What does success mean to you? A six-figure salary? A big house in the best neighborhood? Power? Prestige? Popularity? Maybe success is excelling at a sport or with a talent. Parents want their children to succeed in life – get good grades, get in the best college, graduate with honors and land a great job. I am a late-in-life seminary student and I approach every exam and assignment with the desire to succeed, to make the highest score possible. There is nothing wrong with wanted to do your best and be your best, but have you ever wondered how God defines success?
By our human standards Abraham, the father of the entire Jewish nation would surely be a success. Moses, however, is a mixed bag – he brought the Israelites out of Egypt, but did not himself get to enter the Promised Land because of his disobedience. Joseph’s story at first looks anything but successful, he was sold into slavery by his brothers and imprisoned under false accusations; but he came out of that to be very successful as the second highest authority in Egypt and the savior of his family. David gets a big thumbs up as a successful warrior and King, and Solomon successfully built the Temple of the Lord, however both kings get a thumbs down for their infidelities.
Yet the great things that these great heroes did are not the true measure of their success. Look again at Abraham, the patriarch of the nation of Israel. Take a few minutes to read Genesis 22:1-19. The scene starts as God comes to Abraham and tells him to “take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and . . . sacrifice him as a burnt offering” (v. 2). The scripture says that the very next morning Abraham, Isaac and his servants set out for Mount Moriah. If you know the story, you know that Abraham bound up Isaac, laid him on the altar and raised the knife above his son in obedience to the Lord’s command. Thankfully, the Lord stayed his hand. God declared that Abraham would be blessed and that his descendants would be “as numerous as the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore” and would possess the best of the land (v. 17). That sounds like success to me! But God measured success by a higher standard. Look at verse 18 – “through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.” Abraham was a success in the eyes of the Lord because he was obedient.
Obedience is what God counts as success. It’s not how much money you make, it’s not how high you climb the corporate ladder. It’s not even how many Bible verses you memorize or how much you give to the church. To obey God is the highest mark of success in the Kingdom. Do you feel the nudge to teach a Bible class? Has God laid it on your heart to witness to your neighbor? It is obedience even to the smallest things. Has God asked you to call and encourage a friend today? Your obedience will be your success.
Listen to Joshua 1:7: “Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go.” With our obedience, God gives success in the form of blessings above anything we can imagine. Isaiah 1:19 says “If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the best from the land.” Deuteronomy 28 is God’s prescription for success. He tells the Israelites “If you fully obey the Lord your God and carefully follow all His commands I give you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations on earth” (v. 1). And God detailed the signs of success that they would enjoy: children, wealth, land, rich harvests and large herds, provision for all their daily needs, victory over their enemies, respect among all the peoples of the earth, and more.
In the Kingdom of God the greatest success was Jesus. But how does a successful ministry end on a bloody cross and a borrowed tomb? Even the disciples who followed in His footsteps all met with persecution and martyrdom – not a very successful movement, wouldn’t you agree? Yet Jesus was a success because “He humbled Himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:8). And we are the beneficiaries of His obedience as Hebrews 5:8-9 says, “Although He was a son, He learned obedience from what He suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey Him.” Jesus’ obedience led to our eternal salvation. Moses may have saved the children of Israel, but Jesus Christ saved the entire human race!
If you have been trying to win God’s favor and blessing by working hard to succeed, I have good news for you. God is not interested in your success, He is only interested in your obedience. He does not give you and me a mission or task or ministry and expect us to make it into a rousing success. He only asks us to step into His will, and when we act in obedience, we are a success to God. So slow down, jump off the hamster wheel and quit trying to show God how much you can accomplish for Him. In God’s eyes a simple “Yes” means success!
Holy Father, I’m so grateful that all You expect from me is obedience. When I say “Yes” to You, I am a success. I’m through trying to make success happen, I’m just going to obey You and know that that is all the success You desire. Amen.