Friday, May 23, 2008

The Measure of Success - Fulfilling Our Purpose

A few weeks ago, when I asked how you might define success, there were a number of very thoughtful responses. Here's one from Andrew -

"Success connotes that a purpose exists, and is defined by whatever that purpose is...There is a purpose which we are made for, and then there are purposes which bear our own design. The latter are both subsequent and subordinate to the former, just as we creatures are subsequent and subordinate to the Creator."

What Andrew is saying here is actually quite profound. We often think of success in our own terms. Especially in this postmodern age, it's not unusual for many to view success as "whatever you make of it". Andrew's point is that true success is, in fact, defined by fulfilling the purpose for which we are created - namely, to glorify our Creator.

Isaiah 43:6-7 specifically informs us of this purpose.

I will say to the north, Give up,
and to the south, Do not withhold;
bring my sons from afar
and my daughters from the end of the earth,
everyone who is called by my name,
whom I created for my glory,
whom I formed and made.

Andrew elaborates on his point that it is the Creator who determines the purpose for His creation -

"If I invent a new device, the glockenfurst, to tell time, it is only a good glockenfurst if it does in fact tell time. It doesn't matter if someone else thinks my glockenfurst is beautiful, tastes good, or holds down paper in a breezy room. Those are not its purpose. I say so because I created it. And so it is with people--we exist to glorify God and everything else is secondary."

Think about this - "we exist to glorify God and everything else is secondary".

- Are you managing a thriving business? If your life is not lived as a reflection of God's glory, it's secondary at best.
- Are you working to build a ministry to serve thousands? It doesn't really matter if you're not doing it for God's glory.
- Finishing projects on time and under budget? It only counts, if God is honored.

In this excerpt from his entire comment, Andrew explains why he holds this view -

"I cannot be a 'successful beekeeper' if I defame God with my speech. Here's why: I was born a person, made in God's image and bearing his chosen purpose, before anyone told me (or I realized for myself), "Hey, I would be good at beekeeping." I am a failure so long as any one of my many self-selected purposes are in conflict with my Creator's purpose for me."

The point is that the material result of our work isn't the only thing that matters. How and why we do our work actually matters far more. As created beings, we should labor for the honor of our Creator, doing so in a manner that reveals Him as glorious.

If being successful is about glorifying God, then we ought to give more thought to what it means to glorify God in our lives. After all, everything else is secondary.

Do you agree with Andrew?
What do you think it mean to glorify God?
How do you pursue the glory of God in your work?


George said...

Oh, I'm sure I agree. And I especially agree when Andrew says that our designed purposes must be subsequent (I might say consequent, too) and subordinate.

We exist first to glorify God. Not primarily, as if once we have done that we then get the remainder of our time to use for our own desires. Instead, we exist to glorify God, and are to do so in part by providing acceptable (to Him) service. That service may very well be inventing a glockenfurst that tells time. It may be in manufacturing it or in distributing it or in accounting for the process or in financing the activity. But for it to be acceptable service -- successful service -- the work must be done in a way that loves people -- otherwise it would not glorify God.

Loving people alone is not enough to glorify God, but God is not glorified if people are taken advantage of or mistreated. That is certainly a sub-theme presented in the NT.

We might also want to qualify or expand on what type of success is being discussed. We agree it's, to us, true success. We might say holy success. This I think is worth mentioning because there are other types of success -- we would agree false successes -- that are assumed by others around us. You mention post-modern, self-defined success, and I would add modern, culturally defined success. What we mean is holy, God-defined success.

Ted M. Gossard said...

Andrew's words are well chosen. Certainly true, and gets us to the basics of for what purpose we exist.

What Andrew says goes towards what I'll say next. The glory of God is revealed in Jesus (2 Corinthians).

A key verse for me in thinking about this, along with its context in 2 Corinthians 3 and 4: "For God who said, 'let light shine out of darkness,' made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God's glory displayed in the face of Christ." (4:6). Actually the immediate context along with really the entire book sheds important light on this for us.

We have to come to Jesus to begin to truly reflect that glory to the world. So that while God gets all the glory, and deservedly so, we end up being bathed in and celebrating that glory in the end, and before that seeking to live it out in Jesus even as Jesus did.

How did Jesus glorify God? We have to get back to that. That's the pattern for us, and we are being renewed into the image of this new purpose for us, in Jesus.

So this means for me I have to steep my life in all of Scripture, becaue it is all fulfilled in Jesus, and I need to seek to be an apprentice of him in his community, living in this world.

Only then will God be glorified, or made known: his beauty, greatness and goodness. It is through Jesus and us in him.

So we have to take the way of Jesus, the way of the cross (like Paul- Php 3), the way of living out his life as resurrection people by the Spirit, even here and now. In doing so, in our weakness, God's glory is made known. God is revealed in Jesus through his people by the Spirit even to this day.

So that there has to be a walk and step in our work that somehow has that dynamic growing in our thinking and actions (which include our words). A kingdom of God in Jesus orientation which while not of the world, is meant for the world. And is invading in Jesus by the Spirit through his people, even now.

Ted M. Gossard said...

I'd like to add to my long comment that this plays out in ways I don't understand very well. I think we have to have the posture of being learners or apprentices in Jesus by the Spirit in the word and in the community of faith.

So that we're ever dependent on God in this, and this is at the heart of all we do in our work and in the world. That the reason we do certain things and do not do other things comes from this.

Every Square Inch said...


Thanks for your thoughts - yes, loving others is a key parameter for success, since love for neighbor is an essential part of God's design and intent for us.

When you speak of culturally defined success, would you be referring to the American dream (white picket fence, 2 kids, 2 cars, and early retirement)?

Every Square Inch said...


I love the emphasis you've placed on the glory of God revealed in Jesus. So right.

I think both you and George have rightly affirmed what Andrew said about success being inextricably linked to glorifying God. But it does lead to the next question - how do we glorify God? Or to put it another way, what does it look like for us to glorify God?

George said...

ESI -- you replied: "When you speak of culturally defined success, would you be referring to the American dream (white picket fence, 2 kids, 2 cars, and early retirement)?"

What, just two cars?

And I guess I would add a respectable church congregation and an attractive church building.

Real Live Preacher said...

I agree. It's hard for a Christian not to. I would say this though: Why do we even need to use this word success? It's a hard word to redeem. You are forever explaining yourself to both the people of the world and to other Christians.

Maybe we could say that we believe our highest purpose is to honor the Creator. And that's all we need out of life. People can label us as successful or unsuccessful. What does that matter to us?

Every Square Inch said...


I think you make a good point about trying to redeem the word "success". Here's why I raised the original question about success - it's because many of us identify with it even if we don't use the word or we choose to redefine it.

It's just shorthand for the kind of life we pursue because we consider it to be satisfying. And, that pursuit is something most of us do, no matter what we call it.