I will never forget the excitement of watching my babies learn to walk. Even knowing the drastic changes that come with a mobile baby, I still coaxed and bribed and urged them to try. And when they took that first step, and those wobbly next few steps, I cheered them on with heartfelt exuberance. Even now, I thrill at the new life “steps” they take…starting school, learning to swim, picking up a new instrument. The going is slow, but there’s value in the process. Never in my wildest dreams would I scold or punish them for falling down as they learn to walk. It wouldn’t cross my mind to reprimand, “Well, that was pretty good, but I really expected something from Chopin, not ‘Row, Row, Row Your Boat.'”
Why then, do I suppose God is disappointed with my feeble, faltering attempts to love and follow Him? Why do I see a frowning countenance in my mind’s eye when I think of how my heavenly Father views me? Do I forget that Jesus has a sympathetic heart toward me (Heb 4:15-16)? He knows what it’s like to be human, to be weak, tired, and angry. He knows how it feels to have given to everyone else and not even have time for Himself (Mark 6:31-32). And though He never did, He knows I will sometimes fail (Rom 7:19).
So when I fall down, what is God’s response? Am I a failure in His eyes? Does He expect me to strengthen my resolve and pull myself back up so I can prove to Him I’ll do better next time? I don’t think so. I think He’s there to pick me up, brush me off, and set me on my feet again. In other words, I think this is really all about Him, not me. It is God who works in me, causing my heart and life to line up with who He is (Phil 2:13).
He is forming Christ in me (Gal 4:19). It’s a process. And He is just as concerned with the process as He is with the final product. If His plan was for me to be perfect and sinless now, He would have completely removed my flesh (Rom 7:18-20), or just taken me to heaven once He saved me. The fact that He didn’t do those things is proof to me that this wrestling, this “two steps forward one step back,” is part of His overarching work. It’s how I learn to depend on Him, to live relating to Him rather than independently.
Yes, He wants me to live in victory over sin – He purchased it for me with His blood! He desires for me to choose to follow Him out of a heart of love and worship. But He also wants me to know that I am loved and accepted even when I don’t. He wants me to know that His approval of me is based on Jesus’ righteousness, not mine. My righteousness didn’t earn my salvation, nor will it earn His favor now. He is pleased when He sees Christ being formed in me. He is pleased when, through His Spirit in me, I resist temptation. He is also pleased when, through His Spirit in me, I cry out for help from the mire I’ve fallen back into.
And that, my friend, is my new definition of success. Cooperating with Him as He forms Jesus in me. Learning from Him. Surrendering to His leading. Letting Him express Himself through me. Progress, not perfection.
So what does this look like in my daily life? Maybe it means a day spent fighting for joy, instead of surrendering to discouragement or weariness, is a day well spent. Maybe it means time spent with my kids is not wasted, though the house is a mess and we picked up pizza for dinner. Maybe it means doing a “home date” with hubby once the kids are in bed is the better choice, rather than “doing something productive.” Maybe it means that just getting one room cleaned (and being okay with the fact that it will be messy tomorrow!) is good enough. Maybe it means He’s pleased when I walk with Him through the day, even when I couldn’t drag myself out of bed for a long “quiet time.”
Ultimately, success may not always look like success to us. Our hearts may condemn us as failures. But God is greater than our hearts (1 Jn 3:20). He has declared that there is no condemnation for those of us who are “in Christ” (Rom 8:1). When our hearts, or the opinions of others, declare us to be failures, we would do well to consider these questions: Whose approval am I defined by (Col 2:13-14)? Is my life centered upon Jesus (1 Cor 3:11)? Am I progressively becoming more like Christ? (Rom 8:29). These things lie at the heart of true success. They make all the difference in God’s eyes.
The apostle Paul was a highly successful Israelite religious leader. But a life-altering encounter with Jesus changed his definition of success. He gave up everything, was imprisoned for Christ, and ultimately died as a martyr. Not too successful, humanly speaking. But this was his testimony. “…I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith” (Phil 3:8-9).
So what’s your definition of success? Please feel free to comment – I’d love to hear your thoughts!