Exploring The Curse of Success

Keith KettenringChristian Living, The Uncommon Journey

Success has a subtle way of working into our life…and then sabotaging it. And, when it becomes the measure of all things spiritual, it can be devastating. In our quest to manage all things, we begin to believe we can determine outcomes which satisfy us. This, of course, presumes that we know what is best. Success ravages our desire to simply do what God wills. 

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I don’t know that I’d say it as strongly as William James does. 

The moral flabbiness born of the bitch-goddess SUCCESS. That – with the squalid interpretation put on the word success – is our national disease. (William James to H.G. Wells, Sept. 11, 1906) 

But, then again, maybe he knows better than we do what success does to us. 

Is This Success? 

Success can be defined as: “the accomplishment of an aim or purpose. The attainment of popularity or profit. A person or thing that achieves desired aims or attains prosperity.” 

Success clouds reality when applied to ministry, family life, and spiritual life. 

  • Is the Billy Graham crusade successful because 120,000 people showed up and 5,000 souls were “saved?”
  • Is Crossroads Church successful because it boasts 12 ministries to a diverse population, has a cutting edge website, delivers expository sermons over the radio, and supports 75 missionaries mainly in the 10/40 window? 
  • Can Marv and Carol Johnson claim success because all five of their children flourished in homeschool, never do drugs, are still virgins, have good friends, look good, and go to church? 
  • Do you have a successful relationship with God if you pray 15 minutes a day, read your Bible daily, live the 10 commandments, attend church weekly, journal daily, read Tim Keller/Henri Nouwen/The Philokalia, and listen to Christian radio? 

If those numbers and aims are the standards by which you measure success, then yes, you are a success. Congratulations. 

But are you really? It all depends on the standard by which you measure. And that highlights one of the many problems success carries. Who sets the “standard?” What is a good standard? Does the standard actually measure success? 

There seems to be obvious success in certain arenas. You reach your goal of paying off $25,000 worth of debt. But if reaching that goal cost you a couple broken relationships, was it really a success?  

Is This Success? 

Success is that you are persevering in rearing the children you have. Success is being faithful in the ministry and work God’s given you. Success is journeying with God one step at a time. Success is loving your spouse. Success is living as fully as possible in Christ. Success is dealing well with what is in front of you. 

Success is doing God’s will whatever may be the outcome. 

Outcomes are not the sole measure of success. You really don’t know what God is up to even in the failures and heartaches; even in the accomplishments and prosperity. Success may be death or martyrdom. Success may look like failure. Yes, failure may be a type of success. Now that’s wacky!

It seems that success is impossible to measure. 

In my next post, I want to explore the idea of success in our relationship with God. Join me next time. 

How has “success” messed with your understanding of life, family, and God? Share below. 

Dr. K