You also leave behind non-material goods: how many great memories have you helped make? How many times have you inspired a smile? Have you ever seen someone impacted by your faith story?

Second, take stock of what you have preserved. In classical education, educators extol students to learn, appreciate, and preserve the good, the beautiful, and the true. If you were to rate yourself on how you have pursued those things that were good, beautiful, and true in their own right (and not just because of the price tag associated with them), how would you score? Admittedly, defining "true," "good," and "beautiful" can be tricky, and because I'm not a true classicist, I don't feel qualified to give a full definition here, so I'll leave you to ponder this one yourself. 

Last, take stock of what you have overcome. Here I'm talking about the quest for character. In what situations have you overcome self-destructive desires? What challenges seemed overwhelming at the time, yet you persevered through them? When you make that list, take a minute to remember the feeling of overcoming and enjoy it. Remember that in overcoming a conflict, you are following the plot line of a good story. No conflict, no story. So what have you overcome lately? Do you have a story?

So what have you produced? What have you preserved? What have you overcome? Make a list. Read it twice. Then ask yourself, "Have I been successful?"  

I also encourage you to share the stories of what you have produced, preserved, and overcome. Don't do it simply to draw attention to yourself. Share these stories to educate, build relationships, and inspire others.

Let me pause for a minute to warn against pharisaism. One could become legalistic about pursuing these things and disregarding those who have produced, preserved, or overcome less. I think this would be a good time to remember Christ's admonition, "do not judge," for as Aslan reminds characters in Narnia, "I tell no-one any story but their own." So beware measuring the success of others, spiritual or otherwise.

Speaking of "spiritual," Isn't all this talk of "measurement" worldly? Not necessarily. Remember, scripture commands us to "grow in grace," (e.g., 2 Peter 3:18), and to recognize growth requires some kind of measurement tool. Asking questions about producing, preserving, and overcoming can remind us of God’s grace at work in our lives – gifting us, inspiring us, and sustaining us.

So what I suggest here is a practical tool for measuring the success of those who strive to do great good and yet do not receive great pay. I suspect I'm not the only one who has recently turned 40 and felt the desire to take stock of his life. I hope that these questions will encourage you for having lived well, or motivate you to live better, in the days to come.

Stanley J. Ward is the Director of Campus Life and Ministry at The Brook Hill School in Bullard, TX. He is also author of  Worldview Conversations: How to Share Your Faith and Keep Your Friends.

Publication date: August 30, 2012