Tener exito. To have success.

(Last year, I went on a survey trip to the Dominican with some people who were interested in coming alongside us in our ministry.  When I got back from that trip, I began mulling over what I really thought was going to be accomplished when I moved to the Dominican Republic.  Below is a blog I wrote last August about it all.  It’s funny because even now, people ask me, “What will you guys be doing when you get down there?”  Usually people want to hear the big plans we have to fix the problems.  Yes, we do have goals and ideas for carrying out our ministry, and I think that’s important.  But I also think that, too often, I make it all about me… what I’m going to do to help these people who are hungry – in every sense of the word.  Every day, I have to remind myself that any success we see while we’re living with these people does not come from my own strength or wisdom.  The spotlight is on Christ.  I’m doing what I’m doing to make God famous. It’s His story, after all.)

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Success.  What is success anyways?  So many dream of being successful – of making it to the top.  To some people, success is all about having the money and the clothes and the cars. It’s about being popular and powerful.  To have success is to be one step ahead of the next person.  It’s not about “keeping up with the Jones’s” – it’s about being the Jones’s.

Even in our Christian circles, the way success is measured can often be skewed.  Many believers look at success as an arrival. Seeing 1,000 in worship on Sunday morning. Adding that new multi-purpose center on to an already adequate gym.  Having over 80% of the congregation as faithful tithers. Reading through the entire Bible in a year.  And while none of those goals are necessarily wrong, is the completion of those ambitions in and of themselves the true essence of what it means to be successful?

When I came back from this survey trip (August 2-8), everyone asked me how it went – particularly about the VBS since I had a hand in developing the lessons.  People asked me how many kids came. They wanted to know how responsive the children were to the stories and the songs and the crafts. And, while measuring those outcomes is important on one level, I can’t help but wonder if there should be something more to my definition of how successful our trip was.

Is success based solely on the number of children who sat down and listened to our stories and skits?  Is it even found in the fact that over half of the kids “prayed” the sinner’s prayer? Were we successful because we were able to feed the entire village for a couple of days?

I guess the answer to those questions can be found in the actual word success. Success is all about the standards by which we measure it.

So what should be our measurement for success? When I came back from the Dominican, I began thinking about how I define success.  Too often, I look at the idea through shallow, temporary means. I easily forget how the prosperous people in the Bible found their success.  Although some of them were wealthy monetarily (Solomon), most of them were not considered successful because of the number of gardens or slaves or houses they owned. Instead, success was seen more in the growth of the person than in the growth of their bank account.  True success involved Esther’s commitment to living out her God-given purpose to the fullest.  Success found Joseph using his gifts and abilities and hopes and dreams to reach out to others. It was Abraham who gave everything he owned to glorify his Lord and Savior.

According to that relational definition, a modern-day success story is seen when we look into the giving heart of Oscar, one of the Dominican boys in the village of La Syria.  Instead of selfishly pushing the smaller children out of the way so he could take a turn at the plate, he made sure that all the boys were given the opportunity to play in the baseball game.

Success can also be found in Lucy, my precious friend who did everything she could to make me feel comfortable during our time in her village.  I thought I had come to minister to her, but she was the one who wiped the sweat off my forehead in the awful heat.  She was the one who told the other kids to quit mocking me when my broken Spanish made little sense.  It was Lucy who did not think twice about serving when I asked for help with the kids’ craft during the last day of the VBS.

So… was our survey trip successful after all? Perhaps in some senses of the word, it was.  But I’d rather you ask me about it again in 5 years, when Oscar is coaching baseball to young boys – showing them how to play fairly, in a Christ-like manner, and with excellence. Ask me about the success of our trip in 10 years, when Lucy is teaching in a school – giving other boys and girls a chance to excel to levels they never imagined.  When the Oscar’s and Lucy’s of the DR have made the choice to turn their country upside down for Christ, then I will know that success has occurred.

And one more thing.  Success is not dependent on seeing the end results of the labor.  I know there are times that I won’t witness these success stories lived out.  But the cool thing is… I don’t have to.  The success is not mine to have and hold.  It’s His.

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