It’s become popular (and for good reason!) to talk about defining success for yourself. While the world defines success in terms of money, accolades, power, or follower counts, many of us are waking up to the fact that success defined in that way is empty of true fulfillment. I’ve watched as some of my favorite Instagram influencers have moved away from glamorized Instagram lifestyles to prioritize their families, choosing quiet lifestyles like cozy cabins in the woods. I wholeheartedly applaud them for standing against that empty version of success. That takes courage!
I think we need to go a step further in our redefinition of success, though. I don’t know about your life, but mine is far from an idyllic cabin! My lifestyle looks like toys scattered across my living room rug (that desperately needs a vacuum), an almost one-year-old that wants to read yet another board book, and a long to-do list to get done before the weekend rolls in. Until I’m independently wealthy, that cabin lifestyle is as unattainable as the glamorized Instagram ones.
What do you really think success looks like?
I think our temptation is to hold out success (however we define it) as an achievement.
“Once my business makes X revenue” “Once I have X follower count” “Once I publish my book” “Once I live in a white-walled and marble-counter topped house” “Once I have a nicer car” “Once I lose 40 lbs” “Once I get married or have kids”
But how does Jesus define success?
In the parable of the talents, the Master gives each of his servants differing amounts of money to steward. And when he came back, their success wasn’t measured by the dollar amount they had made but by their faithfulness to increase it. To Jesus, success isn’t about the end result. It’s about the day-to-day faithfulness.
“For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. 15 To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16 He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. 17 So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. 18 But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19 Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. 20 And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here, I have made five talents more.’ 21 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ 22 And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here, I have made two talents more.’ 23 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ 24 He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, 25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here, you have what is yours.’ 26 But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? 27 Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. 28 So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. 29 For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 30 And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ Matthew 25:14-30
It has always struck me as so strange that the wicked servant thought that his master was “a hard man”. The other servants didn’t seem to view him that way. The servant accuses the master of reaping where he did not sow. He was afraid of him. It’s this view of the master’s character that seems to actually lie at the root of the parable.
I think we are more like that servant than we care to admit. We can fall into viewing God like the servant does, believing that God is squeezing blood from a turnip, that He just wants an end result from us. That attitude of fear will never allow us to serve God in faithfulness because we will be too fearful to ever take risks. Fear makes us play small. Fear makes us rely only on what we know we can guarantee in our own strength.
But we don’t have to view God that way. God’s clearest revelation of His character and heart toward us are in Jesus Christ Himself (Heb 1:3). Jesus entered our lives and walked in our shoes. He suffered more than we ever will. He didn’t pride Himself on His worldly connections or reputation but hung out with the outcasts and nobodys. And He didn’t stop short of giving even His life to bring us into His family. Believing in God’s goodness allows us to take risks.
It’s a paradox, because the real risk is in the everyday. We think that we will take big risks when we are ready to, and so we hold out for perfectionism instead of being vulnerable to the risk embedded in ordinary faithfulness. It’s hard to just create an Instagram reel. It’s not perfect, and that makes me feel vulnerable. It’s hard to write this blog post. The imperfections open me to criticism. It’s hard to put ourselves out there in the small ways. But taking risks allows us to faithfully grow and steward the gifts He has given to us.
So I think it’s time that we stopped thinking of success as a mile marker, and started thinking about it as the daily decisions that add up to long-term faithfulness. When you make that reel, even though you feel terrified to hit “post”, that’s success. When you fulfill that order, that’s success. When you answer that client, that’s success. The good news is that I don’t have to wait for a Pinterest-perfect home OR a cabin. Daily faithfulness in my tiny and quirky home today, on a Monday at 2:44 pm is success. I don’t have to wait until my business reaches some arbitrary measurement of success. Caring for my people and faithfully building is success. I’m going to embrace my ordinary-ness. That is true success. I hope that you will be freed from arbitrary standards of success today. I pray that you will enjoy the sweetness of daily faithfulness as you serve Jesus. And I pray that the Holy Spirit will show you more of the good heart of your kind master, Jesus, today.