Leave Success Ratings To God

Who wants to be a failure?

Who wants to tank at work or in school?  What parent wants to see her children reject Christ or plunge into sin?  What pastor enjoys seeing his church shrivel or creep along like a spiritual garden slug?

For many years I joked (to cover my sense of failure) that church growth experts were studying our church because they’d never seen a church lose so many people so quickly.

We live in a culture that worships success and attainment.  We celebrate the Steve Jobs’s and Michael Jordans of the world.  And Christians are often seduced by the Pied Piper of Success.  In his book, A Passion For Faithfulness, J. I. Packer says:

The passion for success constantly becomes a spiritual problem–really, a lapse into idolatry–in the lives of God’s servants today.  To want to succeed in things that matter is of course natural, and not wrong in itself, but to feel that one must at all costs be able to project oneself to others as a success is an almost demonized state of mind, from which deliverance is needed.

The world’s idea that everyone, from childhood up, should be able to succeed at all times in measurable ways, and that it is a great disgrace not to, hangs over the Christian community like a pall of acrid smoke…

I know many parents who faithfully shared the gospel with their children from the time they could understand it.  Yet a number of those children are not serving Christ. It’s easy for parents to feel like shameful failures when despite their best efforts and years of prayers, their child rejects the Lord.  On the flip side, when a child gets saved at a young age, a parent can think it’s because of their excellent parenting skills.

I know pastors whose churches failed and others who have labored for years and seen limited growth.  Are they are failures?  Packer also says:

The way of health and humility is for us to admit to ourselves that in the final analysis we do not and cannot know the measure of our success as God sees it.  Wisdom says: leave success ratings to God, and live your Christianity as a religion of faithfulness rather than an idolatry of achievement.

This is liberating!  Leave success ratings to God.  In the end, we can’t know how God measures our “success.”  Let us seek to be faithful, not successful.  Jesus won’t welcome us to heaven with, “Well done good and successful servant,” but “good and faithful servant.”

  • Lauren

    How, then, do we reconcile our dreams and goals to the Gospel? Suppose someone would like to be a successful writer someday? Would it be fine as long they kept their eyes on the Cross?

    • MarkAltrogge

      Hi Lauren,

      You are right – we must always keep our eyes on the cross, no matter what we do in life. We can have dreams and goals, but must always submit them to our sovereign, wise and gracious Father, who knows what is best for our lives. I once had dreams of being a performer – they never happened because God had something better for my life. So I would encourage you to pray and ask God to guide you and help you write for his glory, and for grace to be content with the extent of your "success." If you believe God has called you to write, then go for it – I like what Bj said below – keep doing it and leave it up to him to reap from what you sow.

  • http://bjs-page.blogspot.com/ Bj Forwood

    Lauren If I may speak to your question? No it is not wrong to have ambition – the problem becomes when that ambition is bigger than God's ambition for you. The nature of humanity is not to be content and always want more, or better, when we are optimized in Father's plan the tease is to go just that little bit better: that is when we corrupt our work.
    For mine, I am happy to write for Father, confident that if I keep doing it then I am in His will, it is up to Him to reap from what I sow.
    Great Post Mark!

  • http://twitter.com/darylhb @darylhb

    As usual, thanks for a very encouraging post!

    One thing I struggle with most in my striving for personal success over sin is that the world judges any failure very harshly and associates it not only with an individual, but with the church in general.
    I confess I often get angry at people who call themselves "Christians", but blatantly don't live for God and give the whole church a bad name. But I've also come to realise that when any true Christian is doing their best to live a holy life and they mess up, the world will immediately label them as a hypocrite. The world does not understand that trying to live a godly life is not the same as always succeeding in living that godly life.

    And so I often feel an obligation to the body of believers to succeed, for fear I might disgrace my brothers and sisters in Christ. Which is something I'm still struggling to convince myself is not 100% right.

    • MarkAltrogge

      Hey Daryl,

      Thanks for your comments! Yes the world will judge us harshly, and often unfairly. Yet we don't answer to the world, but to Christ. We are called to live lives that glorify Christ, and to strive to keep our behavior excellent among unbelievers, so they have nothing to accuse us of. But we all fail. You hit the nail on the head – it is one thing to battle sin, and in that battle have failures and setbacks and a completely different thing to sin blatantly. I believe that even the world often recognizes hypocrites and can tell the difference between a sincere Christian who fails and an ungodly hypocrite.

      Our ultimate "success" in sanctification will happen as long as we continue to cooperate with the Holy Spirit's work in our lives. We sure do need grace though to live in a way that pleases Christ and is consistent with the gospel. I know that I will fail daily, yet I also know that there is no condemnation in Christ Jesus. I want to live before unbelievers as best I can so they will see the reality and power of the gospel. Those unbelievers who know me would surely know I'm a sinner, but I believe they also know I'm sincere about following Christ.

      As long as you are living as best you can for Jesus, reading his word, dependent on his grace, fellowshipping and accountable to others, I know the Lord will help you not to disgrace your brothers and sisters in Christ.

      Thanks again for your comments!

      • http://twitter.com/darylhb @darylhb

        Thanks for your response and for the encouragement, Mark. :)
        That's a great perspective!

  • Sara R.

    Yes! I needed to hear this today. Thanks Mark!

  • Paula

    Heavy topic, Mark! We find ourselves dealing with "standards of success" in the eyes of the world, the church, and God—and my own measure is possibly a mixture of all three! Your last sentence is a great eye-opener–God's measure of my success is my faithfulness. (Keeping in mind that faith is a gift from Him!) Hmmm…"when I am faithless, He is faithful"…I suspect that it is my faith in Him, His ways, and His completed work on the cross that He is pleased with, even more so than the works that result from my faith???

    • MarkAltrogge

      Hi Paula,

      Scripture says that our faith in Jesus and his completed work pleases God, our ongoing trust in him pleases him, and our works done in faith for his glory please him. Also our faithfulness pleases him. And all of this – our faith, our work, our trust, our faithfulness – comes FROM him!