Defining True Success
- Thursday, September 11, 2008
Like most parents, I desire for my children to be successful. Because I homeschool, this desire can create extra stress. So much of my children's training rests on my shoulders!
It's helpful to define success so that a homeschooling family can assess the effectiveness of their efforts. What makes a successful homeschool? Can I declare my homeschool successful when my student achieves a perfect 1600 score on the SAT? Can I feel assured of homeschooling victory when my daughter wins a national contest and has her name printed in newspapers across the country? Have my efforts triumphed when colleges and universities beg my students to attend their institutions of higher learning?
To answer these questions, let me tell you about two people. Both were blessed with great success by the world's standards, but only one heard the applause of heaven through that success.
I was a very driven student when I was younger. I was valedictorian of my high school and graduated summa cum laude from college. One would think this kind of achievement coupled with my love for Jesus would bring God glory, but it did not. My drive for success resulted in a task orientation that frustrated and saddened my friends. They knew I would be happier if my priorities were more balanced and if I cared more about relationships than high grades. But their pleas fell on deaf ears.
One day, I achieved a high score on an exam on which most of the class performed poorly. As word of my accomplishment circulated among the students, one asked me how I had done so well when others had failed. I had always hoped that an opportunity to explain the secret of my success to my fellow scholars would allow me to give glory to Jesus. However, somehow I knew in my spirit that my love of being the top student, rather than my love for God, was my primary motivation. So I told my classmate the truth: I had spent an inordinate amount of time studying, and that resulted in my success. High grades were my god. I sacrificed my time and talent at the altar of academic excellence. My god brought me acclaim, scholarship money, and personal satisfaction, but no joy or happiness.
By contrast, I know a career military officer who could always truthfully give God credit for his success. Early in his career, he realized that he would have to become a workaholic in order to succeed and gain promotion. He felt this was not a proper use of his time and energy. His first priority was serving Jesus, and his career was merely a means to that end. As a single man, he felt he needed time and energy to serve the Lord through leading Bible studies. As a married man, he felt he owed time and energy to his family as well as to his Lord. So his motto early in his career became, "A fair day's work for a fair day's pay, but no more." His prayer became, "Lord, help me to give You Your due, my family their due, and work its due today." He learned to leave his desk at quitting time, even as others chose to work after hours. He said "no" to many extra assignments and business trips that might have won him acclaim but would have robbed God of time.
In spite of these careful boundaries, God blessed him with great success, and many of his bosses complimented him on his productivity and usefulness to the office. As he came up for promotion throughout his career, it was always uncertain if he would gain rank or be asked to leave the military. But every time, he was awarded the advancement in rank, until he retired after twenty-one years of service. With each promotion and each award he received, he could truly say that God had given him the honor. God was truly glorified. I am the grateful wife of this military man, and I have benefited greatly by his commitment to pursue God rather than career success.
Jesus told us in Matthew 6:33 we should seek God and His kingdom first, and all these things shall be added to us. This was the difference between my success as a student and my husband's success in the military. My husband put God first, even if it might cost him something. Because his focus was not on awards or promotion, he viewed every advancement as a gift from God and gave God total credit. I, on the other hand, poured my energies into academic success, and even though I gained it, I was the one who got the credit—not God. My success built pride and an unhealthy self-sufficiency into my life. What a person focuses on and pursues is what that person worships. Whatever deity is being worshiped as success is gained is the deity that will receive the glory, whether this is the god of worldly acclaim or the God of the universe.
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