by Eric Gondwe
Succeeding in the Christian life and fulfilling one’s call
It’s a mystery that we’re all driven to succeed in life. It may be succeeding socially, materially, academically and for Christians, spiritually as well. For some the sheer fear of failure compels them in their pursuits. Others are driven by the obligation of owing their time, abilities, and resources to their families, to society or to God.
For some, the pleasure of succeeding fuels their efforts. Others are even driven by comparison and competition motives of aiming to do better than their peers and the “average.” Some for power, fame, wealth or affluence. And so on. Each of us therefore has one or more dominant drives to succeed in life. Herein lies the test of whether or not we're on the right track of true success.
RIGHT PERSPECTIVE ON REQUIRED SACRIFICES ESSENTIAL
This article covers on strategies in succeeding in whatever area of interest. The key point throughout the article is that sacrifices are major prerequisites for succeeding in secular as well as spiritual areas. Having the right perspective on required sacrifices is therefore the foundation to fulfilling major endeavors. The right perspective on required sacrifices gives us the purpose to put aside certain needs. Then we will be more willing to put aside these needs. Without the willingness we would continue satisfying needs that may not be sinful but are hindrances to fulfilling more important matters.
The right perspective on required sacrifices also enables us to cope when major difficulties arise in our journey. For any noble cause difficulties are as certain to come as sunrise and sunset. God allows our adversary to trespass into our lives for reasons beyond this article (and many times beyond our understanding).
Major difficulties may be in social areas like with colleagues, in marriage, a family or persecution for one’s Christian beliefs. They may be in material areas concerning money or lack of it. They may be spiritual, moral, psychological, physiological, and so on. Giving up is a sure alternative the more vague our perspective is on required sacrifices. Temptation to give up is not only for starters but also for the experienced in whatever area of life. In the scripture we have great saints like Moses and Elijah who expressed their resignation at the height of their success.
The right perspective on required sacrifices is therefore an essential key worth carrying throughout all our various endeavors. We are to look at sacrifices as merely strategic prerequisites for our major endeavors. A willingness of carrying a failure label in areas that others value may also be essential. This is more so for Christians where fitting in secular lifestyle is discouraged. Christianity demands a lot of sacrifices that the secular world values.
AVOIDING SERIOUS TRAPS THROUGH PRAYER
This article highlights some areas that are valued in the secular world and some Christianity advocates for. The reader is encouraged to find areas that relate to personal convictions and identifying with required strategic sacrifices.
It is hoped that all the energy, time and resources will be spent in areas that Heaven is committed to support. Areas pursued without God’s support usually fail eventually regardless of how noble they may be. “Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain,” Psalms 127:1. Some areas may not fail but they lead to much sorrow in other genuine areas in life.
God eventually uses the mess to work to either our personal good or corporately for good in the body of Christ. Yet it is not worth getting into what could have been avoided had there been enough understanding. Those who have gone through certain bitter experiences in whatever area know they were not worth going through if they could be avoided - regardless of how much good God may have brought out of them. This is when the pain, trauma, the loss and whatever wasted is deep enough to keep saying that whatever good God may have brought was not worth obtaining by undergoing whatever was experienced. Many of us can identify one or more areas in our lives that bear such marks.
May we be prayerful enough in our lives to avoid experiences that God never ordained. May he also enable us to make required sacrifices that are unpleasant to our fallen nature so that we can fulfill higher callings.
SACRIFICES – MERE STRATEGIC PREREQUISITES
Every success story is filled with enduring experiences of self-denial. Ask top athletes, students, chief executives, politicians, church ministers, parents, married couples, and so on. Each had to make certain sacrifices that they wouldn't make if there was an easier alternative. They had to carry their own unique crosses by denying certain short-term desires in preference for their higher or long-term pursuits.
Thus nearly every extraordinary accomplishment requires extraordinary sacrifices to achieve it. This is so for both pursuits of temporal and eternal value. For example, Oprah Winfrey, a personality most of us are familiar with, says she had to forego the need for having children for reasons she discovered during the peak of her career. She is currently, according to Forbes magazine, the wealthiest black woman in America, among 400 richest Americans and the 427th wealthiest person in the world. She has an estimated fortune of 1 billion dollars. Speak of success from a temporal viewpoint! She’s on the top list of the world’s 6 billion population!!
But she probably had feelings of social inadequacy in spite of her material abundance. This was until her moment of truth in South Africa. Her “destiny moment” she said, came when she went to help orphaned and disadvantaged children. “Now I see what all of this has been for,” she said, “now I see why I am not married. Now I see why I never had children. I am supposed to work with these children,” (TV Guide, October 4, 2003, p.38 (emphasis added)). (NB. Not endorsing TV Guide’s secular channels. Any endorsement would be Sky Angel satellite TV (DBS) which offers more upright channels –currently for US & the Caribbean (see http://www.skyangel.com)).
Our best example of success from an eternal perspective is Jesus. He once told his disciples the sacrifices he had to endure in fulfilling his success story. “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again,” Mark 8:31 (emphasis added). His greatest success only came after being killed –his resurrection, ascension and its related effects on history. However, this didn’t sound well among the disciples. Peter took Jesus aside for a good lecture on success from a human viewpoint. Jesus responded, “You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men,” (v. 33).
Then he told the disciples what was required of everyone who wanted to follow his version of success. “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels,” (v. 34-38).
Each of us must therefore understand our unique areas of self-denial and sacrifices required to fulfill our purposed callings. We need not be ashamed for making them. It’ll be more shameful for not having made them when compared with what we settled for. The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) defines self-denial as, “the denial of one’s own interests and needs.” It defines sacrifice as “an act of giving up something one values for the sake of something that is of greater importance.” A more elaborate description: “self-denial: - the setting aside of your own wishes, needs, or interests, whether voluntary, altruistic, or enforced by circumstances.” Sacrifice: “a giving up of something valuable or important for somebody or something else considered to be of more value or importance,” (Microsoft Encarta Dictionary).
The sacrifices are only strategic since they allow us to reach our goals. It’s like a chess game where a player allows or forces an opponent to take one of his/her small pieces (pawns) so that he can gain an advantage position. The player won’t win if he tries to keep all his pieces. In real life strategic sacrifices of small “pieces” of life are required in order to gain the more valuable ones.
No such thing as “having it all.” Attempting to have it all only leads to constant burnout, overload and mediocre performance. There’ll be areas or standards that others may want us to live by. Critics, though necessary and unavoidable, can be a burden in the pursuit of our convictions if not well handled. Strategic self-denial and sacrifices may include any combination of the following. It all depends on one’s life mission, personal convictions and commitment to higher causes.
Minor Strategic Sacrifices
1) Comforts and pleasures: these include ample sleep, entertainment inclination (secular TV & other media, partying, etc.), unnecessary chatter & visits, etc. “Everything is permissible but not everything is beneficial. Everything is permissible but not everything is constructive,” (1 Corinthians 10:23),
2) Other time consumers. Time is our spiritual money. It’s mainly intended to be spent on things of lasting value, not perishables,
3) Money. Money is our physical cash. It’s mainly intended to be spent on things of lasting value. We’ll one day account for every penny from the income level each of us was entrusted with. It may seem like “our” money now, but we’ll find out who gave us the privilege to have it. There’d be less poverty if most people saw it as an obligation, not a property to endlessly stock up.
Major Strategic Sacrifices
1) Gifts, abilities and pursuits for social and spiritual causes. Life is a call to service, not self-glorification. Parents understand this better the larger their families are. If our talents, abilities and pursuits are seen as tools for serving others we’ll have the steam to go on when things get tough. Giving up for an “easier” and less demanding life will be letting those depending on us down,
2) Egoistic needs. Sacrificing needs for recognition, approval, good looks, esteem, comparison, competition, power, wealth and fame. A less surprising sacrifice for committed Christians since persecution (social or physical) and humility are part of the cross in the Christian journey,
3) Money and material resources. On the highest level money and material resources become tools for serving others. Those entrusted with callings dealing with money like in business and government are in a better position to accumulate for the sake of wisely distributing. It's a way of laying up your treasure (wealth) in heaven. Those entrusted with callings dealing more with spiritual matters like religious ministers and non-profit staff are in a better position to desire less for the sake of effectively focusing on their spiritual obligations. It’s a way of seeking first his kingdom interests while minding less about material possessions. It’s also a way of setting an example that life's true treasures are more spiritual than material,
4) Marriage like Mother Teresa, John the Baptist and other scriptural figures. This doesn’t imply taking religious vows to be single. Ample sad lessons can be drawn from many good intentioned people that did. It means purposely avoiding marriage for as long as it’ll interfere with your mission. It’ll be unfair to your spouse if your mission is a mere interference to your relationship. So you purposely remain in a position where you’re not emotionally hurting someone else. It’ll also be an emotional drain on you having someone that not only doesn’t share your convictions but sees them as a hindrance. If an opportunity comes of having someone that shares your convictions in word or more rarely in deed, you’ll be free to marry instead of failing on your vows. In this case you’ll have a mission partner rather than just a marital friend you share material, physical and emotional needs. However if you’re intended to be single for life you’ll have the grace to fulfill your mission without any concern of marital needs,
5) Being childless like Oprah Winfrey and many biblical figures. Asked if she could just “have it all” since she could hire people to raise her children Oprah responded, “If I were a wife and mother, I wouldn’t have been open to this experience (in South Africa (see above)). I wouldn’t have had the space in my life to embrace the world’s children, because I’d be taking care of my own, which takes a lot of energy. People always say, ‘Why don’t you have kids? You’ve got the money, the space. Have a nursery, hire nannies.’ That’s not how I want to have children,” (TV Guide, October 4, 2003, p.39),
6) Nurturing children. Like most of our parents and ancestors getting married was seen as step 1 of growing up. Then came having as many children as means could afford. However these standards are changing in our increasingly trying times - trying materially, socially, morally, spiritually, etc. One to two children families or none at all are becoming the norm. If you have children or intend to it’s important to integrate them in your mission. Today’s children need more nurturing than we did. They’re far more exposed to negative influences ranging from the media, video games, the internet and cultures that are egocentric, materialistic and non-religious. Nurturing them may even be your main mission. Whether or not you live to see the fruits of your labor may not be an issue. You’ll be securing their future morally, spiritually, professionally and so on. You’ll also be planting seeds of a sacrificial life rather than selfishness in them. Children learn what they see,
7) Taking poverty “vows.” Wealth is not appropriate for everybody. Some are intended to have just enough to afford the basic needs of life. Having more hinders them from effectively fulfilling their callings. The early church is a good example. The apostles received a lot of money but they used it all for church needs. Taking poverty vows is not necessary though it wouldn’t pose any problems compared to chastity vows. One whose cares are on the “nice” things or toys of this world is an unlikely candidate for living a simple life. A girl from a well-off family in Bangladesh and former student of Mother Teresa aspired to join her team in Calcutta. She cautioned her on the sacrifices required. Willing to make the sacrifices the girl returned without jewels and in a simple dress. Though her organization handles funds larger than budgets of some small nations none is for self-gain. In 1964 Pope Paul VI gave her a Lincoln Continental limousine, a status vehicle for the rich. She raffled it to finance a center for leprosy victims. There’d be less distrust if more people working in charity and religious organizations followed her example, which is an imitation of the early church,
8) Fasting lifestyle. Like Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. who constantly fasted throughout their callings. Fasting (among other spiritual disciplines applied) achieved what guns could have tried to gain with much bloodshed, hatred and destruction. Certain gains for some of us may come either through unnecessary struggle, trial and error, sin, or through fasting. The preference is up to each one of us. Fasting brings spiritual intervention…(‘see’ Topic 3 CDs). It’s a mysterious spiritual discipline.
9) Relinquishing personal security and endangering your life by pursuing causes that invite hatred and violence in some regions. This was so with the prophets, Jesus himself, the early church, the early Protestants, civil rights and colonial independence movements. It’s also common today in regions where Christianity or “immigrant” faiths are not tolerated. Many Christian converts die early, endure violence, false criminal accusations, imprisonment, isolation and material deprivation in these regions. Yet they’re among the most successful people from God’s viewpoint. They sacrifice nearly everything in pursuit of their higher purposes. Success can thus never be measured simply in length of days, marriage, number of children, power, wealth, fame or any human criteria. Each of us has our own legacy to live and it’s the extent we fulfill it that’ll determine our level of success,
10) Sacrificing everything that’s outside God’s will. This is mainly intended for the religiously devoted. Seeking to know and fulfill God’s will is the first thing that ought to be considered in every matter in our lives. No place is worth living in that’s outside his will. No career is worth pursuing that’s outside his will. No friend or companion is worth having that will corrupt our pursuit of his will. Knowing and fulfilling God’s will is our only worthy investment of our time and effort. It is our only true career, our only source of employment and entertainment.
If you’re not certain on the unique sacrifices required to fulfill your convictions you can start by following people you admire. Your model may be someone who felt complete and found a higher purpose living as a single or living childless. Or it may be a parent, a wife or husband who sacrificed his/her own interests for the sake of saving a “hopeless” marriage or child. Some of our parents devoted their lives to praying and taking care of us. They literally had no other life outside this obligation.
There’s someone each of us can identify with in whatever area of calling. Some of our models may have suffered some genuine losses spiritually, socially, materially or physically. However even their negative experiences remind us that they’re human, not angels. We too will have to confront some failures in one area or another. We can only pray that they’re framed as part of the success story that’ll serve to inspire others. If they’re artificial failures they’ll be mere thorns in the flesh placed in our lives to keep us humble, forgiving, prayerful, drawn to or focused on our main mission, etc.
It’s worth repeating that a successful lifestyle cannot be simply measured in length of days, marriage, number of children, number of awards, power, wealth, fame or any human criteria. It cannot be boxed into a single measure. Each of us has our own legacy to live and it’s the extent we fulfill it that’ll determine our level of success. The ultimate judge on the extent we succeeded in life will be God, not fellow beings.
If humans measured success many of our parents, ancestors and biblical figures lived the most unfulfilled lives. True many lived below their potential materially, socially or spiritually. However our narrow definitions of what they could have fulfilled are too simplistic. If we apply this to our lives we’ll be less troubled and distracted by the definitions being popularized by the secular media and institutions. We’ll be more inspired by our personal convictions rather than by the popularized standards of success. May this truth set us free from striving to fulfill secular fantasies that have little or no true value. They’re also obstacles to our higher callings.