What It Means To REALLY Be Successful…

There’s a certain irony in the idea that our education system should produce “leaders”. After all, if everyone is a leader, who is being led? Who are the followers? And what is so awful about the idea that some people are not leaders? Why is there some sort of shame associated with being a follower? Why does our culture so idolize success that anything less than stellar, off the charts financial gluttony (even a decent life filled with love and respect but of no earthly “significance” on the radar screen of history changing individuals) is somehow shameful?

In fact, what does it really mean to be successful in life anyway? We are so quick to equate success with our financial holdings or our social prestige. We may say we believe success if not defined by money or prestige but do we really live it out? We Christians say that knowing Jesus and making Him known in and through our lives is the real definition of success. And I believe this…but if I really believe it, why am I so quick to fantasize about being a financial success? Why am I, as the Pastor of a small church, so free in my mind to daydream about leading a bigger church?

I’m a church planter and I’ve heard so many stories about guys who start churches with six people and an old, out of tune piano only to be offering eighteen services on Sunday morning with 14,000 in attendance after only four months that I want to barf. Face it, the implication is that if your church isn’t growing like that you are either missing a connection with the divine or you’re a heretic. Honestly, after eight and a half years of striving and crying and believing and praying to keep a little, “still under 100 in attendance”, church from closing its doors, my wife and I just don’t want to hear those stories any more.

I don’t have anything left to barf…

Anyway, what I’m about to share with you is applicable to anyone – not just pastors and not just church planters. It is a powerful and profound truth that has led to a sense of peace in my heart that I hope you can apply into your situation. After all, we are all in this struggle together. Our culture pours into us a mindset that if our business or our portfolio (or our church) isn’t growing it is a symptom of something deadly.

But it may not necessarily be so.

In the first place, what I’ve learned is that coveting success is still coveting. Hmmm, I seem to remember the Ten Commandments saying “do not covet”. I finally figured out that coveting a life that isn’t mine is just plain…sin, and it’s a distraction that only results in depression and lethargy too.

You see, I still let myself daydream about what my life would have been had I made “better” choices. It’s funny: I don’t fantasize about making the wrong choices and ending up in prison or as a homeless person. No – I end up an astronaut, a doctor, a rich businessman or a general in the U.S. Marine Corps. I can waste a lot of time entertaining myself this way. But these are boy’s fantasies, beneath the image of God I carry because it’s essentially saying, “God, what you’ve allowed me to become isn’t good enough for me so I’ll make up a fiction in my mind to inflate my sense of worth.”

You see – if God really can (and often does) intervene in history, including the personal histories of each and every one of us, then fantasizing about being something we are not is accusing God of not caring. After all, He could have stopped us when we made that one bad choice we so regret today. He could have given us a leg up in the business venture that went south. He could have filled up our little church on day one – but He didn’t.

Well – I’ve shied away from saying in my heart that my life’s challenges are God’s fault. Still, even if I admit in my heart that my lot in life today is my own doing, my daydreams of some other life are still trying to live in a fictional past. Didn’t Jesus say “God is the God of the living, not the dead?” Isn’t the past dead? So what am I doing trying to live there and still serve the LIVING God?

There’s more to this than just deciding not to fantasize about a life that isn’t mine. I’ve also got to embrace who I really am – not who I wish I had become. It’s one thing to strive for improvement, it’s quite another to despise myself for not being something better.

I mean, I have long believed in improving myself but I’ve finally learned that not everyone has the same gifts, skills and abilities. We’re not all leaders and even leaders are not all leading the same way or to the same end. Jesus put it like this:

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a man traveling to a far country, who called his own servants and delivered his goods to them. 15 And to one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, to each according to his own ability; and immediately he went on a journey. 16 Then he who had received the five talents went and traded with them, and made another five talents. 17 And likewise he who had received two gained two more also. 18 But he who had received one went and dug in the ground, and hid his lord’s money.” (Matthew 25:14, NKJV)

So – not everyone is given five talents – some of us are only given two.

Wow – I’ve preached sermons on this passage and missed this point, particularly when applied to myself. Think about the arrogance of that statement! When I thought about it I was hit like a thunderbolt…

What if I’m the guy with two talents?

I mean, honestly, most people don’t like to think of themselves that way. But the truth is – I’m an average person. My grades in school were…average, C’s and B’s. My accomplishments in writing…no best-sellers, in fact, I’m lucky to sell ten of my books in a month. They’re not BAD (even the critics say they’re actually pretty good – read the reviews on Amazon if you don’t believe me) but they’re not knocking down the charts either.

And my averageness goes on and on…

Recently, necessity compelled me to lead the worship team over the last few months. I can, after all, play a few instruments…but people have been “nice” enough to suggest I find someone else to lead the singing. They then go on to tell me how much they look forward to the church hiring a “real” worship pastor – and the sooner the better.

Gee – thanks…

Yeah – well, I used to despise myself for not being the best at pretty much anything I decided to do. But take a look at that passage in Matthew 25 once again.

  • The servant with two talents does NOT envy the guy who has five.
  • He does not waste time WISHING he had five.
  • He doesn’t fantasize about how great things would be if he only had five talents.

No…

He is content with the two he was given and most importantly he USES what he was given…

And the REWARD is the same for both servants.

I’ve discovered that maybe the reason nothing in my life has really taken off and become blindingly successful could be because – it isn’t supposed to (at least, not yet!)

Because, maybe I’m the guy with two talents.

That’s a very sobering thought. Now, I ought not to use such an idea as an excuse to be lazy nor should I give up trying to improve myself. Quite the opposite! In fact, if I do NOT use the two I have with ALL MY HEART – then I’m the guy WITH ONE TALENT who hid it in the ground, did nothing, simply envied those who had more, made lots of excuses – and the Master called Him WICKED and LAZY.

That’s not what I want either.

No – I should use the two I have as well as I can. But…

  • I shouldn’t be upset if my efforts don’t amount to more than two additional talents.
  • I shouldn’t be upset if my efforts to be a writer only result in a few books sold (I’m fortunate to sell 10 in a month) – because I was faithful to write the books in the first place.
  • I shouldn’t be upset if my church purrs along faithfully at 100 or so folks every Sunday morning – because I was faithful to lead this church plant in the first place.

In fact – that is the KEY word here…FAITHFULNESS. That is the difference between a person who recognizes their talents are not going to set the world on fire but they refuse to let that truth keep them from doubling WHAT THEY HAVE.

And that is why the reward for the two servants is the same – because it is FAITHFULNESS, not the amount of talent or resources you may have – that pleases the King in the end.

So – I may have been designed to lead a small church. After all, there are small churches that need pastors. I may have been designed to write books that only a few people read – but a few people needed to read those books.

Not every church has to “take off” to be in God’s will. Not every business venture you start has to be successful in order for you to be seen by God as faithful – and rewarded in the end.

The differences between us in life are in our gifting – but not in our efforts because diligence, faithfulness, obedience and consistency are required of both servants – whether they have two talents or five.

The truth is there are plenty of people who have more talent in their little finger than you or I have in our whole bodies but they squander it on fear, apathy, laziness or a relentless number of excuses making them no better than the guy with one talent.

So no matter how many talents you have, no matter what the circumstances you face – remember that the reward is for faithfulness to use WHAT YOU DO HAVE – day in, day out until the Master calls for you….

Hang in there…He rewards those who FAITHFULLY keep on keeping on…

About Patrick C Marks

The basics are…really basic. I’m a husband, father of 5, teacher, pastor, writer and a musician. I am also…bald...I have a crooked back (had to wear a back brace when I was a kid – ultimate geek with a piece of plastic and aluminum that made me look like a cyborg)...I dye my goatee so I don’t look like I have one foot in the grave and I would do much better if I actually USED the gym membership I pay for. I blog about things that matter to me and I write everything from non-fiction books about Evolution and Creation to short stories about being chased by bears. In short - I don't fit many molds but I can be entertaining.
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3 Responses to What It Means To REALLY Be Successful…

  1. Kristen Johnson says:

    I often wonder if wasted talent isn’t often tied in with wasted (wrong) decisions. I see your point about God wanting us to use our talents and that he designed us a certain way – but I also think that poor decision-making can keep us from “bigger” and “better” things that God may have wanted for us. (I mean, I’ve made some doozies myself and certainly wish I could take them back!) 🙂

  2. Josiah says:

    Wow….I really needed to read this tonight….its such a true statement. I suffer from the same thing. These posts always help me. Keep them coming!!!

  3. Dave Malnes says:

    Look forward to your next post. You have good insights.

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