There is a great deal to be said about the definition of success. The world factors in salary and possessions, claiming these as a mark of rank, and therefore, an indication on success. To a degree, the Christian church at large has allowed this idea to seep its way into our worldview. We mark a church’s success on its weekly tithe income, or its number of members, or the number of people who said yes on a Sunday morning. While salvation is the goal of the church, it has a way of being the only means of measuring success.
A biblical examination of success stories, and even the lack thereof, can teach us about what our standard should be, regarding our own definition of success. When I was growing up, my father would tuck me in bed, pray for me, often goofing off when he was supposed to ease me to sleep. I still remember, though, the times when he would take the time to teach me a life lesson. His most repeated refrain, spoken like a prophet’s poem, was centered around his idea of success: “Get a good education, get a good job, buy a good house.” Though my father meant it for good, and I know he only ever wanted what was best for his children, I always felt the stir in my heart to reach beyond such an expectation. What if I wanted more than that?
My father wanted me to be successful, and his lens on success was through his worldview, formed by his upbringing. There is nothing wrong with this picture of the American dream my father wanted for me; I would venture to take it a step further. This picture is but a piece of success through God’s perspective.
One can have the big house because they have the high paying job; can park their payed-in-full car in the garage and can furnish their home with lavish possessions. What defines success is not this measure, but the heart behind it. In prosperity, is your heart obedient to the will and Word of the Lord?
When God gave Moses the Law for the people of Israel he was adamant about the blessings and curses which would follow given their obedience or disobedience, respectively. If you obey My Law and My statutes, you will be blessed; if you disobey, these curses I will bring upon you, until you repent and return to My Law. The job of the prophets was to call the people back to God by recalling the blessings and curses laid out in the covenant. Amos was one such prophet. He was a tree farmer from Tekoa, in the southern kingdom of Judah. He was called to go and preach to the northern kingdom of Israel, to call them back to God’s covenant laws, and to do justice once more.
I point out Amos because of the political and economic setting of Israel when the Lord called him. They were prosperous. This time is known as the Silver Age of Israel, second in prosperity only to the time of Solomon’s Golden Age, when the Kingdom was united and at its peak. But were they a successful nation? In their own eyes, certainly. But in God’s eyes, they were not even close.
The king, Jeroboam the Second, led Israel into peace with surrounding nations, and opened trade routes with them, allowing this prosperity. But the issues were within his borders. The book of Amos records God’s words against the nation, many of which were covenant curses for disobedience, laid out in plain detail in Deuteronomy 28. The rich were getting richer, and the poor were being mistreated, being deprived of justice in the courts (Amos 5:12). In God’s eyes, the nation of Israel was failing. Miserably. He even tells them how much He hated their worship. That’s right; God hates.
The success story here is not a condemnation on the rich, or those who live under God’s blessings. There is nothing wrong with having much. My heart is to simply highlight God’s definition of success, as found in Scripture. Amos was not a prophet, in his eyes (Amos 7:14). He was a tree farmer, the lowest member of society. But God spoke to him, called him to leave his home and go prophesy to a nation, speak to a king, confronting a priest in his temple on his home turf. In Amos chapter 7 he is rejected, wrongly accused of conspiracy against the king for speaking the words the Lord told him to speak, then told to leave and never return. Despite the resistance he received, he still obeyed. What makes someone successful is not their possessions or salary; it is their obedience to the Word of the Lord.
Scripture is clear there will always be wicked people who prosper, but that does not negate God’s goodness or his kindness to those who love him. Amos obeyed, and though he never saw the nation of Israel turn from their wicked ways and seek the Lord, he is a successful prophet in the eyes of the Lord.
I challenge those reading this with a call to examine your personal definition of success. If God has called you to do something, to be someone, to give or to give up, are you obeying? Even if, like Amos and so many other prophets, you never see the fruit of it? Again, I reiterate the heart of this blog; it is not to condemn those who have been blessed with much, but to dive into Scripture and allow the Holy Spirit to redefine what we have been led to believe is the measure of success. The Prophets are a wondrous example: God’s definition of success is obedience, no matter the outcome, no matter the resistance.
I believe my father had the best in mind for me. I wanted to be successful in his eyes. I know he is proud of me and supports me in every endeavor the Lord has called me to face in full-time missions. God called, and I answered. I know I am successful in his eyes, as long as I continue to obey and seek his will, doing so in love. When you know God, you love Him; when you love Him, you obey Him. I would even venture to say obedience without love is not truly obedience. Love must be the fuel of your fire.