Success and the Self

Three definitions top the results list when you search the word “success.”

  1. The accomplishment of an aim or purpose
  2. The attainment of popularity or profit
  3. A person or thing that achieves desired aims or attains prosperity

Oxford

Accomplish, attain, achieve.

What can I do on my own to build up myself?

Interestingly enough, the origin of this word success is not nearly so consumeristic and self-centered. In fact, the word success comes from the Latin succedere, meaning to come close after. And as far as I have noticed, our understanding of success in this society is not one that looks like “after” anything or anyone else. But nonetheless, we have our highly prized and idolized idea of success defined far from its root in coming close after something or someone else.

I am greatly intrigued by how differently the idea of success and succedere are. One is promotionally related to the self, while the other engages legacy and coming under leadership. “Commit your actions to the Lord, and your plans will succeed,” (Proverbs 16:3, NLT) really has a different ring to it when we look at the history of succeed because under definition of succedere, this verse does not claim we will be getting everything we want. This verse is calling us to set ourselves after God and His heart, thus rewiring our spirits to fall in line with His plans as opposed to our own.

“…the Lord has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8, NLT)

We have been given very straightforward instructions for what success really looks like—how to follow close after the Father. To be Christian means, quite literally, we are to be a Little Jesus. We are apprenticing under Him, and as such, we should be pushing ourselves so incredibly close to His heart—melding our desires together with His until everything about us is reflected in the closeness we have with His Everything Good.

Success in the Kingdom isn’t about losing our identity or individuality—the more like Christ we become, the more perfectly ourselves we will be.

But we cling so insistently to the world’s definition of success. Claiming that if we can just gain ground in it, we will be somebody. And this hell-laced lie is being painted over the spirits of everyone everywhere—“if you could just make it in this one way, then…” Then what? Then you can be like everyone else—like everyone else who has chased “success” and achieved it and found it to be void of an end because when our goal is to be on top, nothing is ever enough because someone always has more than us. More power, more money, more fame, more degrees, more, more, more, more, more. Our appetites for more refuse to be quenched even at the command of succeeding what we have dreamed.

“Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man.” (C.S. Lewis)

We become less ourselves—we become less individualistic and distinguishable—in pursuit of the things the world says will satisfy because what hell offers is not unique to anyone. It offers everyone the same thing—says the same things, same positions, same ideals will satisfy everyone. And your identity becomes one with the high-rolling, no-one-gets-in-my-way, fear-using, I’m-better-than-everyone-believing stereotype. And that is about as far from unique and distinct as I can imagine.

Consumed, consumed, consumed.

The funny thing is that there is nothing wrong with being financially well-off or being famous or pursuing the good goals you have—there really isn’t, not when it’s stewarded well. Success in the world’s eyes is not always a bad thing, and it can often be very good and supportive to the community around us. But there is something unbelievably depraved about staking our identity and worth into something that, whether it is perceived as worldly success or not, is not rooted in the recklessly abandoned following of Jesus. Maybe you will be rich and famous and recognized and maybe you will not be. But that is not what will matter at the end of your life and the steps into the next. No one will ask about the number in your bank account or the amount of times you appeared on television. No one will ask you for your number of awards or how many important people you knew. But we will all be held accountable for how we stewarded our lives, resources, and relationships.

Would each of these things reflect the Glory of the King and not our own desires. For it is a strange thing, how when we come closer to the heart of the King in pursuit of the glorification of His name and desires for us, our desires are one day aligned to His—and all of our coming close after Him is the success we were craving all along. And this success, this closeness in apprenticeship and relationship to God, satisfies.

•••

With Love,

Hannah

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