How do you define success?
The answer to this question will greatly impact the way you live your life. Whatever we consciously or subconsciously see as indicators of success will become our guideposts as we move through life, determining the direction we take.
In Western culture, definitions of success are commonly individualistic in nature and seem to focus mainly on popularity, happiness and wealth. Even ideas around altruism come back to personal fulfilment.
Being surrounded by the voices of our culture, it’s easy to feel the pressure of or conform to these ideas. Whether we are in full time ministry, caring for our families or working hard at our careers, we will end up feeling constantly defeated if we strive for a kind of success God never asked us to strive for.
It’s not wrong to desire success. It shows we see the potential God has given us. We were never meant to be small or mediocre – we were made to shine as bright lights in the darkness. So how do we confidently walk out our purpose with excellence, without striving for the wrong kind of success?
We need to be grounded in truth, recognising who God says we are and letting his voice be our guide, and we need to recognise and reject the lies of what success looks like according to the world.
Lie #1 – Success is about how well you perform
Our world puts a lot of value on what someone does for a job, the kind of house they live in or the car they drive. We celebrate achieving high grades, coming first and job promotions.
As Christians, even if we don’t get worried about meeting these kind of standards, we can just as easily strive with a sense of performance in other areas. Like the number of people we lead to the Lord, how many teams we serve on at church, how consistently we read our Bible, our ‘good works’ and so on.
If our identity is wound up in performance, we will either feel like a failure or become arrogant based on how well we measure up compared to others.
When God said, “This is my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew Chapter 3 verse 17), Jesus hadn’t performed any miracles or started his ‘ministry’ on earth. Our relationship with God as his children is the basis of his love for us, not our good works or ‘successes’. When our identity rests in him and his love for us, there is no pressure to perform or to be successful in the world’s eyes.
Lie #2 – Success shows up in your external world for everyone to see
You could look like the most successful person in the world and be receiving accolades from everyone, but still be missing the mark. People look at the outer appearance – superficial measures of success. God looks past all of it and sees our heart. Is our heart abiding in his love? Are we humble and aware of our need for God? Is our heart soft? Are our motives pure?
Never focus more on becoming successful in your external world than growing and nurturing your internal world with God. Our inner world with God should be the foundation of all we do. Character matters.
Success is often lived out quietly in the mundane moments of life, when no one is taking any notice. It’s loving well and being faithful stewards of all we have been given. Most of the time we won’t receive recognition from people, but we will find deep joy in doing the will of our Father as we abide in his love.
Lie #3 – Success is about following a plan
Success cannot be boiled down to following a plan or a formula, no matter which business giant, preacher, philosopher or doctor in psychology came up with it.
Success is about following a person, Jesus.
It’s actually pretty simple. Make relationship with him your focus, listen to his voice and allow yourself to be led by his Spirit. When your Father is God, you don’t always have to have a 5-year plan. You just need to be humble and follow wherever he leads, day by day.
Sometimes following God won’t make sense to others. It might look far from ‘successful’. God is usually pretty unconventional!
We need to care more about being obedient to God and walking in the very best he has for us, than being approved in the eyes of man. We need to ask God for the confidence to lay comparison to rest and own the choices we make as God leads us down unexpected pathways.
Lie #4 – Success is self-made
Our world applauds self-made men and independence is highly valued. Western culture is all about the individual, but this isn’t God’s heart. He designed us to be knit together in love, functioning together as a body.
True success is much bigger than the individual. God is a generational God and desires that each family and generation would be stronger than the last, not having to fight the same battles over and over, building on each other’s victories.
We need to think beyond the here and now, switching our focus to building a lasting, godly legacy. A legacy to impact future generations will be one built on the foundation of relationship and love, not possessions, personal achievements and the praises of people.
Our greatest calling is to love. To love the One who made us, to love ourselves as God does, and to love others. So perhaps a better question to ask than what success looks like is, ‘What does love look like?’.
Love looks like Jesus. He is our greatest example. He did not come to earth so he could have a successful ministry or career, but to serve, to love and to lay down his life. For the sake of the world, not the sake of personal fulfilment or the approval of others.
“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.” (1 Corinthians Chapter 13 verses 1-3)
Bonnie loves all things old-fashioned, exploring new places, coffee with friends and being with her family. She is passionate about broken hearts and relationships being restored through the power of vulnerability and honesty with God and others. Bonnie has a Bachelor of Humanitarian and Community Studies and a Master of International Public Health.
Bonnie Dowie’s previous articles may be viewed at
Bonnie loves travelling to experience and understand new cultures, beautiful things (especially flowers), coffee with friends and being with her family. She deeply values authenticity and is passionate about building meaningful community where people feel a sense of belonging and genuine love. Bonnie Dowie’s previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/bonnie-dowie.html