I’ve just experienced my 49th Christmas / New Year season. I can remember a good number of them and like the one just passed, they’ve all followed a similar pattern of connecting with my immediate and wider family, especially those who live in other towns from where I grew up.
When I was young this connection was with my grandparents, uncles and aunties and cousins and a few people who for one reason or another were part of our family circle.
Over the passage of time this connection group has changed; I’m now the uncle (and ‘great’ uncle to the children of my nieces and nephews) who lives away from our wider family. Next Christmas I will be the Poppa to our eldest daughters’ baby; the seasons of life change as we farewell some and welcome others, but the concept of connection remains, it’s central to our desire as connected humans.
Conversation at these events often revolves around catching up on what everyone is doing, especially the next generation. We’re at the stage where our tables are filled with young adults, university courses are discussed as are the graduates and the early stages of their careers.
Common responses are, ‘they’re doing so well’, or ‘they’re career is really picking up.’ Reading between the lines we’re saying their earning a good salary, or they have a great title, in the eyes of the world they’re successful and therefore good people.
The World’s View of Success
Having lived a few years I know only too well what we consider success to look like in New Zealand. The framework is based around a familiar pattern of expectation:
- Doing well at school and achieving NCEA Levels 1, 2 & 3 (you’re particularly successful if there is a merit of excellent endorsement alongside that).
- Completing a course of tertiary study or some other form of vocational training (or course mainstream university study is the first preference).
- Getting a ‘good job’ which means well paid in an acceptable field of work.
- Continuing to push yourself to higher levels of achievement which lead to the greatest of all success markers in our society, owning your own home no matter the size of the mortgage.
I could go on, but you get the idea and I’m sure it resonates with the majority of us.
Is Success Really Success
I’ve also now lived long enough to know that no one feels particularly successful despite what level of achievement they enjoy and what level of stuff they have. There is an insatiable desire for more. Enough is rarely enough.
Our society is laden with people who feel inferior and insecure despite appearing successful. Societal rates of mental health illnesses are at an all time high and NZ has the highest rates of suicide in the developed world.
Success? It doesn’t feel like our view of success is very successful.
God’s View of Success
As I read the Bible, I don’t see the words of Jesus, or the wider stories of God’s interaction with his people, defining success in the ways we do in our affluent society. The words I do see are almost diametrically opposite to our expectations. Here are some examples:
Micah [The Prophet] Chapter 6, Verse 8, He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.
Matthew Chapter 22, Verses 36-40, ‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’ Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.’
Philippians Chapter 4, Verses 11-13, [Paul the Apostle] I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.I can do all this through him who gives me strength.
Really Successful Living
Of course I could go on. There are dozens of other Scriptures in a similar vein, but the theme is consistent, success for Christians has none of the hallmarks that our society defines success as, but rather success in God’s eyes is framed by the following key markers:
- Knowing who we are as a daughter or son of the living God.
- Enjoying a living experience of God with us through the person of the Holy Spirit.
- Recognising the unique gifts and abilities that have been placed in us so that we might be contributors to God’s mission in this world.
- Participating together and growing in character to be generous, compassionate and graceful people who seek to bring the fulness of the Kingdom of God into the places we live.
Redefining Our Goals for 2020
Maybe we could redefine our table conversations at Christmas / New Year gatherings and ask questions of how our relationship with God is going, or how secure are the next generation in their identity in Christ, or what could be our next act of generosity, or what could we contribute to ensure the mission of God continues to change lives with an eternal destination. Our conversations would be radically different.
May we all know the peace of Christ that is greater than any human understanding in 2020 and may success in Christ define us in our thoughts and actions.
Measuring our lives in this way could really create some interesting discussions.
Grant Harris is a reformed banker who has been the Senior Pastor of Windsor Park Baptist Church in Auckland, New Zealand, for eleven years. Grant’s passionate about seeing people catch a glimpse of who they are in Christ and living out the difference that makes. He’s tried living according to the patterns of this world and found that those patterns came up short. He’s still a work-in-progress and always will be. You can contact Grant at firstname.lastname@example.org.