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« Great Families Seminar Outline (Part Two) | Main | No Column This Month »

The Smiles of June

graduation.jpgGraduation time triggers thoughts about success and goals in life. Typical…and boring…commencement speeches will repeat in stadiums and gymnasiums across the country that graduation is not the end, but the beginning. Grinning graduates, excited about finishing school but nervous about the next step, need to know what they are going to do with their lives. I know it’s too big to think about—-but it is too important not to. 

The only specific reference to success in the KJV Bible is Joshua 1:8: “This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success.”  The concept of success, however, runs throughout the scriptures.

I offer here some random thoughts about success: Some people think of success as achieving one’s goals, but this definition is far too simplistic. A hit-man for the mob may be judged successful if he kills someone without leaving a trace of evidence. A junkie who has just cut into a pure batch of cocaine may feel successful. A rogue corporate officer may define success as destroying one company to benefit another. Although they committed suicide in their evil act, nineteen Islamic militants considered themselves successful when they caused the carnage and devastation of 9/11.

But success is far too personal to be defined across the board. First, what a person does to become a success must be acceptable in our society, it must be consistent with one’s own identity and it must match our understanding of God’s will through his Word. Second, success may never be an achievable goal. It changes so often that it renders many attempts to define it as ridiculous.

On the other hand, if we can’t truly define success, can we truly define failure? And, is failing to succeed succeeding to fail? Is failure ever a success or can success be failure? These seem like silly questions, but they help us to think more critically about what we are doing with our time, resources and lives. For example, if one succeeds at being a lawyer when he or she really wanted to be a doctor, is it success? If you ultimately fail in achieving a noble goal, are you a failure? Is true success found in the process or the outcome of a project? Can we succeed and fail simultaneously or on different levels of the same project or in differing roles in life? Is the man who succeeds in business but fails in his marriage a success or failure? Is the woman who gets what she wants in life but loses her soul a success? If we factor in all the successes and failures of individual lives, does a calculus exist whereby we can crown them as an overall success or pronounce them as a decided failure? Is the perception of success or failure in the eyes of the world more relevant than some arbitrary or objective measure?

Obviously, we can wander all over the philosophical and academic definitions of success with nothing to show for it but confusion. How can we arrive at a useful definition of spiritual success? This may only be done by looking at the world around us, by understanding the person within us and by measuring ourselves according to the divine plan revealed to us. We can’t do this in a single session, but we may be able to at least identify some major areas of concern and start the process.

The failures of Abraham Lincoln have been widely publicized. He did not win an election to public office until he became president in 1860. Yet, by most accounts, history acknowledges him as one of the greatest presidents ever to occupy the Oval Office. Thomas Edison failed over a thousand times before he found the right filament for incandescent lighting. We remember King David as one of the most beloved and successful of all biblical characters, yet he also represents the most miserable moral failure in scripture. Jesus Christ, in the strict terms of his contemporary society, was a colossal failure.

Have you ever tried to challenge some of your own ideas of success? Although you may pick these perceptions apart intellectually, you will find it extremely difficult to rid your minds and heart of their lingering effects. Do you want to make a lot of money? Do you want academic degrees? What kind of car, house or other possessions do you want? Do you want financial security? Do you want to get married, and to whom? If you have children, what do you want them to become? Where do you want to live? Do you want a particular job? Do you want a promotion to a certain position? Do you want out from under someone else’s control? Do you just want a change in the circumstances of your life? Do you want people to think highly of you? Do you want to achieve a certain thing? (i.e., invention, justice or victory?) All of these things may be elements of success, but all of them fail if they stand alone. The best definition of success is this: “Success is something that happens on the way to fulfilling the will of God in your life.”

In the final analysis, success is not something you can achieve as a single goal. You cannot simply go out into the world and get success, even if you achieve all your goals! All your achievements must be reconciled with the will of God in your life. That alone represents the totality of success.

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