“Let’s play a game!” my toddler excitedly said at the dinner table the other day. He starts pointing at various family members, “You lose. You lose. You lose. I win!”
If only winning at life was so easy. The problem with most definitions of success is that the line is forever moving forward.
- Did you get your Masters? You might want to go for that PhD.
- Have one kid? They need a sibling!
- Bought a house? You’ll want to update it and make it your own.
- Have a thousand followers? Grow your brand to gain a million more.
Basically any career has you asking where you want to be in five years and it’s supposed to be somewhere on the up! There is always something out of reach.
Though it can be a good thing to set goals and stretch towards them, the constant need to do more, be better, achieve higher, is exhausting. Life might as well be a game of Calvinball. How does anyone win?
In a story Jesus tells, a master entrusts three of his servants with different amounts of money according to who they were as people (Matthew 25:14-31). Later, the servants who receive recognition and further invitation to be with the master are the ones who took what they were given and did something with it. The praise the master gives—“Well done, my good and faithful servant”—has become a sort of holy pat on the back to which Christians aspire.
Who wouldn’t want God to say that to them?
But what does it mean to be a good and faithful servant?
As Paul would argue, “None is righteous…no one seeks for God…no one does good…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:10-23, ESV).
But he also writes that we are “justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24).
Good is something I can never accomplish on my own. There’s a part of me that hears that as a challenge rather than an invitation. But when I choose to accept what Jesus gives, I find freedom from striving, from needing to measure up, and from never being fully the person I want to be this side of eternity.
Because everything “fall[s] short of the glory of God,” I will never be satisfied here and now. Whatever I accomplish isn’t going to cut it.
Jesus came and lived a perfect life. He is seated at the right hand of the Father in heaven—sitting and at rest because everything he came to do is accomplished.
One of the goals on the vision board of eternity is reconciliation: that my broken record (all my failures, shortcomings, sins, etc.) could be traded for Jesus’ perfect record through his death—satisfying God’s justice—and his resurrection—overcoming the grave.
It’s like he wears a big “She’s With Me” shirt, and puts a matching “He’s With Me” shirt over my head, clothing me with righteousness and welcoming me to the eternal party.
God sees me as good because he sees me as he sees Jesus. I can know the deepest success as I know my victory comes from Christ and being found in him. The very greatest prize: being known and knowing Jesus.
Jefferson Bethke on the Fight Hustle, End Hurry podcast defines faithfulness as “honouring the process of becoming.” But so often, I don’t want a process.
I’m frustrated if a web page takes longer than a second to load.
If my food isn’t hot enough the first time, I’ll suffer through the cold parts rather than microwaving it again.
The slow process of becoming is hard to honour. It’s hard to persevere in the small brick-by-brick building of character, or the two-steps-forward-one-step back of overcoming sin.
I want something easy: a nice straightforward to-do list from God. I would be all over checking off the boxes and moving on. Success! Sanctification complete!
If God’s primary goal for me was perfection, he could accomplish that in me instantly. But instead, God is inviting me to be on a journey, in relationship with him, to walk by the Spirit. Which I think is irritatingly yet purposefully vague so that I have to keep coming to him moment by moment.
The things I do gain value not by what they accomplish, but by being done with God.
I also honour the process of becoming by allowing myself to be a person who is becoming. I don’t have to have all the answers or have it all figured out. I am safe to try and fail and grow because I am in Jesus.
In the middle of my mess and sin and struggle, I am loved.
Read more: Loved even when unlovable
Once, when Jesus was teaching at the temple, his audience asked,
“‘What must we do, to be doing the works of God?’
Jesus answered them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent’” (John 6:28-29).
When asked to define what work God wants them to do with their lives, Jesus tells them: believing is the work.
- The work is remembering God has welcomed me as his own when I feel lonely.
- The work is choosing to believe God is kind when the darkness of depression feels unfair, and that God is strong to save when the same darkness feels unending.
- The work is trusting that I am loved by God when I’m at a friend’s wedding and longing for a spouse of my own.
- That my home is in heaven when all my friends are buying houses.
- That my value isn’t measured by the program I didn’t get into or the promotion I didn’t get.
Winning, finding success in life, may not ever be what I want it to or what the world tells me it should be. I honour the process by agreeing with God that it is good. Even the really hard parts. Especially the really hard parts—where often I meet Jesus most intimately, or at least feel my need for him the most profoundly.
It is good, because God is good, and he is giving me himself.
By seeing and celebrating the truth of who God is, I have deep and lasting success. I can let go of measuring myself by what others think or by my list of accomplishments.
Regardless of how you feel today, or the circumstances in which you find yourself, it’s worth putting in the work of believing that God, because of Jesus, is pointing at you, shouting, “You win!”