Counting Success

by Peter Swann

A thirst for success haunts all of us. This is true because a longing for significance dominates our culture. We all are driven toward living lives that count.

Many of us have lengthy track records that point toward attempts at worldly success. We’ve poured in time, resources, and effort… all for the sake of attaining some status or title – whatever it is that deems us significant.

A yearning for success drives the decisions that we make, the amount of anxiety that we have, and even how we pray. We are shaped and molded as people by the emphasize we put on success… and what we think success really is.

The truth is that few of us have a biblical definition of success. Scripture would tell us that success is not status or a title or money or fame. It’s only in one simple thing: faithfulness.

By a worldly definition, failure and I are good friends. I know what it’s like to wallow in the gutter, feeling like others are better than me, more impactful than me, and more gifted than me… in short, more successful than me. Feelings of failure have frequented me often in life.

Yet the Lord has repeatedly hounded me on success. He’s gone after me hard. And no time was more intense than when Shauna and I were in our mud hut, struggling with the fact that other missionaries were seeing so many more profess faith in Christ, receive baptism, and start churches. Life in South Sudan was tough enough without the sense of looming failure that I grappled with so hard.

But we have been saved by a graciously persistent God. He came after me hard, digging down deep into my version of success. I began to realize that it wasn’t in the end result, but in the process… not in the visible numbers but in the invisible effort. Success is not any external result but in the wholehearted, Christ-centered, completely surrendered journey that got you there.

Numbers can be important, so this is not to dismiss numbers. It’s simply to say that they aren’t the most important thing. There’s only one thing that is, for it’s what best glorifies our Lord – and that’s faithfulness.

As God redefined that definition of success, He redefined me. Anxiety began to slip away, as did fear and tension. I began to focus on one simple thing… daily faithfulness.

It’s what I began to plead for us, and what I now plead for our kids. God can make them into whoever He wants, but whatever they do, it’s faithfulness that I beg for. It’s the thing that matters above all else. It’s what best glorifies God, and it’s what will best fill them with joy and peace in the process.

So that thirst for success is a good thing. It helps to keep us on track, and it indeed points toward lives of significance. But that significance is found only in faithfulness. So the resulting prayer is simple, a deep cry from the heart – that God will make us, above all else, not an anxiety-ridden, end result-based people, but simply this:  a faithful one.