It will come across as strangely unimpressive to many - a low bar to success - when they hear of the Christian’s metric for success. The goal we press on to, the characteristic we are applauded for, and the distinguishing mark which will separate the true from the false.
Would you bear with me for a few moments as I do my best to offer an explanation?
First, I will submit that we all, whether we are conscious of it or not, are working according to a definition of success.
Then, I will present two worldviews prevalent in our day and age that have spread to all areas of life, even to our faith.
Finally, the Christian’s definition of success.
1. Success Drives All of Us
Why do you do what you do? What drives you? How do you define and measure success? When it comes time for a decision, what are the decision-making criteria? If we were to peel back the layers of your heart, mind, and will, what would we find at the center?
Let us consider a few examples. You are freshly entering the workforce, landing your first serious job. How do you measure success?
You are now married, the two become one. What is the end goal you are working towards together?
You have kids. They are growing up quickly before your eyes. Before you know it they will be old enough to leave the house. What’s the vision for them that drives your thoughts and actions?
Many would answer of the typical variety:
Financial growth, followed by financial stability in preparation for big purchases and a comfortable retirement
Promotions. To grow in title, pay, recognition and seniority
Good education for the kids, get them through the best possible college to make sure they are able to land that high-paying job
Give them worthwhile experiences along the way - sports teams, band practice, memorable vacations, big birthday party celebrations, etc.
Show everyone, everywhere love. Be a loving, kind, good person. Give back whenever possible.
Seek out pleasure. The best we can do with this life is to make the most of it, therefore let us maximize our enjoyment.
Or perhaps it is something as simple as just surviving each day with as little discomfort as possible
Whether we are conscious of it or not, we are all driven by our motivations - our definition of success. It is not a matter then of whether or not you are driven by success, but rather what are you working towards?
2. The Age in Which We Live
Paul lived in a time when Jews requested a sign and Greeks sought after wisdom. He had to preach the cross as foolishness and in direct opposition to both of their demands. There is much that could be said about the day in which we live, for now, let us look at just two of the worldviews that are competing for our attention.
We live in an age of metrics.
And so pervasive is this mindset of measuring that it has even crept into our faith. Take this step, then this class, then this act of volunteering, and you will have matured in your belief. Some even seek to create growth tracks - well-defined and measurable actions aligned in a strategic order - for a person to complete as a tangible way to say, “I’m doing it. I’m making progress. I’m on my way to success.”
The age of metrics demands proof in the form of data, even with something as precious as the human soul, forgetting that the call to, “Raise your hand so we can count you,” was the exact sin David fell prey to when numbering the Israelites.
There is pride in the counting and unbelief in the formulaic approach to growth. The fact that so few see this is evidence of just how much the systems of the world have penetrated the inner workings of those who would call themselves God’s people.
It has gotten to the point for some that if it can’t be measured, turned into a formula, or scaled to reach millions - then why bother? You may object at first, but your emotions betray you. When are you most excited - when you can see the metrics of your efforts and that those numbers are growing? And when are you most discouraged - when the metrics are not there, the numbers are too low? “There are barely any with us anymore,” and you take this personally because you forget it is God who provides the increase.
We also live in a time of purpose.
We live in the midst of a people who no longer cry out, “What must I do the be saved?” Nor do they beat their breast, refusing to even look towards the heavens, as they lament, “God, be merciful to me a sinner!” Even fewer who are content to be as the one Jesus described, “So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do.’”
No, this is far too low of a place. Instead, the people know very little of the fear of God, and so they approach with a casual and superior air. “Do not remind me of my sin. Do not bring it before my eyes. If God is truly fair, then He must save me. It’s only right. And once He has saved me, He must prosper me. Give me plenty and give me purpose!”
Rather than the role of an unprofitable servant, they demand a special calling, a grand vision, and an anointing that will best utilize their unique and quite amazing attributes. They are lovers of self who have no intention of dying to self. These are the sort who forget that the call to repent and come and follow is a singular call. There is room for only one will, one nature, one life to be glorified - and these are not our own, but His.
3. The Christian’s Definition of Success
Here we have arrived at the conclusion of the matter - setting aside all our worldly definitions of success, what are we to aim for?
Yes, knowing God as He truly is and being reconciled to Him through faith in Christ, is of utmost concern. He is the only way, the single gate, and none will be saved outside of Him.
Knowing God through Christ, glorifying Him, and enjoying Him forever - this is our chief end. And it is along the way to our chief end where our characteristic comes in. Make this your focus - endurance.
“Indeed we count them blessed who endure…” James 5:11
“But he who endures to the end shall be saved…” Matthew 24:13
“Being persecuted, we endure.” 1 Corinthians 4:12
“And what I say to you, I say to all: Watch!” Mark 13:37
The Christian life is not primarily one of gathering more - more faith (as so many are taught), more revelation, more power, more love, more obedience - rather, once we have found Him, we must put our energy into this command - endure.
“If we endure, we shall also reign with Him. If we deny Him, He also will deny us.” 2 Timothy 2:12
“For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise.” Hebrews 10:36
Therefore, “let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.” Hebrews 12:1
This word endure also appears in the Scriptures as patience and perseverance.
“knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” James 1:3-4
“Indeed we count them blessed who endure. You have heard of the perseverance of Job and seen the end intended by the Lord—that the Lord is very compassionate and merciful.” James 5:11
“I, John, both your brother and companion in the tribulation and kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ.” Revelation 1:9
The call to endurance also appears in the form of praise, first to Abraham, and then to the faithful church of Philadelphia:
“And so, after he had patiently endured, he obtained the promise.” Hebrews 6:15
“You have a little strength, have kept My word, have not denied My name….[and] kept My command to persevere.” Revelation 3:8,10
And lastly, the absence of endurance is referenced in the parable of the sower:
“The ones sown on stony ground who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with gladness; and they have no root in themselves, and so endure only for a time. Afterward, when tribulation or persecution arises for the word’s sake, immediately they stumble.” Mark 4:17
As we spoke about last week, we serve a God who promises to hold, keep, and secure us, we can take great confidence in this as we make it our aim, not to try and keep ourselves, for we were saved by grace and we are also held by grace, but rather to endure, persevere, stay faithful, keep watch.
Continue on. Don’t veer, don’t turn this or that way, stay steadfast. Don’t add or take anything away from the simple gospel by which you were saved, for it has saved you completely. Those who truly believe will endure. Those who do not will fall away.
Endurance as a metric for success has no glitz or glamour. It takes away the ability to boast. It puts all of us in the same as the day of our salvation - completely dependent upon the One who called us, justified us, and now keeps us until the day of His appearing.
How do we apply this?
First job? Even as you walk into this new environment, never take your focus from this place - endure.
Just married? Make it your aim, that whatever comes your way, you will endure, together.
With our children? Regardless of perfect memories, perfect school, perfect scholarship, perfect job, have this as your vision of their success - they endured until the end.
In all our interactions? “We seek to walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him: bearing fruit in every good work and growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, so that you may have great endurance and patience, joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the saints’ inheritance in the light.” Colossians 1:10-12
Imagine a life driven by this definition of success. The purpose, the contentment, the quietness, the meekness and humility, the strength in the day of adversity, the peace with all people, knowing that it is for our good, for our testing, for the strengthening of our hope, that we endure all things with love.
And lest with think endurance is simply a big picture idea, remember that unless we endure day by day, we will never endure until the end. What does it look like to endure daily?
It begins with our first thought and then an examination of every thought - are we doing what we do for Him? It requires constant prayer as we offer everything up to Him who sees and hears. We must actually be satisfied in Him, not despising our current situation, but content with what He has given us for exactly this moment. And as we live in satisfaction, we put down indulgences, anything we turn to in place of Christ. Here we are able to commune with Him openly and honestly, asking, “a hundred times a day, ‘Lord, what wouldst thou that I should do?’” Then, we go to sleep hearing well done and we arise with joyful expectation to do it all over again in the presence of the One whom we love above all others.
This is daily endurance - a slow, steady, strengthening process not very much different than training for a race or other athletic pursuit. We see the finish line, we look forward to it, yet today we put one foot in front of the other, we train, we sacrifice temporary pleasures to eat right, waking up early to ensure we have the time, knowing that it is only through persistence that we will finish well.
It is all too tempting to see the finish line, but then lose the daily motivation to endure. And one day rolls into several as an entire week passes by before you see you've wasted it focusing on yourself - places you'd rather be, things you'd prefer to be doing, memories you want to relive, dreams of fame, fortune, pleasures, etc. We must endure daily if we are ever going to endure until the end.
Friends, do not take this matter lightly. The call to endurance is given to us so strongly in the Scriptures because there is coming and is already here, an “hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on earth.” Revelation 3:10
Setting your mind on metrics will not see you through the trials, therefore we must learn to be patient, persistent, and enduring even when the fruits of our labors won’t be realized for quite some time later.
Seeking after your purpose will not see you through the trials, for there is a spirit at work on the earth that seeks to “corrupt with flattery” and many are already caught up in the false gospel that promotes a glorification of self.
Instead, endure. For the one who endures until the end will be saved.