The Pursuit of Success
Success Is Misunderstood
Son, I believe determining and pursuing a genuine definition of success has been and always will be one of the great challenges in your quest for manhood. I have known many men who have invested decades of their life trying to figure this one out only to become undone by a single moment in time that redefines their understanding of success. Therefore, this letter is an attempt to caution you on how you perceive the success of other men and how I believe you should define success and pursue it yourself.
First | Success Is Not Found By Worldly Means
For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? — Matthew 16:26
There are numerous ways we determine and measure the success of a man in this life. The income he makes. The perceived power of his role. The number of followers he has on social platforms. Almost without thought, we reference these worldly measures as if they are the sole determining factors of a man's success. But the lie we believe is that that they are the sum of a man's success.
But there is no man who has known success in any of these areas who would say pursuing them led them to fulfillment. In fact, the people I know who pursue them are always wanting more. They are perpetually consumed and let down by their gains. Therefore I have to conclude this to be a shallow determination of success.
In the verse above, Jesus explains this. Jesus even says it is possible to "gain the whole world." And there are many men who try this. Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and Warren Buffett are a few. These are five men who are currently among the most wealthy men in the world. We learn from them that it is possible to "gain the whole world" or at least major portions of it. But as Jesus explains if you pursue them you will only get their temporary gain. More is always wanted.
But let's get real honest with each other. Have I dreamed of being rich? You bet. I would be lying if I said "no." But I have heard the stories too many times from too many men who are rich to know that most of them are miserable, lonely, and exhausted by their pursuit of riches. There is no end to the pursuit. It never fulfills the soul. Or, more accurately, success in these areas provides temporary pleasure but not real lasting fulfillment. Thus it falls short in being successful.
And in Jesus's statement, he is urging men to consider their interpretation of success. He wants them to assess the better investment. So his question to us is this.
Will your determination of success be something that provides only temporary fulfillment or something that provides lasting profitable gain?
Honestly, I could care less about how much money, power, and fame you have in this life. These things only matter to those who worship them. Now I want you to be able to provide for yourself and a family along the way. But, in the end, I care more about your spiritual success and your pursuit of soulful profit because I know this is far more fulfilling.
But here's the catch. A man can pursue a soulful profit in the wrong way and thus miss aiming for true success. So let me address that next.
Second | Success Is Not Found by Pursuing Spiritual Things in Worldly Ways
Put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. — Ephesians 4:22-24
Now, this is a little more difficult to describe, but many Christian men transition from the world's means of success to a godly means of success, but end up doing it out of worldly motivation. And the two areas I see men do this the most are in how they live out spiritual obedience and how they use their spiritual gifts.
Let me clarify that there is nothing wrong with nurturing and pursuing growth in spiritual obedience and in our gifting. But we cannot pursue them like we do world things. For example, when a man pursues worldly success, they primarily do it out of selfish and self-centered motivations. But as followers of Christ, we cannot pursue our obedience or gifting out of the same motivation. But some men do. Primarily because it's hard to unlearn our selfish motivations from our time living in the world. But to pursue spiritual activities by worldly means only devoids the spiritual activity of its divine purpose. Consequently, many men get spiritually frustrated when this means is less unsuccessful. As a result, they find using their spiritual gifts unfulfilling and spiritual obedience exhausting. The reason why is that they are pursuing these things for personal gain.
Son, you should never assume two things about my spiritual motivation. First, that I pursue Christian obedience to increase my popularity with people or my standing with God. Second, that I use my spiritual gifts to receive economic advantage or gain power and influence in this life. My true motivation behind them is to bring fame to Jesus's name by means of my obedience and gifting — that's it. There is no other reason. I know you may not always know this because the motives behind my actions are hard to see, but this is my primary motivation. And somehow, as a result, my pursuit of these things has granted us some provision for the family. But that is secondary and an outcome, not the focus of my pursuit.
It took me a long time to learn this. I hope you learn this earlier than I did. And I should add there are moments I still struggle to put off the old man's motivations, renew my mind, and put on the desires of the new man. Yet in time, you too can learn to have a new mind and new motivations in your pursuit of godly success.
Test your passions for success daily and learn to redirect them toward pure and holy motivations.
But the question still remains. What is true success?
Third | Success Is...
And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' — Mark 12:30
Now it may seem strange that I choose this text, but here is why I choose it. Love is an eternal currency. It has real value. It has a lasting profit. And provides perpetual fulfillment. Love is where success begins and ends. And it's not found in the love of things but a person — God.
Eventually, we must all face this truth. That God's love is the only endless commodity. And he, out of love, pursued us by sending his Son. Through Jesus, he wants us to know how much he loves us. And he wants us to love him. And in his love, there is fulfillment, value, profit, and success.
Son, men have spent lifetimes learning the lesson of true spiritual success. Know that there is the only one who can love you like you need to be loved. And when you know God's love with all your heart, soul, and mind his love will fill you and spill over into all your motivations and out to others.
But, here's the catch, to know the fulfillment of this love you have to love everything else less — much less. Listen to how Jesus said this:
"If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it." — Matthew 16:24-25
So I could sum up success this way.
Success is denying all selfish motivation, letting go of everything in this life, and learning to love God with all I am.
Learn this lesson long before I did. If you do, I would consider you one of the most successful men I have ever known. And again, I don't care how much money you make, your status among men, or the initials after your name. I only care that you invest your life in learning to love God before all things.
And guess what?
I love you son. But not as much as God — Dad.