At Work & Theology 101

Happiness and the Biblical Definition of Success

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For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants  and entrusted to them his property. To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away.

– Matthew 25:14-15

I once heard someone say, “I’ll be happy when…fill in the blank.”

He went on to say, “Whatever you put in the blank is your definition of success.”

In our culture, happiness is not only dependent upon external experiences – it is also tied to future success. Even though there have been countless studies proving success does not bring happiness, far too many, including Christians, still cling to this solution.

We have combined an unbiblical definition of happiness with an unbiblical definition of success.

God wants us to be successful and happy, but we must define these terms from a biblical perspective. Let’s start with success.

Culture tells us two great lies about success: you can be whatever you want to be, and you can be the best in the world. These lies are based on the premise that we all are created equal. While we are all certainly equal under the law (as least in our country), equal in God’s eyes, and in many other areas, we are not created equal where our abilities are concerned.

Not everyone can grow up to be president or a brain surgeon. Yet, if you say this in many circles you will be quickly chastised and informed that we all have the same potential if we just try hard enough.

This “experts-are-made” view has dominated our culture since the ‘70s, and has been the inspiration for many ideas, like Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 Hour Rule from his book Outliers, where he suggests that if you work at something for 10,000 hours you will become an expert.

This only perpetuates the myth that people can help themselves if they just try hard enough.

In a recent article in Slate magazine entitled “Practice Does Not Make Perfect, the authors suggest we are not all created equal where our genes and abilities are concerned.

The authors conclude we are setting people up for failure by suggesting they can become anything that want to be. They write that this lie,

…is costly, both to society and to individuals. Pretending that all people are equal in their abilities will not change the fact that a person with an average IQ is unlikely to become a theoretical physicist, or the fact that a person with a low level of music ability is unlikely to become a concert pianist.

As Christians, this should not surprise us. Jesus told us as much 2,000 years ago in the parable of the talents. He said,

To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability.

Biblical success is faithfully using all gifts, talents, and opportunities God has given us for the furtherance of his kingdom here on earth. This work should bring us both joy and peace of mind knowing we have done our best, through the power of Christ working though us, to accomplish what he has called us to do in order to make a difference in our world.

God wants all of his children to be successful by living up to their potential. As Ken Boa writes, “God has entrusted us with certain resources, gifts and abilities. Our responsibility is to live by that trust by managing these things well, according to his design and desire.”

  • Hessed forever!

    This is a great message. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard that position (“lie”). How can anyone actually say/believe that? Certainly, reason/logic points to the facts of IQ, natural abilities, etc. as stated.
    I had a choir director (masterful!) who challenged us with the “practice makes perfect” addage. He noted that in actuality, “practice makes permanent”. He went on to explain that one can “practice” something incorrectly/”imperfectly”, of course resulting in that “practice” not ending up “perfect”. I am so indebted to that man for his wise insight, reminding me to keep my spiritual discernment attuned to the “things of this world”, ready to separate the truth from the lies out there.
    Thank you for bringing this to our attention…a much-needed lesson! Shalom!

  • Kevin Raymond

    well written i agree whole heartedly i just had this conversation with someone today.

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