We all want success. One hundred percent of human beings are chasing after success. Gandhi, Mother Teresa, and MLK, Jr. pursued success. As did Napoleon, every American president, musicians, actors, engineers, pastors, and stay-at-home parents.
We cannot help but chase success. It is how we are wired. The question becomes: how do we measure success?
The difference between Gandhi and Atilla the Hun was not about a desire for success but the definition for it.
A few obvious options come to mind.
First, is money. We can count it, measure it, buy things with it. It is a palpable currency. And we receive it for the work we do. So money, in one view, is a measure of success. It is evidence that you are doing something worthwhile.
Another is power. Or, a variation, leaving a legacy. Being remembered. Becoming famous. Notoriety and positions of influence.
I think for most of us, the barometer we use for success is some mix of physical productivity and applause. If we are effective, there will be measurable evidence. Sprockets will be made. People will give us money. Congregants will be baptized. Numbers will grow.
And when numbers grow, we will be recognized for it. Our numbers will be reinforced.
Even Gandhi and Mother Teresa are in some ways, tied to the numbers. They served so many. They made such an impact on this amount of people. And they are recognized for it.
The Bible talks about how we will know something by the fruit it bears.
And we often conflate that with our measures of productivity and recognition.
But there is a deeper measure of success. After all, the Bible also tells us what “fruit” of the spirit is: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control. Not much about physical productivity in there.
It reminds me of the prophet Jeremiah who told the people what God instructed him to tell… and they ignored him. Or when Jesus tells the disciples to leave a place and shake the dust off their feet if they do not respond.
Here is the thing about those fruits of the spirit: they are all internal. What I mean is, they are character traits. The fruit must be born in your own life.
To be sure, figures like Gandhi show that internal fruit often produces external production. But Jeremiah shows the opposite is also the case. There are a lot of people throughout history, and in the world today, who are loving and serving and living and being but are not experiencing the sort of effectiveness or notoriety we so often couple with success.
I think we put a lot of internal pressure on ourselves to be successful by the traditional standards. Even if you are serving others (maybe especially so), it ought to produce a big response from others. We underestimate that the biggest measure of success is the quiet character we carry with us every single day. The key to victorious living is not notoriety or measurable effectiveness, although those sometimes come. The key is living according to the values and vision instilled within us, to become the kind of people who walk in the fruits of the spirit – whether people measure it as successful or not.