How Do You Define Success?

This week we are talking about entitlement. I think part of the reason we have entitlement problems is because of our definitions of success.

I recently read the book Outliers (yes, I know I am behind on pop literature) by Malcolm Gladwell. The subtitle of this book is: The Story of Success. What Gladwell wanted to do in this book is find out how successful people became successful.

But what I found most interesting in the book, is that Gladwell never defined success. There was just an assumption: The people with the most money.

enjoy-your-success1There was no preface defining success, there was no debate on the kinds of people we should study for success, it was just understood going in. And it would be so easy not to notice that. Because we often carry with us an implicit and unexamined definition of success. We know these people are successful because they have lots of money. The money is the result of their success.

I think most of us define success by results. Hard work in: results out. We measure the success of a business or a sales person by the amount of money they generate. We measure a successful blog by the number of hits it gets in a day. We measure a successful church by the amount of people who attend. We measure a successful student by the grades he or she gets.

I think this weeks readings cut into this definition of success.

You may have noticed a theme in the readings in Hebrews: The truly great women and men of faith never see the results. But they found something else in the process. We are called not to fear in difficult times, because God has promised never to leave us. In fact, what we continue to see as the “result” of faith is simply God.

True success is relational.

This is why Jeremiah talks about idols. In idol worship, I manipulate a god to get what I want. I do what the god wants me to do so I can get the results I want from the god.

Manipulation to get what I want is not relationship and it is not what God wants for our lives. God wants us to see true success as life lived with God.

True success happens in relationship.

Not just with God, but with people too. The result of a relationship with God is radically loving relationships with other people. So Hebrews talks about marriage – a vivid picture of relationship. Marriage should be honored because relationship should be honored.

Sex outside of deep relationship is the same thing as manipulating idols to get the results I hope for. Relationship is what matters, not the end result.

But relationships do not do much on the results chart.

What am I producing when I take someone out to coffee?

What result do I get when I forgive?

What are the tangible results for investing in another person?

What am I accomplishing when I waste an afternoon to simply be in the presence of God or a loved one?

The results of these never make it to a ledger sheet but they are the things which make life meaningful. Full life is found in relationship with other people.

Have you ever noticed the amount of life and joy you can find in an hour lunch with a friend? Or have you ever thought about why educators and pastors get so much life from investing in people who quickly move on from their place on influence?

It is because this is where we find life. Success is in relationship. And if this is true, I know stay at home moms more successful than Bill Gates.

Perhaps it is time we spend some time actually thinking and articulating what real success looks like. Maybe we have been carrying implicit definitions around with us.

And perhaps it is time to take a chance on investing in relationship, even when we can see no tangible reward or profit.

Because this is where we will find God.

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