My daughter Irene succeeding at walking.
I was mentored in my thirties by a friend who genuinely knew God, but was nevertheless conservative and sexist, and made me feel guilty about my call to write which he saw as “dabbling.” He felt I should throw myself into housekeeping and childrearing, and would thereby find God at the bottom of the laundry basket.
So I felt guilty and conflicted about my desire for success in whatever I undertook.
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Both of my daughters are successful in what they do; one of them, in particular, is successful in everything she throws her heart into…
I’ve been meditating on success…
I increasingly want to view things the way that Jesus does. “So, Lord, what do you think about success?” I ask.
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“Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey God. Then you will be successful in everything you do,” the Lord tells Joshua (Joshua 1:7).
Success is God’s expectation for Joshua. And success is God’s blessing on Joshua.
For God is our father. No loving parent would wish to see their child fail, expect when failing is the only way to learn. I remember Irene walking her first steps with a huge grin on her face, her fat little legs collapsing under her plump baby body, and then she lifted herself up, and continued, still with that fat grin on her face. Not to allow her to fall would be keeping her weak.
So God may allow failures…to teach us our need for him, or to redirect us when we have chosen the wrong path. He might permit physical and mental burnouts to teach us to intersperse mental and physical activity so that both mind and body thrive, and we achieve more in the long run.
In general, however, I believe success is God’s will for his children. For instance, I don’t believe God intends us to start a business and fail. I dissolved the first business I ran soon after my second business went into good profit, because it was unsustainably intensive and lacked long-term potential. It was, in other words, a failure! But the things I learnt from it, and the business books I read while running it, helped me run my second business successfully, while having time to taste the joy of life. So it was both a failure, and a self-taught MBA in the school of experience. These failures God permits; they are slip roads onto the highway of our calling, as a writer might experiment with poetry, fiction, essay and drama before settling on creative nonfiction which uses all these genres.
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In J.R.R. Tolkein’s story “Leaf by Niggle,” Niggle, all his life, tries to complete a huge, beautiful painting, always thwarted by those who commandeer his time, and exploit him for their own ends. He dies with his giant painting unfinished, though one leaf was perfection….
Well, when Niggle gets to heaven, he sees the landscape and forest that he had been trying to paint all his life: complete and perfect. Had be been attempting to recreate what existed in God’s Own Country, or had God, just for the fun of it, created what Niggle had struggled to?
Wonderstuck, “Niggle said, “ ‘It’s a gift.’ He was referring to his art, and also to the result, but he was using the word quite literally.”
Art is a gift of God primarily to the artist herself.
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I believe God intends all his children to be successful–though not all to be equally successful. There are tens of thousands of Christian bloggers, but only a dozen or so who have tens of thousands of readers. Are the rest failures then?
The art we produce, the books, the blogs, the poems, may reach millions, or may only reach thousands, hundreds, dozens, or even fewer… In his mysterious purposes before the beginning of time, God chooses the precise places where people live, the gifts he gives them, and their circle of influence.
However, whether its reach is massive or limited, creativity is the gift of God to us, given for our joy, our pleasure, our delight, our growth, and even our sanctification. Creativity, art, is a gift to be enjoyed for its own sake, for the pleasure of making beautiful things, even while we pray that God may use our creativity to bless many.
Success then is taking the talents we have been given by a God who loves us–one talent, five or ten, and investing them fruitfully.
Success lies in running well in our own lane, enjoying the work of our hands, not worrying about people in more glittering and influential lanes, accepting that, for now, God has given them a different story, a larger lane, and perhaps may give us a larger lane one day, or perhaps not–but either way, the love of God is sufficient to fill our hearts with joy.
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Want a shortcut to success?
I was reading about Rev. E. J. H. Nash, who converted many key players in today’s Anglican Church, including Justin Welby, John Stott, Nicky Gumbel, Michael Green, and David Watson. His goal was to reach England for Christ by evangelizing “the best boys from the best schools.”
When Nash surrendered his life to Christ, he mentally “handed over to him the keys of every room in the house of his life.”
What Jesus put in each room, what he took out, and how he rearranged things was now His responsibility. And Christ gave Nash, nicknamed Bash, a disproportionate influence on the course of Christianity in this nation.
I am reminded too of Bill Bright who signed a contract signing over everything in his life to Christ, and said, “The future never looked so bright.” Within a day of his surrender, he received a vision for Campus Crusade for Christ, a massive international Christian ministry with 25,000 missionaries in 191 countries
C. S. Lewis needed to surrender to “the great Angler,” ‘the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England,” to have his imagination baptized, and to be liberated into the freedom, the creativity, the whimsical, playful, and magical combining of all the worlds he delighted in that we see in the Narnia books.
Inviting Christ into every room of your life, and especially into the rooms of your imagination, your creativity, and your work, will yield surprising results.
I must add though that Jesus, the Lion of God, is not a tame lion. He may remove some things, replace them with others, may redirect you to a quieter room for a season–and this season could be a very long one. Or he may almost instantly unleash a flood of words, ideas, connections, and inspiration.
I believe surrender is always accompanied by creativity. Surrender of ourselves to Jesus is a divine exchange, an exchange of our limitedness for his unlimitedness, our smallness for his hugeness, and our puny ideas for his magnificent ideas.
(When I invited Christ anew into every room of the house of my life, I was surprised by a business idea which filled us with purpose and joy, excitement and hope, an idea I could instinctively and immediately tell would work, even on the mundane level that businesses must work, i.e. providing a golden financial return for the investment of time and talent–but which, God willing, will also bless many people.)
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The quest for success in our endeavours becomes light and happy when we love something or someone more than success, when something or someone is more important than success. For me at present, that Someone is Christ.
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I like Samuel’s prophecy over Saul, “The Spirit of the Lord will come powerfully upon you; and you will be changed into a different person. Then do whatever your hand finds to do, for God is with you,” 1 Samuel 10 6-7.
So work hard, work joyously, work well, and rest well, and expect the blessing of the Lord on the work of your hands. For the Lord your God is with you.
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