Success, or is it?

“That’s a huge church!  Why isn’t our church that big?”

This morning my daughter and I were heading to grandma’s house for our weekly coffee and oatmeal breakfast visit.  On the way we passed a very large building that likely was home to a very large church congregation.  The questioning began.

We discussed why some churches are big, and why others are less big.  On the same drive we passed a very small church that met in a storefront which also served as an object lesson.  We talked about some advanced stuff.  What defines success?  Is ambition a sign of success?  Is success a sign of obedience?

It reminded me of one of Jesus’ parables.  In Matthew 20 he teaches about the owner of a vineyard who pays his workers the same wage despite the fact that some work all day and others work only one hour.  It seems unfair that some do more work and others do less work but all get the same reward.  But this is God’s economy!

And consider this – what we consider “more work” might actually be less, and vice versa.  The person pastoring a tiny church while working another job to support their family might be the one spending more time in the proverbial field.  Or less.  Who is really doing more in God’s eyes?  Only God knows, we cannot presume that we do.

As I understand it, God is far less interested in success than he is in obedience.  Perhaps the single mom who cares for her disabled child while working two jobs to make ends meet is more esteemed in God’s evaluation than a pastor of a bustling church with three busses and multiple staff.

Our perception of success says much about what we think of ourselves and others.  If a “successful” person – that is, one who is rich, powerful and accomplished – is somehow “doing better” in life, then we believe the reverse it also true.  That is, someone who struggles is failing.

I think God might see things very differently.  The scripture is clear that each person has a measure of gifting and ability.  One has more, another has less, and the amount you or I have has nothing to do with us.  It’s our destiny, God’s choice for us.  Some have a large field, others have a small one.  Some stay in the fast lane, others putter along in the slow lane.  Some have it easier, others have it harder.

This isn’t to say that we can use this truth as an excuse for low ambition.  Whatever we’ve been given, it’s our responsibility to make the very most of what we have.  And we’re never to compare ourselves to others, whether they seem above or below us in the scale of perceived success.  We find our lane and stay there; we play the hand we’re dealt as best as we are able and then go to sleep with a smile on our face.

In the end perhaps it’s the very best if we simply don’t think about ourselves at all.  I am asking God to form my soul such that rather than analyze or compare myself to a person or situation when I come upon it, I rather simply want the very best for the other.  This means I can enjoy the poor and the rich, the ugly and the beautiful, equally.  It means I don’t despise people for their weakness, nor do I regard them for their strength.  It means I am less self-absorbed, comparing everything in relation to me, and more other-centered, enjoying things and people for their own sake.

C.S. Lewis speaks of these things in his fantastic book The Screwtape Letters.  I’ll close with his account of a demon accurately explaining God’s desire for us who live on the earth today:

“The Enemy wants to bring the man to a state of mind in which he could design the best cathedral in the world, and know it to be the best, and rejoice in the fact, without being any more (or less) or otherwise glad at having done it than he would be if it had been done by another. The Enemy wants him, in the end, to be so free from any bias in his own favour that he can rejoice in his own talents as frankly and gratefully as in his neighbour’s talents–or in a sunrise, an elephant, or a waterfall.”

May it be with you and I!

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At VCC, we believe that church is not a function: it is a family. Our religion is only as alive as we are, the people that pursue it. So, rather than acting as an organization, we want to act as an organism. We have no time for casual contacts and meaningless formalities. We are a fellowship on an adventure towards the stuff of God. Church means worshipping God together, studying the Bible together, fixing our cars together, hiking together, eating together, playing together, praying together... enjoying the warmth of the Holy Spirit in all parts of our lives together, not just in appointed meeting times.