Understanding success in God’s eyes is a tricky thing. I just read Matthew 6&7 and I’m trying to see how God views “success.” Our culture is unbelievably preoccupied with success. We want to be successful at school, in our careers, our marriages and in our friendships. As Christians it often seems that we are obsessed with “spiritual success,” yet many of us need to take a time out and really think about what that means. It seems to me that far too often we view spirituality as something that can be earned, achieved, or mastered. We take spirituality and try and make it into something akin to a corporate ladder, that can be climbed all the way to the top.
Nope sorry. It doesn’t work like that.
But seriously haven’t we all heard Christians talking about being at a “deeper level” or someone being a more “serious” Christian? Or what about the Christians who are just a little above average Christians? What about the ones who are clearly set-apart or chosen? Called to a higher purpose? The ones who are getting the crowns? Sure, there are the "Christian janitors", but then there are the "Christian PRESIDENTS".
Who do you think God’s finds successful?!?!? In the past, when I thought about spiritual success, I have often let culture write that narrative for me. I think about numbers first of all. How many people did they bring to Christ? How many books did they publish? How big is their church? How long do they pray daily? How often do they read their Bible? How many mission trips have they gone on?
Numbers on numbers on numbers.
Rung after rung after rung on the ladder.
Yet the more I’ve thought about it, the more I have realized that this ladder of spirituality is pretty rickety and unstable. With each step, you feel more successful, but less stable. At any minute, your foot could slip and down you could stumble. This is the image I get of “spiritual success.” It feels un-attainable and yet people all over seem to be achieving it!
I really enjoyed reading Pete Scazzero’s blog recently. He talks about success and how freeing it is to live and lead from the center of God’s definition of success.
He went on to explain that if the ministry of John the Baptist was to be put on a bar, it would peak and then have a steady and precipitous decline.
He also talked about the prophets, Jeremiah and Isaiah who both served God with passion but most people just wrote them off. They didn’t exactly have a “successful ministry” if you will. No one wanted to listen to them!
Lastly he talks about Jesus in his blog and how some of his disciples turned away and deserted him (John 6:66). This certainly does not sound like a ministry where numbers are increasing and favor is just exploding.
Tonight as I read Matthew 6 and 7, it made me think about what success is and isn’t. I had some thoughts. I’m not exactly a theologian and I didn’t go to great lengths to have a thorough exegesis on these chapters but this is what came to mind…
Success in God’s eyes isn’t about having money or being spiritually loud.
You don’t spend energy on stuff that doesn’t give back.
You put your soul and heart before material and wordly success, you put it before awards, your pant size, your full calendar, your nonprofit, what others think of you, and your GPA. You put it before being perceived as spiritual.
Your heart is intimately linked with your treasure. So we seek to make our treasure carry eternal weight.
Spiritually speaking, success is SEEKING, ASKING, KNOCKING. It is not judging, should-ing, and shaming. It’s knowing that good gifts, enough and abundance are around every corner.
Success in God’s eyes is narrow, it is not wide. By this I don’t mean it’s hard to get to God. I am not talking about one-way tickets to hell or heaven. I'm talking about our lives right now. We’d rather do things culture’s way and climb a “spiritual ladder.” We’d rather get really busy and really distracted saving the world before we sit down and stare at our souls. It is narrow because it's not natural and it's not always easy. It takes intentionality to choose the road less traveled.
Spiritual success in God’s eyes isn’t doing miracles, prophesying or speaking in tongues necessarily, not that these things are bad. It’s about just being with Jesus. It’s seeing God’s image all around and treating others like that’s the case. We treat them like they are the light and salt and the image carriers they are.
It’s standing our sacred ground even when the storm hits and our house or world threatens a deadly collapse. It’s believing we are loved, valuable and enough. Sometimes we just learn to breathe through it and ask for the rescue. One day, we open our eyes, the storm has passed and the house still stands.
Success to God isn’t about being a hero. God doesn’t need more heroes. It isn’t about having a busy schedule, being frantic and having a following of 1 million. It’s about giving to the poor, the weak and those in need (and some days YOU ARE THE POOR SO GET OVER YOURSELF ALREADY and start giving to yourself). We don’t need to shout when we give (sorry, I just did). We don’t have to yell or join 10 nonprofits or bring 100 people through the “become a Christian” prayer and then post about it and create a bar chart on the size of your ministry.
When we pray, we pray to be rescued and delivered daily.
We pray for daily bread
We stay present in today.
Grounded in enough.
Tomorrow will come but today is here and so we stay mindful of right now.
We ask that heaven gets a little closer to the here and now.
Success is hearing God reminding you….
I see you
I know you feel small
I know you don’t think you measure up to the world’s definition of spiritual success
But here, listen
I don’t need you to parade your frantic-hectic-urgent do-gooder, do-better, schedule around.
I just want you.
Here’s what I actually want you to do
I want you to find some space, some sacred ground, your tranquil room, your safe place….
I want you to close the door on all the noise, the toxic comparisons, the bars, levels, graphs and pie charts of measuring true Christianity, close the door on spiritual performance anxiety and never enoughs, shoulds, always, musts; close the door on your narrative of what spiritual success and favor means.
Let me erase the numbers, and let’s paint your ladder. What is it reaching for anyway? Let’s stop striving to reach unending heights. Let’s lay it on the floor and pretend it’s a blank canvas. We’ll start there.