambers, author of the devotional masterpiece, “My Utmost For His Highest” (Discovery House publishers).
In his devotional for July 28, Chambers shares these thoughts:
“We tend to think that if Jesus Christ compels us to do something and we are obedient to Him, he will lead us to great success. We should never have the thought that our dreams of success are God’s purpose for us. In fact, His purpose may be exactly the opposite. We have the idea that God is leading us toward a particular end or a desired goal, but He is not. The question of whether or not we arrive at a particular goal is of little importance, and reaching it becomes merely an episode along the way. What we see as only the process of reaching a particular end, God sees as the goal itself.
“What is my vision of God’s purpose for me? Whatever it may be, His purpose is for me to depend on Him and on His power now. If I can stay calm, faithful, and unconfused while in the middle of the turmoil of life, the goal of the purpose of God is being accomplished in me. God is not working toward a particular finish — His purpose is the process itself…. It is the process, not the outcome, that is glorifying to God…if we realize that moment-by-moment obedience is the goal, then each moment as it comes is precious.”
Goals have their place no doubt as far as our material lives are concerned. But goals can easily become the objects of our attention and efforts, meaning in effect they become idols. They can take our attention away from our relationship with God in the now and place too much importance on having instead of being.
But suppose your goal is to have a closer relationship with God? This is what Stanley is getting at. The writings of Paul and other apostles urge us to pursue a more God-filled life. Consider this famous passage by Paul in Philippians 3:14:
“Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize of God’s heavenly calling in Christ Jesus.”
Paul’s goal was to be with Jesus in heaven. But this result cannot be earned even for those who strain and press on. It is provided solely by the grace of God, who wants to be in continuous relationship with you, now and into eternity. That is success.