Survival, Success, or Significance?

significanceWhat is your main goal in life? For a lot of people in various parts of the world, the main goal is just to survive! There are many people who, through no fault of their own, are in such incapacitating circumstances that each day is battle for survival! They are struggling and straining just to eke out another day of existence; they are struggling to survive! While there are many who find themselves in this situation through no fault of their own, there are others who are in similar straits because of bad choices and foolish decisions. But no matter how they got there, the fact remains that there is a sizable population in the world who are struggling to survive! Their main goal in life is just to survive!

And then there are those, who through providence, vision and hard work, have risen above the goal of mere existence and have adopted the ideal of success as their main goal in life. The funny thing about success is the fact that it is really an ambiguous idea! A person can be successful in one area of life and be complete failure in another area. For example: Is a person really successful if they have reached the top of the corporate ladder, but yet their family and other personal relationships are torn and shattered? There are many people who are successful financially, but their personal lives and relationships can in no way be characterized as successful. Perhaps these are the ones Jesus had in mind when he said: “For how would a person be better off if he gains the whole world at the cost of his life?” (Matt. 16:26 McDonald Idiomatic Translation) We normally view that passage from the perspective of the term “life” as a reference to eternal life but the principle applies to everyday life also. What good is it if a person gains the whole world (achieves success) and loose their personal relationships, personal happiness and yes, even their own self in the process?

I would like to suggest that while success that is balanced and healthy may indeed be a worthy goal, it is nevertheless so far below the intended goal of life that God has in mind for us! I would like to suggest that the goal of life ought to be more than just mere survival! It ought to be more than just material success! I would like to suggest that goal of life ought to be significance! Significance is making a positive and worthwhile difference in the lives of other people. Significance is working to make the world a better place! Significance is leaving the world better than it was when you came! Significance is leaving a legacy that lives on even after you are dead!

Now, the great thing about significance is that you really don’t have to be successful to be significant! In fact, you can be successful and yet not really be significant! You may not have much money, but you can still be significant! You might be barely making it, trying to survive from day to day, but you can still be significant! Real significance does not come from what you receive, real significance comes from what you give. Even if you don’t have much in material resources, you can still give of your time and your talent. As the great songstress; Mahalia Jackson sang year ago:

“If I can help somebody, as I pass along,

If I can cheer somebody, with a word or song,

If I can show somebody, how they’re travelling wrong,

Then my living shall not be in vain.”

If you help someone as you pass along and make your life about the service you can give instead of just the benefits you receive, your life will not be in vain. You will live a life of significance!

 

 

Since When is “Good” Bad?

2015_WBB_Champsgolden stateRecently, a Boston Globe columnist; Dan Shaughnessy, wrote that the dominance of the University of Connecticut’s women’s basketball team was bad for the sport! As of the writing of this post, it is the day after they soundly defeated Texas to get into the final four of the NCAA tournament for the ninth year in a row! They are two victories away from their fourth national championship in a row and their record 11th!  This particular team has won over 70 games in a row and an edition of the team had a streak of 90 games without a loss some years ago! Talk about good; these young ladies and the coaches of this team are not just “good,” they are excellent!

And in the course of human history, excellence has always been a problem! A prime example was what happened to Jesus! According to the biblical text, Jesus was not crucified alone! There were two criminal crucified along with him! On that day, that society crucified the very best and the very worst! People don’t seem to have a problem with you if you are just average, mediocre, or ordinary. It’s when you are either very bad or very good that you prick the consciousness of the culture! I can understand the concern for the very bad, but when the very good suffers the same fate as the very bad, that does not speak well at all!

So, what’s the problem with the very good? I would like to suggest that the root of the problem is the fact that sin (Yes! I know it’s an old fashion word and even most church people don’t believe in “sin” anymore. But, nevertheless, the Word of God is true!) has corrupted and twisted the minds of men. It’s evident in our public education system: When I was in school, every student strived for good grades and excellence, now our children are systematically being conditioned to settle for being average because being too good and making too good grades will injure the self-esteem of their under-performing classmates! When I was in school, when we had competition, there were only three (3) medals or ribbons given: First place, second place, and third place! Now, just so nobody will “feel bad,” every person is given a medal or a ribbon for just participating!

We have a problem with the very good and the concept of excellence because, for the most part, instead of trying to improve to reach the standards, most people today want to lower the standards so that everybody wins! That is why there is criticism of the University of Connecticut’s women basketball team! That is why the Golden State Warriors and Stephen Curry are criticized: Their excellence and success shows up the failures of others!  I remember once when my son came home from school complaining about the fact that he had failed a test! He said the test was too hard and that it wasn’t a fair test! I asked him if any of his classmates passed the test. He said that some of them did. I told him, that if had been an unfair or too hard of a test, then none of the students would have passed. But the fact that some of them passed, meant that all of them could have passed!

Instead of criticizing the UConn women’s basketball program and the Golden State Warriors, we should be taking lessons from them! They should be upheld as sources of inspiration and hope, because if they can do it; that means it can be done by others! And if others aren’t doing it, that’s not the fault of those who are doing it! Leave the girls alone! Leave Steph alone! They are not bad for the sport! They are not bad at all! They are good for the sport and they are good for life! They are inspirations and shining stars to those who are yet wallowing and floundering in the wilderness of mediocrity!

The Failure of Success

sad successThere are a countless number of people in the world today who are driven by the quest to obtain success! They dedicate all of their mental, spiritual and physical energy to the task of obtaining material success. Now while the apprehension of success has been touted to be a worthwhile endeavor, most who sincerely engage in the quest usually are disappointed in the end. They are disappointed, not because they fail to achieve a measurable amount of success, but rather because they do indeed become successful! Now you may ask: “Why would anyone who achieves success be disappointed?” Well, they are disappointed because they discover that success is not all that it has been reported to be! The person, who makes the achievement of success the ultimate goal and reaches it, discovers the failure of success!

What is the failure of success? The failure of success is in the fact that success was not designed to be the end or the goal of life! In the New Testament, Jesus put it this way when he asked the question: “What does it profit a man if he should gain the whole world and lose his soul?” Now the traditional interpretation of the question is that Jesus was asking what good is it for a person to gain all of the material success in life and then die and go to Hell. But I think there was more to that question than just the eschatological interpretation we have traditionally given it! Jesus could have also been asking: “What good is it if a person is successful but loses themselves in the process?” Jesus knew that success, as we commonly define it, was a failure! That is why he replied to the man who asked him to settle a property dispute he was having with his brother: “A man’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses!” Jesus already knew what many spend a lifetime to discover: Success does not satisfy!

But why is success a failure and why doesn’t success satisfy? Success is a failure and it doesn’t satisfy because we weren’t made just for success; we were made for significance! The ultimate purpose of our sojourn upon the earth is not to accumulate; but rather to contribute! Not to gain, but to give! The ultimate goal is not how much we can count, but rather in how much we count! Success is a failure because the real goal is not to make a living; but rather to make a life! And how do you make a life? You make a life by making your life count! And you make your life count by making a positive and lasting impact in the lives of those around you and even in the lives of generations to come!

People today are frantically engaged in the pursuit of success, but what they really want is significance! People just want to matter!  People just want to make a difference! Now if you make a positive difference in the lives of others by being successful, then that’s good! But if your success only benefits you and yours, then your success is really a failure! For in the end, the measure of a man’s life will not be in how successful he was, but rather in how much of a difference he made! Not in how much he gained; but rather in how much he gave! Not in his success; but rather in his significance!

How Does God Feed the Birds?

bird feeding“Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?”   (Matthew 6:26 ESV)

Jesus spoke these words to encourage his listeners not to stress and worry about acquiring the basic necessities of life such as food, clothing and shelter. The logic of the statement is that if God feeds the birds that are of lesser value, then surely he will provide for the needs of people who are of more value to him. Well, I’ve always looked at this statement and went on to the next verses, but a few days ago, I stopped and wondered: “How does God feed the birds?”

The birds don’t plant neither harvest crops, nor do they store food in barns, yet God feeds them! But exactly how does he do it? Well for one thing, he certainly hasn’t program worms to crawl up into the birds’ nest! No! And God does not directly feed the birds with a Divine bird feeder! But what he has done is pre-programmed the birds with the instincts to feed themselves! Birds instinctively know how to fly about and spot worms crawling around on the ground and they instinctively know how to sky-dive for fish swimming near the surface of lakes and streams! Now, working with the logic of Jesus’ statement from the lessor to the greater: Surely if God has pre-programmed birds and other animals with the instinctive knowledge and skills necessary for their survival, how much more has he already placed within us everything we need for our survival?

I would like to suggest that our key to success in life is not in someone we need to meet or in something we need to attain. Whatever we need; we already have it! God created and designed us at birth with a certain set of attributes, skills, gifts, talents, and abilities that guarantee our success in life! What we need is already within us! All we need to do is bring it out what God has placed within and develop it! Therefore, the final and greatest frontier is not really outer-space; it is inner-space!

Our success is within us! But we need to understand that real success has nothing to do with having a lot of money, being famous, or even having the admiration of people. Real success is being the person we were created and designed to be! It’s not real success to be a successful lawyer (according to society’s standards of success), when in fact, you were really born to be a doctor! Real success is fully developing what God has placed within so that we might fully be the person he created us to be!

So the look up, take a hint from the birds and be encouraged! If God feeds the birds by giving them the instinctive qualities that guarantee their survival, how much more has he given us the basic skills, attributes, and abilities needed to be successful at being the person he has created us to be!

Life is Like Riding a Bike

child on bikeIn the movie “Forrest Gump,” there is a scene where Forrest is sitting on a bench at the bus stop, talking to a stranger. Forrest says: “Momma always said: ‘Life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you are going to get!” Well, I don’t know about life being like a box of chocolates, but I do know that life is often like riding a bicycle; the only way to stay upright is to keep moving forward, maintain your balance, and watch for bumps in the road!

Several years ago, I read a book by Anthony Robbins called “Awaken the Giant Within.” In that book, Robbins describes what he calls the CANI principle. C-A-N-I is an acronym for Constant and Never-ending Improvement. The principle states that in order to live a satisfying life, we must constantly strive to grow and to improve. I whole-hardheartedly agree!  The ongoing process of progress and constant improvement are essential to a fulfilling life! Anything that is not growing is dying! And just like riding a bike; if you don’t keep moving forward, you are going to fall down!

In addition to the need to be constantly moving forward, there is also the need to constantly maintain balance. In riding a bike, you must constantly shift your weight from side to side to maintain the proper balance needed to stay upright. It is also necessary to maintain a proper balance in life. Too much of this and/or too little of that can cause us to lose our balance in life. And if we lose our balance in life we will fall down!

Another principle in riding a bike that is applicable to life is to always be aware of the bumps and irregularities in the road! In order to do that while riding a bike, you must not only look in front of you to see where you are headed, but you must also periodically look down to assess the conditions of the surface you are riding on. You do this to adjust to and to compensate for the bumps, dips, or holes in road. To successfully navigate through life, we must also have such a dual focus; looking in front and looking around at the conditions on and around the path upon which we are traveling.

No! I am not so sure about life being like a box of chocolates, but I do know that life is like riding a bike: If you don’t keep moving forward, you are going to fall down! If you don’t maintain your balance, you are going to fall down! If you don’t take into consideration the conditions of the path you are riding on, an irregularity will cause you to fall down!

But if you have fallen off your bike, take courage, get up, brush yourself off and try it again! The best is yet to come! Your best performance is ahead of you! If you find your life dull and boring, it might be because your bike has stopped moving! Start peddling! Start moving forward!

There is one more thing we can learn about life from riding a bike: Once you learn how to ride you never forget! So if you haven’t been on your bike in a while; if you’ve suffered some setbacks in life and you feel like you can’t get back into it; remember, if you did it once, you can do it again! Life is like riding a bike; once you learn, you never forget! Just get back up and get back on! You may be a bit rusty and wobble a bit at first, but if you keep at it, you’ll be riding like a champ again!