Success: To laugh often and much, to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children, to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends, to appreciate beauty, to find the best in others, to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded! ~Ralph Waldo Emerson
How do we measure success? Success is defined in many different ways and largely depends on the circumstances you find yourself in. As a teacher, I often define success by seeing my students increase their knowledge. My husband considers a service call a success if he has fixed the customers problem and doesn't get called back for the same issue. A sales person may determine they are successful if they are able to meet their quota and a lawyer would be successful if they win a case. But what about as a Christian? How do we...how should we measure success?
I am blessed to belong to a thriving church that is growing in numbers and ministries. We have the Women's Guild, Men's Club, Choir, Youth Group, VBS, St. Vincent dePaul, Altar Society, Divorced and Separated Support, Contemporary Band, Mission trips, Parish Festival, Religious Education, and don't forget about Girlfriends Unlimited! The list could go on and on. So what is the barometer that the church uses to determine success? Is it a certain number of members either in the parish or in individual groups? Is it the amount or scale of events that take place? Is it that people have fun or that education is provided? What about the money...is an event, ministry, or entire church successful based on how much money is brought in? Is a parish, organization, event, or even an individual successful if they provide a welcoming atmosphere? Is it considered a success if someone (even one person) grows closer to Christ? And is it successful if we provide enough good works or volunteer efforts? Think about it...and be honest...which of these is our measuring stick for success and which should be?
As we ponder that, let's look at what God tells us in the Scriptures? When the Israelites are just about ready to enter the promised land, God speaks to Joshua and tells him, “Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go” (Joshua 1:7). The law. The Ten Commandments.
Soooo... are we successful Christians if we don't murder someone in our parish? If nothing gets stolen during one of our events? What about if we make sure to rest enough on Sundays?
In the New Testament, Jesus is asked which commandment is the greatest. In Mark 12:29-31, He replies, “The most important one is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” Is a ministry successful if the people love God and each other, regardless of the amount of money they raise at an event? Is a parish successful if it's members love God and each other, no matter how big the building is and how many people attend services? What about providing religious education? Shouldn't we make sure others feel comfortable and are having a good time? Is Jesus really telling us that all we need to be a successful Christian is to love God and each other?
I propose that it is...because if we truly love God with all our heart, understanding, and strength and treat everyone else as we would want to be treated, then the rest will flow from that. With genuine love in our hearts, other people will be drawn to our presence, our ministry, our community. Love will breed volunteers. Love makes people feel welcome. Love will lead others closer to Christ.
And I am not naïve in thinking that money isn't needed or that God will just place it in our laps if we love Him enough...but doesn't that too, come from love? Aren't we more generous when we are in love with something or someone with all our heart, understanding, and strength? Wouldn't we be more willing provide for the material needs of the church if we loved our fellow Christians as ourselves?
The conversation Jesus has in Mark continues in verses 32-34: “Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”
When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”
Sounds like sweet success to me.