The Pursuit of Success, Part 2

Concerned for one of her elementary students, a young school teacher bought a coat for her refugee pupil. Her concern in action eventually became a ministry with her husband and a large staff that helps thousands of refugees yearly. Another woman continues to care for her disabled son as she has for more than 3 decades. Yet another friend is a refugee from an African nation who mops hospital floors to help support her family, while she continues to study in hopes of a better job. Another believer raises her children to serve God and others. Which of these women demonstrates a successful life? I believe all of them do.

Last month on this site, I wrote about success—reaching a goal or purpose–and determined that for the believer, success is to glorify God (2 Thes.1:11-12).

That sounds simple enough, but what does it look like to glorify God? How do we do that? To glorify God is to cause him to be praised, to shine a light on his greatness and character. For us to glorify God doesn’t necessarily exclude career advancement or wealth, but it doesn’t require it. Consider how God turns our human ideas about success upside down in these five principles.

Don’t settle for self-focus. Keep your eyes on Jesus. Hebrews 12:1-3 describes a scene in which we run before witnesses—what an opportunity to glorify God–and focus on Jesus who redeemed us. I don’t know about you, but I spend a lot of time thinking about myself, my perspective, my to-do list. If we plan to run a race that shines a light on God and his character, then we need to lift our eyes off ourselves and put them on Him.

Be willing to suffer. In the same passage, Jesus endured tremendous suffering because he knew the joy that lay ahead. Our lives, too, include hardship. Suffering is part of the Christian life. If you have any doubts about that, check out Romans 8:16-18 and 1 Peter 5:9-10. As we glimpse Jesus’ perseverance in suffering mentioned in Hebrews 12, we are challenged to press on. In our perseverance, we glorify God.

Reflect Jesus concern for others. In Philippians 2:2-3, Paul writes, “Instead of being motivated by selfish ambition or vanity, each of you should, in humility, be moved to treat one another as more important than yourself. Each of you should be concerned not only about your own interests, but about the interests of others as well.” Paul goes on to recount, in verses 4-11, the degree to which Jesus gave up his own comfort and position for our sake. A life that glorifies God sacrifices, serves and invests in others.

Use and develop the resources you have, as God gives opportunity. In the parable of the talents recorded in Matthew 25, Jesus tells of a master who entrusted his slaves with differing amounts of resources. The master didn’t expect the slaves with few resources to accomplish as much as those with a lot of resources, but he expected them to use the resources they had. You may want to be a great artist and you can develop your gifts in that direction, but God may want to use those gifts in your local church instead.

Be alert for God-arranged opportunities to serve. Right after telling us we are saved by grace rather than works, Paul writes, “For we are his workmanship, having been created in Christ Jesus for good works that God prepared beforehand so we may do them” Eph. 2:10 (NET). I once aspired to write a book, I wasn't sure about what. My aspirations were all about personal glory and achievement. Now I love to advocate for the needs of immigrants and refugees and help train other writers. God surprises me with the opportunities he arranges for my success on His terms, for His glory.

If you find yourself reading an article or book about success, compare what it says to the Word of God. Success is glorifying Him. Don’t settle for less.

Beth Barron and her husband have worked cross-culturally for 32 years, first in the Middle East and now in the U.S. She teaches English to refugees and uses her writing skills to advocate for them. Beth enjoys writing, biking, vegetable gardening and connecting heart to heart with other women. She is involved in her church's External Focus ministry. She and her husband have three adult children, two daughters-in-love and three grandsons. Beth graduated from Rice University in Houston and is committed to life-long learning.