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I have lived in many different places. Ambition and drive are always present, but wear different masks. When I lived in DC drive looked like competition of the corporate ladder. Business suites, politics, and salary were the measure of one’s success. Nashville wears the mask of image and fame. The drive looks like the comparison of creativity and talent.

The competition of success becomes the filter through which we relate to others and view ourselves.

We live in a measurable culture. Andy Stanley calls it the “comparison Trap.” We are constantly looking to the right and left to see where we measure up against that of other people. We develop judgments through conversations to determine if we are “okay.” We are constantly drawing conclusions that sound like, “well I’m better than that person, or further ahead, but I am not that person.”

What determines success?

The easy answer is that money makes the bar of success. Maybe having a best seller is success, or a hit song. Success is whatever makes you considered the best in your field of determination. However, the issue with the false advertising of success is that the bar is unmeetable. There will always be someone who we will see has better or beneath us.

Success needs redefining. Success needs a new outlook.

Matt Chandler has opened my eyes to what success should look like – what it really is. In his book Explicit Gospel, he talks about how the prophets in the bible would not be considered successful by our culture’s standards.  Chandler states,

Now if Isaiah was a minister within today’s evangelicalism, he’d be considered and utter failure. Jeremiah would be an utter failure. Moses didn’t get to enter the promise land. John the Baptist didn’t get to see the ministry of Jesus. We would not view the ministry of these men as successful. One of the things we don’t preach well is that ministry that looks fruitless is constantly happening in the scriptures. We don’t do conferences on that. There aren’t too many books written about how you can toil away all your life and be unbelievably faithful to God and see little fruit this side of Heaven. We have to be wary of the idea that numeric growth and enthusiastic response are always signs of success.

I read about these guys and think, “Wow! They were doing something – they had audiences, and followers. They were speaking words that mattered.” However, the truth is that not many people listened to them, well at least for Isaiah and Jeremiah. Isaiah was out right rejected for his message and obedience. Do we consider them successful because they are now known and “famous?”

Chandler states that, “faithfulness is success. Obedience is success.”

There is a tension of wanting to do more to be more. Drive and passion are good, but faithfulness and character matter more. Success should be driven by how we treat people – how marriage shows commitment and loyalty. Success should look like celebrating the gifts and talents of others while being great at where you are presently.

Success and failure should not be defined by comparison. Small things matter. You gifts and your heart matters. How you are faithful and obedient to those abilities given to you is what success is. Love well. Wait well. Celebrate other people often. Be successful at who you are, not what you do.

What is frustrating to you about success?

What is your comparison trap?

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