During my first year of graduate school, I was wrestling with what it meant to be successful while a student. I went to my pastoral theology professor with the question, and he pointed to John 15:5, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”
His point was that if I kept relationship with Jesus as my focus, then success or “fruit,” as the Gospel of John reads, would come. Granted, it may not look like what I expect it to look like, and I may not even notice it as success, but fruit will be born as I abide in Him.
My understanding of success, then, is relationally-based, not merely based on what I do at work, where I work, or with whom I associate in the professional world. Granted, I still struggle with how to measure success. It’s just that I am learning to base it primarily upon how I’m relating with Jesus—not to mention how that relationship affects my relationships with myself, others, and the rest of His created order. And while I can become works-oriented in how I relate with Christ, my relationship with Him always will be based on grace, while success as we often understand it, is based largely on works.
And it’s the grace-over-and-above-works reality that further informs my understanding of success.
When I’m feeling frenzied at work because I believe that my success is dependent on the things I do—like how many patients I visit, how well I write reports, etc.—I can remind myself that, foundationally, success is based on abiding in and relating with Him, and He is one who reached out in relationship to me before I did anything.
Likewise, when I’m feeling tempted to evaluate my success in life on where I work, I can remind myself that He is one who reached out to me when I was still in the depths of sin and death.
Furthermore, if I’m tempted to judge my success in life on whom I associate with, I can remind myself that the God of the universe reached out to have a relationship with me just as I was.
So then, I’m able to abide in Christ not based on anything I’ve done, but on what He has done. He paved the way for relationship with me, with us.
When we hear “do this and this and this and then I’ll consider you a success,” Jesus, the one in whom the world holds together, says, “Be in relationship with me [a relationship that He initiates] and then you’ll be ‘successful.'”
*Photo credit: Roberto Verzo