How Does Our Culture View Success?
Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ has made me his own. Philippians 3:12
Success, says the dictionary, is “the degree or measure of succeeding,” or “the attainment of wealth, favor, or eminence.” It’s the latter definition which is the one our kids embrace. Success is the shiny new car, the most sophisticated computer, the Rolex watch–or at least something stylish and better than the Timex variety. It often includes a beautiful girl on your arm, or a handsome guy who has the looks and the car to match.
A student magazine focused on the growing tragedy of suicide among college students–something which has reached epidemic proportion everywhere, but touches the raw nerve when it strikes in your neighborhood or church. Striving to help adults understand what collegians are going through today, the writer said, “Pressure is part of life… and much of it funnels down to the student, a half-person feeling his way toward maturity in many cases. He or she gets it from all sides. To many it appears there is only one purpose to life–succeed.”
The tragedy is that we have confused the things which money can buy–the cars, the jewelry, the diamonds, travel, and electronic toys–with the real thing. In a column which Paul Harvey wrote in the early 1960s, called “The Day the Giants Met,” this remarkable man told of a historic meeting which took place before the fall of the American stock market in 1929. Present were ten of the most financially successful men in the world. Some died in prison, some died as fugitives, some committed suicide and some died financially destitute.
But this only brings us to a moment of reflection as I ask, “What is success? And how do we convey that answer to a generation growing up who often see large gaps between what their parents say and what they themselves do?”
Success is seeking and finding the will of God for your life, discovering His purpose for your existence, then setting goals and objectives which are pleasing to Him. This, of course, means a complete about-face in our thinking. Understanding that success–real success – is not the equivalent of reaching the top of the pile, is not easy. Growing up with the attitude of having the most toys, being the prettiest or the best athlete makes it tough to suddenly acknowledge that somebody switched the price tags. Kids hit the bottom and get desperate when they do not understand that success is much deeper, more subjective, more personal that the glitter which is all surface. It includes how you feel about yourself, and what brings fulfillment to your heart and life.
Workers who come home with dirty hands and an empty stomach can think of themselves as accomplishing God’s purpose – as well as the single mom who struggles to hold down a job, get three kids to school, put food on the table and clothes on the backs of her offspring without help – can and do succeed. Writing to the Romans, Paul confronted this issue. He wrote, “Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you” (Romans 12:2, Living Bible).
And the only way that is possible is to get God’s point of view. We must acknowledge that as long as our attitudes reflect the pagan culture in which we live, we’ll never find the peace or fulfillment that comes through fulfilling God’s purpose, which is real success. Think about it. And then ask yourself, “Have I really succeeded, at least in God’s eyes?”
Resource reading: Philippians 2:1-11