Is Success or Significance More Important?
Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil. Ecclesiastes 12:13-14
Three of the most important questions that will ever confront you are 1) Where do you want to go with your life? 2) How are you going to get there? And 3) Once you have arrived, what are you going to do?
The first question deals with your goals, the second with your ethics, and the third your significance as a person. Some people are content simply to survive in life. They are the ones who do as little as possible. Content with minimal input, they are satisfied with minimal reward. They are not the ones who never make things happen. Sadly enough, far too many people fall into that category.
The next group are the ones who have clearly defined goals, and they reach them. They are the ones who are successful. But having reached their goals, many of these dynamic, driven, successful people find that life still has no purpose or meaning. Like J. Robert Oppenheimer, honored with the Nobel Prize for his achievements as the 20th century’s greatest physicist, who spoke of his success as no more satisfying than the “taste of ashes” on the tongue, they arrive and are yet very unhappy. They sometimes become cynical, sometimes depressed, sometimes suicidal.
But others reach a deeper or higher level of meaning called significance. Those who lead significant lives are not necessarily wealthy, nor famous, nor in demand. They are the ones, however, who touch the lives of others in such a way that our world is a better place as the result of what they did.
Oswald Chambers was such a man. Turning down scholarships to study art at the finest universities in Europe, Chambers studied archaeology and art at the University of Edinburgh. Then he enrolled in a small Bible College where he eventually taught. People said he was wasting his life. Not so, replied Chambers. He eventually went to Egypt and died before he was 40, but he left behind a legacy of inspiration in his books. “I am not many kinds of fools in one,” wrote Chambers, “but the kind of fool who believes and obeys God.”
Yes, there are the Mother Teresa’s and the Amy Carmichael’s along others who led significant lives, but there are also those whose names never appear in the news. They are the ones who see a need and fill it.
Justin Lebo was such a person. At the age of 10, he found bicycle parts in a trash heap, fished them out, and built a bicycle. In the next few years, Justin rebuilt over 250 bicycles and gave them to underprivileged kids who could never afford bicycles.
I’m thinking of a nurse who gave up a very good paying job to work in a hospital in Africa, working primarily among diseased, infected patients, many of whom carry the HIV virus.
Then there is a Filipino evangelist who delights in crossing mountain ranges to go into the next village and tell people that God can deliver them from pagan superstitions, using his meager offerings to buy portions of Scripture which he distributes without cost.
Question: What is that causes some to look beyond the success image and seek significance? What causes some to begin to look at the world through the eyes of Jesus and make a difference? An encounter with God? Overcoming selfishness with generosity? The realization that life is short? The answers vary, but of one thing I am sure. No one is ever really happier than when he or she lives a life of significance. It’s a fact.
Resource reading: Ecclesiastes 12:1-8.