Recently in Bible Class, we had a guest speaker who challenged us to figure out what we wanted in life. He said that for fifty-two years he'd chased after money and success, and it didn't end up at all the way he thought it would. So he challenged us to make a list of what we wanted. What would be enough? But first, he said, know this: "If you decide on some number as the benchmark of success, you will always want more. It won't be enough. No matter what God gives you, it'll never be enough. You must decide what is enough for you. And it won't be a number."
That really spoke to me. I'd already realized that for years I had been looking at success in terms of X + 1 : whatever I had at the moment plus one more. A certain number of books sold would be success, a number I hadn't specified, but which was more than what I'd sold to date. And I'd seen that no matter what the number was, it would never be enough. Once that was reached, then I'd want more...
What about all my books in print? Is that success? Or maybe publishers eager to buy my next book, vigorous pre-release sales and a continuous stream of fan letters? These are all still numbers. And still nebulous at that. No matter what I'd say -- sales as good as So and So's, sales better than they were for my last book -- it would never be enough. Because it's intrinsically based on comparison, and there'd always be someone with more. I've read that authors who are getting million dollar advances get upset because their competition got a tenth of a million more on their contract. It's human nature.
What about getting on the best-seller list? I'm sure that would be fantastically thrilling the first time. But then what? If that's success, I'd want it a second time, and probably for longer than the first. And all the while, there'd always be the knowledge that someday I'd be supplanted. It's inevitable. No one stays number one forever... So...do I want to be #1 for a day? A month? Five years? My lifetime? Is that success? Is that security? No.
Security is easy. It's in the Lord. It's with the Lord. Success? I used to think it was selling a book. Having a contract. Well, all five of my books have been published, and if I had books to sell that no one wanted to buy, then by this definition of success I would feel I wasn't successful. How about awards and reviews? I've gotten four Christy awards. A Publisher's Weekly review. And yet, in my human nature and thinking, I want more reviews, more awards, more letters, more ads, more sales… Because if the first book gets a review, and the second book doesn't, then the second must not be as good as the first. There won't be as much attention paid. Sales will slip off... You failed...
What is enough?
Well, our speaker was right: it's not a number. So I go back to the original question and beyond? What do I really want? What do I think X + 1 of any of it will give me? Human viewpoint says it will give me a sense of worth and approval. But that's a lie. I will never find either on the road to success by numbers. The world promises you the favor of men -- and by that a sense of worth and approval from the accomplishment and approbation -- if you work hard or have talent or "luck," if you follow the rules. And maybe you will for a season. But take away the accomplishment and approbation, and the worth and approval goes with it, proving that none of it was genuine. I want to be confident in my worth and approvedness no matter what people say or do, whether there's success and approbation or whether there's not.
And as I write this, I realize I already have the seed. Instead of yearning for X + 1, concentrating on that, why not concentrate on truth? On what the Bible has to say about me as a believer in Jesus Christ:
I'm already approved by the only one who matters. I have great worth to Him because He gave His uniquely-born son for me. Jesus himself went to the cross willingly. For me. I have been bought with a very high price. Because of it, I have God's own righteousness and have been reborn a new creature. I'm indwelt by the Lord Jesus Christ. I am a royal priest, a royal ambassador for the God of the universe. I have a great and awesome treasure inside of me: His word and mind.
I have peace and contentment. I have an intimate relationship with the Almighty, who cares about me and my happiness more even than I do myself, who loves me as a child and friend, who made me as I am for his glory and pleasure -- to bless me.
Focus on these things and it becomes difficult to care about sales and numbers, especially when you realize you have nothing you did not receive by grace. Focus on these things, and everything else fades to unimportance. It is remembering all of these fantastic things about ourselves as believers in Christ - and living in them - that provides the only true and stable happiness in life.
Success isn't a number, it's a way of thinking. It's knowing "Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death..." It's having Him say, in the end, "Well done, thou good and faithful servant." That's success.