As I write this, the Cleveland Browns football team has won 2 games, lost 6 games, and tied 1 game. In comparison to their performance over the past two years, this is success. Compared to the rest of the NFL, this is failure. Success is a very relative concept. It all depends upon what standard is used to measure it.
I often vacillate between seeing myself as successful and as unsuccessful. To be honest, most of the time I lean toward the unsuccessful side of the equation. It is a personality fault of mine. I tend to be far harder on myself than others are. But just to put things into context, for the past 31 years I served as the Senior Pastor of Bethel Baptist Church in Mankato, MN. When I began, we were a congregation of about 75 people. When I left, our average Sunday worship attendance was 240. That looks like success. But if you look closer, you will see that there was a time when we were averaging about 400 in worship. We failed to break through the 400 barrier and fell back to 240. That looks like something less than success.
I have been rereading Larry Osborne’s book “Spirituality for the Rest of Us.” In that book he reminds us that God’s measure of success and our measure of success are radically different. God weights success more heavily on the side of faithful service, rather than on tangible results. It is not that results are not important, but they are not the final word about success. Many who have had amazing tangible results have proved, in the end, to be failures in God’s sight.
In my devotions today, I read the parable of the ten minas, as recorded in Luke 19:11-27. In this parable, the master gave ten servants each on mina. One mina was an amount of money roughly equivalent to three months wages. The master charged his servants with putting his money to work for his benefit. After a while, the master returned to settle accounts with his servants. The parable records the results from only three of the servants. The first servant returned the original mina plus ten more. The second servant returned the original mina plus 5 more. The third servant returned the original mina. The master was pleased with the first two servants. They were both commended for their faithful service. The master was not happy with the third servant. He was deemed unfaithful and cast out. The master measured the success of his servants by their faithfulness to the task, not their results.
I have struggled with the idea that God measures success by faithfulness. Too often I have heard Christians excuse the lack of results by claiming that they have been faithful. I believe that true faithfulness will bring results. The results may not be dramatic, but they will be there. You can make the case that in the parable, the third servant was faithful in guarding his master’s money, but he was negligent in not accomplishing anything with it. We cannot use faithfulness as an excuse for not trying.
In the end, God is going to judge our performance on what we have done with what He has given to us. He is not going to judge us against what others have done with what they have been given. God expects a return on His investment, but the real return He is seeking is faithful service for Him.
Here is the really good news. If we faithfully stay connected to Jesus, the results will come, and God will be pleased with us. "I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) If we are faithful in our service for Christ, we can leave the results in God’s hands.
True success is far more profound and meaningful than numbers of people attending a worship service or the number of dollars placed in a savings account. True success is measured by how faithfully we accomplish the task that God has given each one of us to do. God has entrusted us with time, energy, and material resources. How we use these for His glory will be the measure of our success in life. Our success may come in the form of raising our family well, or being the best employee we can be. It could mean leading a small group Bible study, or leading an entire congregation. It could mean being a good neighbor to the people who live around you. One day God will settle accounts with us, and He will measure our success by how faithful we have been at living our life for His glory.
1 Corinthians 4:2
Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful.
The Lord answered, "Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom the master puts in charge of his servants to give them their food allowance at the proper time? It will be good for that servant whom the master finds doing so when he returns. I tell you the truth, he will put him in charge of all his possessions.