As I close the season of my life given to pastoral ministry, I am given to reflection about that part of my life. What does it mean, will it matter? There are markers of worldly success that are easy to see – titles, influence, accumulation of wealth, awards and recognition. Then there is a life of significance that is about spiritual values, what God thinks of a person.
30 years ago I attended a conference where a man named Bob Buford spoke to us about shifting our focus from success to significance. Buford had made a lot of money and become a ‘big guy’ in the world of cable television. Then, at the height of his success his adult son died tragically in a swimming accident. Buford, a Christian, was radically effected and gave the second half of his life to helping others, to mentoring leaders in spiritual values. He shifted to living for a significant legacy. He said “As for me, I have decided that just about all that will be left of me when I leave this earth is what I can let go of to invest in the lives of others. The fruit of my life and my work will grow on other people’s trees.”
Can you differentiate between success and significance?
Success is largely built around self- focused on ‘me.’ Significance looks outward – builds relationships, encourages others, serves without need for recognition, and most importantly – recognizes that submission to the will of God is the key. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that a person pursuing a life of significance cannot also find wealth or fame. We do understand what Jesus said about this. Worldly success can, and often does, complicate spiritual development because it provides an illusion of self-sufficiency.
Jesus said it simply: “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” (Luke 18:25, NIV) Those who would know God must be totally surrendered to the Spirit of God, willing to ‘keep in step with the Spirit.’ That is nearly impossible choice for that person who is accustomed to having the control that wealth can offer, who has lived to lead the charge! However, when a person who finds success says ‘yes’ to the will of God, understanding the true Source of his blessings, God make him useful for His work in this world.
Jesus puts this challenge before us-
will you choose to chase success as measured by accumulating possessions, or
will you pursue significance as measured by Heaven’s values?
He warns about the illusory value of worldly success. “Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where they can be eaten by moths and get rusty, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where they will never become moth-eaten or rusty and where they will be safe from thieves. Wherever your treasure is, there your heart and thoughts will also be.” (Matthew 6:19-21, NLT) The siren song of success lures many to give the whole of their lives to creating a life for themselves that will inevitably be taken from them.
No matter how great the store of things that are accumulated, no matter how many awards pile up, no matter the admiration of others – at some point the merry-go-round of life comes to a stop. What then? Solomon’s sigh near the end of a life of ‘success’ was one of regret – “My heart took delight in all my work, and this was the reward for all my labor. Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 2:10-11, NIV)
Significance, a life that is rich in service, love, and worship – leads to security of a different kind; the peace of God. By the way, do not leap to the conclusion that the gateway to significance is poverty or retreat from the struggle of life in the real world! It is not just monks or pastors who can find spiritual significance. The real question is where we place our treasure, what we love and value most. Jesus is painfully clear that we cannot “serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” (Luke 16:13, NLT)
Christian, what is the true goal of your life- success or significance?
The word from the Word comes from Solomon, the summary of a man who mis-spent the greater part of his life. “Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come and the years approach when you will say, “I find no pleasure in them”— … 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, NIV)
Build My Life (let this worship song speak to you today)
Worthy of ev’ry song we could ever sing
Worthy of all the praise we could ever bring
Worthy of ev’ry breath we could ever breathe
We live for You
Jesus the name above ev’ry other name
Jesus the only one who could ever save
Worthy of ev’ry breath we could ever breathe
We live for You We live for You
Holy there is no one like You
There is none besides You
Open up my eyes in wonder and show me who You are
And fill me with Your heart
And lead me in Your love to those around me
I will build my life upon Your love
It is a firm foundation
I will put my trust in You alone
And I will not be shaken
Brett Younker | Karl Martin | Kirby Elizabeth Kaple | Matt Redman | Pat Barrett © 2016 Martin, Karl Andrew (Admin. by Arkyard Music Services Limited) Kaple Music (Admin. by Bethel Music Publishing) Bethel Music Publishing
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