Do you remember your childhood ambitions?
In Upper Primary, my form teacher asked what we wanted to be in the future. I knew what the “prestigious” careers were, but wasn’t sure what I aspired to be.
As she rattled off options – teacher, lawyer, dentist, doctor, among others – I cautiously raised my hand when she asked who aspired to be a doctor.
I was affirmed this was a wise answer when my classmate mused, “I want to be a doctor – my dad is one!”
But as it turned out, I’d go on to drop Biology for Physics in Upper Secondary, then study in the Arts’ stream in Junior College. More so, the pictures of diseased organs printed in my Biology textbook sufficed to put me off the subject. It was too intense for my squeamish self.
Despite its prestige, I am certain the medical field isn’t what God intended for me.
Over time, I’ve even grown comfortable with knowing my love for words and what it allows me to do may never draw me the wealth of income that sits on the top of climbing the medical ladder.
As a writer – a profession my teacher didn’t mention in suggesting plausible career choices – have I failed to achieve success, if defined by my work and vocation?
SUCCESSFUL PEOPLE ARE THOSE WHO OBEY GOD
While some may feel this to be true, perusing the Bible, I find a different perspective – we achieve success when we serve the Lord wholeheartedly. This happens when we work for the Lord out of love for Him.
In God’s sight, successful people are those who obey Him.
For example, in the Old Testament, King David told his son Solomon to do what the Lord commanded. By following God’s teaching in obedience, Solomon would succeed in all he did (1 Kings 2:3).
Likewise, Solomon reflected on this advice in his writing in Proverbs 3, where he instructs readers to pursue success by doing what God commands and walking in God’s ways (Proverbs 3:1, 2).
We achieve success when we serve God wholeheartedly – when we work for the Lord out of love for Him.
Though the word “success” is seldom used in the New Testament, when used, it describes success for the apostles and early believers in ministry.
When Paul talks about “success” in Romans 1:9-10, the word describes his desire that the Lord enable him to succeed in going to Rome. This relates to a desire for success in ministry, not vocational or material gain.
Furthermore, under the new covenant, God’s commands for his people to demonstrate their faith in Him nonetheless remain relevant – Jesus likewise challenged His followers to show their love for Him by keeping His commandments (John 14:15).
These commandments, which are reiterated in Matthew 22:37-39, echo God’s words to Israel in Deuteronomy (Deuteronomy 6:5, 10:12-13, 11:13).
SUCCESS IS MEASURED BY THE HEART
One pertinent example of the Bible’s illustration of success comes from the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30).
In it, a man goes on a journey and gives his three servants different amounts of money before leaving. Each unit of money he gives is measured as a talent. Upon return, the master asks his servants how they had managed the money.
Regardless of the absolute amount, the first two servants receive their master’s praise because they had doubled what they had received(Matthew 25:21, 23). The last servant who had safeguarded the money had done nothing to increase it; hence, the master condemned him for his passivity.
What mattered to the master was the servants’ faithful stewardship of what they received; it took an equal amount of effort for both servants to double their talents.
In this parable, the second half of verse 15 is often overlooked – it tells us the servants were given amounts “each according to his ability.”
Though we are tempted to protest the differences in amounts each servant received, what mattered to the master was the servants’ faithful stewardship of what they received; it took an equal amount of effort for both servants to double their talents.
Just as the master in the parable of the talents expected his servants to do more than safeguard what they were given, God expects us to use our talents productively.
Like the servants in the parable, God did not create us with a uniform amount of talents. Nonetheless, there is equality in the parable, and likewise, in God’s economy where He rewards us according to our efforts – which reveal the intentions of our hearts.
In response, we work for God in everything we do – not limited to, but including our vocational callings.
Success that God desires begins when we live a life of faithfulness to the Lord and his standards. Only then will He grant us success – not on our terms, but as He desires.
Contrary to what the world tells us, biblical success has little to do with climbing the corporate ladder or working in a highly-esteemed vocation.
It is a journey of learning to be comfortable with this when people offer their unsolicited perspectives of career-related success. With God’s help as I remain accountable to those who love me, I press on in living with a new definition of success – the obedience to God and working for Him, wherever He places me.