How Does God Measure Success?

The crowd hooted and whooped. Handclapping sounded like thunderous downpour. I walked across the stage and received my diploma from Dallas Theological Seminary, and it felt monumental. Spiritual. Euphoric.

Friends stopped by our Airbnb after the ceremony. We ate large amounts of General Tso’s Chicken—and hugged deeply.

Then, my family and I flew back home. 

I woke up the next day to tired kids complaining about going to school. The GI Joe battlefield exploded in most of our living room. The empty milk carton signaled the urgency of a Kroger run.

No crowds. No awards. Just me faced with a task list big enough for a CEO, but simple enough for a servant. Scrub the toilets. Schedule the appointment. Bake a tray of loaded nachos for dinner.

My mountaintop success quickly descended into the valley of monotony. And my theology training was met with a sink full of dirty dishes.

How does God measure success when our schedules are full of paycheck gigs or clamoring kids—and hustling to cook tacos for dinner?

Definition of Success

I grew up in a neighborhood where grown-ups left to work successful jobs and kids worked for successful grades to someday land successful jobs. Personal value was measured by public success.

Mundane jobs like laundry, mowing the grass, cooking dinner—were outsourced to a weekly housekeeper, the gardener, and whatever take-out we felt like that night.

Success in my world was measured by position and possessions, but in the kingdom of God—success looks much different.

The Image of Success

King Saul strutted back to Canaan after defeating the Amalekites. He looked like the image of Israelite success: part warrior, part cattle-herder. His men destroyed Israel’s enemy, dragged off King Agag, and herded the loot of bleating sheep and lowing cattle—commodities of wealth.[1]

We should expect Israelite crowds hooting and hollering, cheering his name, feasting with new wine. But instead of rallying praise, Samuel met King Saul at Gilgal—an inspiring rallying point and national center—and declared his judgement.[2]

God directed King Saul to annihilate the Amalekites and take nothing, but he took King Agag as a trophy and the best of the loot as reward.

Samuel responds:

Does the LORD take pleasure in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as he does in obedience? Certainly, obedience is better than sacrifice; paying attention is better than the fat of rams.

1 Samuel 15:22

It sounds like God cared more about Saul’s obedience than his victory.

How Jesus Measures Success

During Jesus’ recorded teachings about the kingdom, known as the Sermon on the Mount, he talked about the religious—those who look like they followed God’s will. Some of their hearts were set on perceive success rather than obedience.

Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’[will enter into the kingdom of heaven—only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. On that day, many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many powerful deeds in your name?’Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you. Go away from me, you lawbreakers!

Matthew 7:21-23

I think God cares more about obedience to His will than powerful religious displays.

Back to the Mundane

In looking at the counsel of scripture, it seems God may not measure success the way the world does—with positions and possessions. Rather, a successful life in scripture looks like one yielded obedience to God’s Word and the guidance of the Spirit.

And for me, this week obeying God looks like making midweek chili, unpacking suitcases from graduation weekend, and finally calculating our taxes.


God measures our success by our measure of obedience to His leading.


Where are you obeying God in your life—whether in the mundane or momentous? How might the Spirit be leading you to obey him in a way that is uncomfortable?


[1] 1 Samuel 15

[2] June Yang, “Gilgal,” ed. John D. Barry et al., The Lexham Bible Dictionary (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016).

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