Success vs. Progress

You know what I finally figured out today? And it was only after 39 years of living! Human beings are focused on a destination. God focuses on the journey. Human beings focus on success. Achieving it and expecting others to do the same. God focuses on progress. Are we making progress in our lives? In our spiritual walk? Are we even trying? Human beings focus on tangible results. Something that can be seen and measured. God focuses on spiritual results not often seen by human eyes and therefore cannot be measured by mere mortals.

This often cripples us. When we focus on a specific destination, usually a clear cut idea of what success looks like, we lose sight of the journey we’re on and do not notice or even care about how we’re progressing to get to where we’re tying to go. I believe that often when we “fail” at something it’s because we didn’t notice where the journey was actually taking us. We make missteps and end up lost. And success eludes us. Or actually, our personal concept of success eludes us.

Often when this happens we allow this perceived failure to defeat us. And often times we wind up never attempting to achieve it again. Or we keep trying again and again and always with the same result. In short, we never learn anything. That is true failure. Not succeeding at something we’ve attempted isn’t failure. Failure is not learning from our mistakes and giving up or repeating those same mistakes over and over. The fact is that no matter the destination we need a road map to get there. We need to pay attention to the journey and we need to monitor our progress on the road there. When we do that we may find we either don’t want what we thought we wanted or aren’t called to do what we thought we were. Then we can change direction and get on the right road to the right destination. That’s not failure. That’s learning. That’s progress.

The thing is, when we measure ourselves by our own personal standards of what we think success is we very rarely live up to them. Or perhaps we set our standards too low and we achieve little or nothing at all. Either way, we never live up to God’s standards. And we wind up unhappy.

Also, it is our tendency to judge others by these same standards. Although if we were honest we usually have higher standards for others than we do for ourselves. There’s a quote that says something along the lines of, “People rarely judge others by the same standards they judge themselves.” So very often people are judged horribly by others in the world when they are trying to achieve something. They either do too much or not enough. Their success (or in some cases failure) is ranked. And almost inevitably they come up short. Of course, many of us have seen someone either in real life or in the media trying to do something and also we see or hear or even participate in critiquing them. Perhaps, if we’re honest with ourselves, hoping they fail.

Oh, we can claim we don’t want them to succeed because they are wrong in what they are doing or how they are doing it. However, the reality is we often want to see failure so we can feel better about ourselves. About what we’re doing or not doing with our own lives. About what we believe. We want to be right. We want to be better. But if the only way we can be sure we are right about our beliefs or if the only way we can feel better about ourselves is if someone else fails, what does that say about us as individuals? What does this say about our characters? Is it no wonder that when someone (perhaps even you) is trying to succeed at something, between trying to live up to their (your) own standards while trying to please everyone else’s standards, that they (you) fail? And then after that they (you) never try again?

So here is the solution. We need to assess ourselves. Do our standards match God’s both for ourselves and others? The answer to this is simple. God doesn’t worry about success as the world sees it. His idea of success is that in whatever we attempt we make progress spiritually and draw closer to Him. So if that is what we’re aiming for, a closer walk with God no matter what we end up doing with our lives, we will find success. That is also what we should measure others by. If we have to measure them at all. We shouldn’t judge them by the outcome. Did they reach the goal? The question should be, how closely do they seem to be walking with God? Are they filled with God’s love?

Life is not a competition. And success should not be predicated on standards that can be measured by the human eye. Life is a journey. Life is about progressing toward a Christ-like mentality. We will have ups and downs on that journey. We will by the world’s standards fail a lot on this journey. As I write this I have failed something I recently endeavored to do. I tried to do something for God. If I’m honest though, I tried to do it the way I thought best, not the way He deemed best. And I could not live up to my own standards. So I failed.

Of course, my initial reaction was to feel sorry for myself. To beat myself up for not living up to MY standards. But I realize now that I made an effort to do something for God I wouldn’t have dreamed of doing even two years ago. It just wasn’t what I was meant to do right now. I learned from it though. I know myself a lot better than I did a few months ago. Where certain weaknesses and character flaws still exist. And also where certain strengths exist I was unaware of. I have learned from it. I feel closer to God. That is progress. That is what God wants from all of us: progress in walking ever closer with Him.

Peace and God bless you.