Lofty eyes are found in heads up in the clouds. It is the natural tendency of fallen humanity to aspire to achieve such things as will win worldwide accolades. Unfortunately, this natural tendency of fallen men is not bereft from the lives of spiritual men nor missing from many a modern-day church congregation. As a result, success in the service of Christ is often measured today by the crooked “yardstick” of results.
The success of a church, particularly of its pastor, is measured by nickels and noses, or by baptisms, budgets, and buildings. The success of a Christian, particularly of a Christian celebrity, is measured by the degree of popularity attained in this world. This, despite the fact that the Apostle Paul taught that the true sign of faithfulness to Christ in this world is persecution, not popularity (2 Timothy 3:12). Even our Lord taught us that all who faithfully follow Him will be hated by the world rather than popular within it (John 15:18-25).
If we were to measure their success by their results, particularly by the immediate results of their ministries, almost all of the biblical prophets, as well as our Lord and His disciples, would have to be deemed absolute failures. They were extremely unpopular and persecuted in this world, many to the point of being put to death over their faithfulness to God. Most had scant success and relatively few converts. For instance, Noah preached 120 years without winning a single convert.
Have you ever considered the startling fact that only 120 people were gathered in the upper room on the Day of Pentecost following our Lord’s miraculous ministry, death on the cross, resurrection from the dead, and ascension into Heaven? This is not a large church by anyone’s estimation. Similarly startling is the fact that the Apostle Paul, before having his ministry abruptly ended by being beheaded, spent his last days cold and abandoned in Rome’s notorious Mamertine Prison. Are we to conclude from the small number of upper room attendees and from the solitary figure of an abandoned Apostle Paul in Rome's Mamertine Prison that neither our Savior nor His choice servant were successful?
Contrary to popular opinion, success in the service of Christ is not measured by results, but by faithfulness. Results must be left to God, who alone is responsible for them. Our responsibility is to be faithful and available. If we are, then God can use us in the carrying out of His plans and purposes in this world.
The word “success” only appears in the King James Version of the Bible one time. In Joshua 1:8, the Scripture declares, “This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success.” Notice, according to the Scripture, success is a simple matter of obedience. It is a matter of us daily learning and living out God’s Word. It is simply being and doing all God wants us to be and do.
Success is not to be measured by the praise of man—accolades acquired by tangible achievements—but by the praise of God—the commendation of Christ given to all “good and faithful” servants (Matthew 25:21). It has nothing to do with whether or not man is pleased with us or impressed by us, but everything to do with whether or not we are pleasing God.
The calm soul seeks only the Spirit’s stamp of approval on his faithful service. He has no need of tangible results or man’s testimonials to prove his spiritual success.