How do you gauge success?

Does being a Christian or being in ministry change that somehow?

I don’t know anybody who gets up in the morning and prays, “Oh God, make me a failure!”  But there have been many times when I and many others have used bad gauges to measure it.  Here are the three most common:

1.  Do I feel good?  Was the service pleasurable?  Do I feel encouraged, energized, healed or empowered?  Do I feel loved, important, or attended to?  Do I feel the pleasure of other people or God’s pleasure?

2.  Did I see something good?  In church world that is measured by the countable things like noses and dollars and building funds.  In the Christian business world, the same thing is true – it’s about profits and losses and tangible contributions to the community.

3.  Do I feel good about myself?  Do I feel affirmed?  Do I look good?  Did people tell me I performed well?  Did someone thank me or praise me or ask for my help?

So what’s wrong with any of that?

Absolutely nothing.

Contrary to what some people may suggest, it’s not a sin to feel good.  It isn’t more virtuous to have a holy huddle than it is to have a megachurch.  And it’s not evil to feel a sense of satisfaction.

But there are two problems with those standards.  First, they are the world’s standards for success, not God’s.

“For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world” (1 John 2:16).

Pleasure, prosperity, and pride.  Left to the world’s devices, they become the world’s way of measuring your success.

Second, you can have all those things and still be a failure from God’s perspective.  And if God says you are a failure, guess what?

So then… how do we gauge success?  And does being a Christian or being in ministry change that somehow?

Paul dealt with that on more than one occasion.  He gave an interesting perspective by using the most visible, tangible expressions of success in his day.  One was from the Olympics. The other was from the triumphant entry of conquering Roman generals:

“But thank God! He has made us his captives and continues to lead us along in Christ’s triumphal procession. Now he uses us to spread the knowledge of Christ everywhere, like a sweet perfume” (2 Corinthians 2:14, NLT).

In the closing lines to the movie “Patton,” the reflective general helps shed light on this verse by describing what every Corinthian knew Paul was referring to:

For over a thousand years, Roman conquerors returning from the wars enjoyed the honor of a triumph- a tumultuous parade. In the procession came trumpeters and musicians and strange animals from the conquered territories, together with carts laden with treasure and captured armaments. The conqueror rode in a triumphal chariot, the dazed prisoners walking in chains before him. Sometimes his children, robed in white, stood with him in the chariot, or rode the trace horses.

“Behind the conqueror stood a slave, holding over his head a golden crown, and whispering into his ear a warning: that all glory is fleeting.”

In life and in ministry, there are some things to remember:

1.  It is Jesus’ triumphant procession, not ours.

No matter how “international” your ministry or how “mega” your church, you will never be the one standing in the chariot.  And those who presume that the triumph is about them are setting themselves up for a painful fall.

2.  Our position is that of being “led along” in the procession.

Some people see that as being members of the conqueror’s family, and the Bible certainly makes it clear that believers in Christ indeed are.  Others see it as being the conquered enemies who are chained to the chariot, and I think that is what Paul is referring to here.  Either way, our only measure of success is to go where the emperor (Jesus) goes, and stay with the chariot.

3.  To be chained to the chariot is not an act of humiliation, but one of honor.

Why?  Because our King has graciously allowed us to follow Him in his victory celebration.  The cheers and praises He receives fall on our ears, too.  We are Exhibit A of his glory and power – an eternal trophy and reminder that “greater is He who is in us than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).  And because we are “joint heirs” with Him, we receive the same inheritance – the same triumphant celebration – that He does.  Not because of what we accomplished or how we feel, but because of how close we stand to the chariot.

4.  We have not been conquered by a hostile foe, but by the furious love and grace of God.

As David Hong, one of my students, wrote, we are chained to His chariot because He broke the chains from all the sinful addictions that we have from sin and this world.  This is a conqueror who seized death by the throat and brought Satan to his knees in confession that He is Lord.  And having won that victory, His passionate, redeeming love came looking for you – not to beat you up, but to lift you up.

5.  To that end, no greater honor or success could be imagined than to be chained to the chariot of the King of Kings.

When God is using you to “spread the knowledge of Christ everywhere, like a sweet perfume,” that is success.

When people see your work or your play and recognize you as one of those who are chained to the chariot – who simply follows wherever He leads – that is success.

When the praises aimed at Jesus remain in the chariot with Jesus, and aren’t hijacked by insecure Jesus followers – that is success.

And what of those other outward symbols?

Go ahead and feel good, so long as we aren’t talking about the “pleasures of sin for a season.”  Help others feel good.  But stay chained to the chariot, regardless of how you feel.

Go ahead and collect the world’s gold.  Who knows?  Maybe they’ll ask you to pave the streets in heaven or something.  But regardless of the outward trappings, stay chained to the chariot.

Go ahead and say “Thank you” when someone tells you how awesome you are.  But regardless of the fickle praises of people (and they are fickle), stay chained to the chariot.

The one measure of success that is constant for a Christian is that when people pass you, they pick up the sweet fragrance of you having been with Jesus.  That they know who Jesus is because of how closely you followed hard after Him.

Stay chained to the chariot.  There is no greater evidence of victory.

Carmina March 5, 2012 at 3:28 pm

Great words of wisdom! Thanks!

Jerry Smith March 6, 2012 at 3:05 pm

Great reading, I enjoyed it very much, It came at a great time.

Tracey Stallworth March 7, 2012 at 9:00 pm

How do you define success. In a minor thought I believe succes is being able to identify you weakness and project goals by overcoming them as well as completingyour goals.

Rosa Powell December 20, 2014 at 8:49 am

Thank you Dr. Wood. I am going to remain “chained to the chariot”. This will always be my mile marker for success. Thank you.

Nidicka June 22, 2016 at 7:51 am

My father made it a habit to glorify God in all things. He would say, “To God goes the honor, glory and praise that is due Him,” so in my ministry I knew that every good thing came from God and every bad thing is made good through God to His glory. I did however mess up with measuring “ministry success” however and that was by placing the burden of reception on myself. I figured if I told twelves people about a great clearance sale at Walmart, likely twelve would go; but I couldn’t imagined how to better articulate and witness God’s love and mercy and maybe one would show up(to seminar, revival, prayer vigils, etc.). Instead of realizing how important the power of one was, I allowed the absence of reception by others to paint me a failure. Thank you for reminding me of the only standards by which I will ever again be measured! This is a restorative piece!

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