Almost everyone in this world is striving for success in something. It might be in education, in growing a business, in their marriage, or in many other things, but everyone wants to succeed. When we look back at the end of the week, month, or year, we want to be able to say that we have accomplished what we set out to do. This is no different for the Christian, although the Christian definition of success is quite different from this world’s. To paraphrase Paul in I Cor. 9:24-27, we are just like athletes in a race. We have a goal in mind, and that goal affects every aspect of our lives. But while the world strives to gain a fleeting reward, we strive to gain an everlasting one.
We are in a competition, striving for success, but success doesn’t happen accidentally. It happens as a result of careful, thought- out effort. Recently I was reading about an interview where Tom Morris, an American philosopher and business speaker, laid out seven principles for success.¹ His ideas of success were not defined by what God would call success, but the principles he gave for achieving any goal still hold true. And just like Paul could learn from how athletes strive to win a race, I think we can learn some truths from what he said. The principles struck home most to me when I began to apply them to goals that I had, such as having a successful school year, or becoming the person that God wants me to be. I decided to use those as examples, but for you, they will likely be different. My challenge for you is to choose your own goals, and apply these principles for yourself.
First, we need a clear conception of what we want—a clearly imagined goal. We need to know what we are trying to achieve. For example, if I as a teacher want my school year to be a success, I need to know what makes up a successful school year. I need to know what must be included and what should be kept out. If I don’t have a vision, or if my vision is not accurate, I will not be able to achieve a successful school year. For another, more long-term example, if I am to achieve a life of purity and righteousness, I need to know what that looks like. I need to study the Word and listen to the Spirit so that I know how God would have me live my life. If I don’t find out what a man of God looks like, how he acts, what he thinks about, and what he holds dear, I will not be able to become one. To achieve success, we need to constantly be searching out and forming a picture of what God wants of us. As the Hebrew writer said, we need to look to Jesus, the “Author and Finisher of our Faith,” as a goal for the race we have in front of us.
Once we have a clear picture of what we intend to achieve, we need to have confidence that it can actually be achieved. Essentially, the second ingredient is faith. If our goal is aligned with the will of God, we will be able to achieve that goal. Having faith that God will enable us to achieve that goal will give us the courage to press on even when things look impossible. If I go into a school year mostly convinced that this batch of students is too unruly to make anything of, I am setting myself up for failure. If I don’t believe that I can truly live a holy and righteous life, then I will never achieve it. If we don’t believe that God can help us accomplish what he has called us to, we will make excuses for our failures and give up when things get tough. Psalm 1 says that whatever the righteous man turns his hand to will prosper. That principle holds true for us today. If we are in the will of God and pursuing what he has called us to, we can be confident that our work will not be in vain.
If we wish to achieve success we need to have a focused concentration on what it takes to achieve that goal. Paul is a great example of this in his focus on only one goal: the cause of Christ. He didn’t care about his comfort, his reputation, or even his life. He only cared that the name of Christ was magnified and the Word of Christ was preached. Turning to my own life, if I want the school year to go well, I need to keep my focus concentrated on my vision. If I start to care more about impressing the parents at the program or making the year more fun or less stressful for me, I will no longer be making progress in having a school year that is successful in what really matters. The same goes for living a godly life. If my focus shifts to making my business a success, improving my image to those around me, or in seeking my own pleasure, I will begin to lose out in the spiritual battle that is going on every day.
In a similar vein, not only must I be focused on the right thing, I must be consistent in that focus. I might go into the school year all fired up and inspired by what I heard in teachers conferences or what I read over the summer, but if that is simply a flash of energy that soon burns out, I won’t accomplish much. No matter how grand my visions are, if I don’t stick to them day in and day out, they will be nothing more than that—just grand dreams and visions. The same is true with our spiritual lives. I can be greatly inspired by a week of meetings or a term of Bible school and have great intentions to live only for Christ and do great things for Him, but if it is just a flash of emotion, it will not last. It takes a steady, consistent effort to daily crucify the flesh and live for Christ to make a lasting change. Like the seed that sprouts up quickly, but doesn’t have any depth, our growth will quickly wither if we do not develop roots and depth through steady growth. Once we start, a constant commitment to our work is the only way to succeed.
Although an emotional burst is not enough, emotions are important. If we are not emotionally committed to the importance of what we are doing, we will not apply ourselves in the same way. If we wish to succeed, we need to have an emotional commitment to the importance of what we are doing. If I do not emotionally grasp the importance and benefit of providing my students with a school year that will encourage them to grow and learn, I will not go at it with my full energy or pour myself into my work in the same way that I would otherwise. If I do not understand in my heart the importance of being right with God and living according to his will, then my efforts will be a sham, and will not hold up to the pressures of temptation. The kingdom of heaven is within the hearts of men and we must allow the Spirit to grip our hearts if we want to truly achieve His will.
Good character is another essential factor in the success of any venture. In the classroom, if I show selfishness, pride, dishonesty, or poor character in any other way, my students will lose respect for me and the year will not go well. If my attempt to live a righteous life is not driven by a desire from the heart to live right with God, I will not succeed. Self-discipline, courage, humility, love—all the traits of good character need to be present if we are going to stand up to the pressures and difficulties that will certainly get in our way.
Finally, we need to enjoy the process as we go. This does not mean every day will be fun and easy. It does not mean there will not be days when we would like nothing more than to simply give up, but God intended the Christian life to be a life of joy and peace. Over and over, the Psalms talk about the righteous man delighting in the Law of the Lord or finding joy in His presence. Teaching school, living a pure and righteous life, or any other goal worth pursuing will be difficult. It will be emotionally draining, but it will also be rewarding. If we cannot take pleasure in the process and enjoy the work that God has given us, we will end up emotionally burnt out and will be missing out on the blessing that God intended.
The challenge I am presenting to you again is to apply these principles to your life. Rather than drifting along from event to event like it is so easy to do, put some thought into what God wants you to achieve with your life and make that your goal. No, you probably do not know the specifics of everything God wants you to accomplish, but you have a work that he has placed in front of you. Make that your goal, and do what it takes to succeed in that work. Don’t drift, deliberate.