By Kevin Howell
America is driven by success. It’s almost in our blood. Just look at our economic system—which says a lot about a nation. Capitalism is based on opportunity, private ownership and individual freedom to obtain wealth. Add to that a social dynamic, and “The American Dream” is generally accepted as owning a home, having a spouse, a good job and being well-off—if not filthy rich. Most of us were raised with similar concepts of success; whether we were either taught it in our homes, fed it by the images marketed to us in the media, or, if we grew up in poverty, perceived it as the opposite of how we were living.
I think most of us, in some form, share that dream. Even if it’s not about the money (and it shouldn’t be), we desire success. If you’re like me, then you have a dream…something in your heart that you always wanted to accomplish. Through time and circumstance, some of us have let dreams fade, while others are still in pursuit of those goals. Whether it’s a specific aspiration or just that good ole American ambition, it takes drive to accomplish it. That’s why I admire successful people, because I know they’re driven. It took risks, time and sacrifice to get to where they are. Oprah, Diddy, Trump, Gates, Obama: they are all public figures who pushed themselves to get to their levels of success.
But is success the ultimate purpose of our endeavors? Or rather, might it be faithfulness instead?
I’ve always been one to pursue success. I consider myself ambitious with sort of a Type-A personality. I tend to dream big and go after my goals. And my aspirations aren’t selfish or worldly; many of them are intended to glorify God. But even in a “righteous pursuit,” I tend to get off track. Maybe it’s that American ambition in me, but I like to think beyond those plans that God places in my heart. It’s great to start a magazine, but imagine if I start a publishing company. It’s cool to write articles and essays, but how about writing books, who knows, there could be multiple bestsellers. Sounds good, right? It even fosters a feeling of nobility. And if I accomplish those things, I’d be considered pretty successful, but I wouldn’t necessarily be faithful. The challenge for all of us is to simply stick to the plan—the plan God has for our lives. He’s wired us with certain skills, abilities and interests in order to fulfill His purpose and live fulfilled lives. The problem is we can easily get off course, seeking success. It reminds me of the one time I went to Jiffy Lube for an oil change. In the 10 minutes it took them to change my oil and filter, they ceaselessly tried to convince me that I needed new transmission fluid, an air filter change, new brake fluid, more anti-freeze, and even car parts I never heard of. I didn’t fall for the sales pitch, because I came for only one reason—an oil change.
It’s the same way with our lives. God has given us a certain assignment, career, or purpose, yet our culture continually tries to con us into going for more: more money, more degrees, more accomplishments, more notoriety, another title, another ministry, and the list goes on. These things aren’t wrong in and of themselves, but if we’re reaching for them outside of the realm God has for us, then we’re seeking success and not faithfulness.
I recently read something that said there’s no such thing as prospering outside the will of God. I thought that was dead-on. And I look no further than our standard—Jesus Christ—to prove it. Jesus didn’t live the American Dream. He didn’t own a home, had no wife, no kids. He was only a carpenter (and He quit that job when He was 30). And although He may have had money, He wasn’t ballin’ like the tax collectors. So maybe He wasn’t successful. But He was faithful, and that’s all I intend to be.