Most people want clean categories and happy endings. They expect and get excited about success stories.

And yet, the world is full of tension, paradox, and unresolved issues.

As a global worker, do I aim for success? Do I put unwarranted pressure on myself? Is that my motivating goal in my work in Kenya—to go back to my supporters, friends, and relatives with amazing stories of unquestionable success?

We must never put our dreams of success as God’s purpose for us.


          Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest

What about Jesus? Was he “successful” during his earthly ministry?

Out of the masses that came to hear His teachings, the Father helped Jesus choose twelve specific men to be His followers. These twelve men spent three intense years with him, 24/7, all the while listening and watching. They were with Him in his public life and were also privileged to spend large amounts of time in private with Him.

One would think we could take a look at their lives, individually or as a group, in order to determine if Jesus’ ministry was in fact a success. After all, He poured His life into them. He led them by faultless example, patiently responded to their questions, told them illustrative stories to help them understand, and was faithful to the principles and truths that He proclaimed.


  • Not one of them fully understood His purpose or even who He really was.
  • On numerous occasions they argued over who among them was the greatest.
  • Two of the closest to Jesus brazenly requested special position and prominence.
  • One ruthlessly instigated an act of utter betrayal.
  • The three closest to Him could not stay awake and pray with Him, even when He sought their companionship.
  • Each and every one of them fled and abandoned Him at His darkest hour and point of greatest need.
  • One publicly denied Him—not once—but three successive times.
  • Another doubted Him.


Does this account of Jesus’ closest followers look like or sound anything like success? Oswald Chambers sheds much light on the subject:

Spiritually we cannot measure our life by success, but only by what God pours through us, and we cannot measure that at all.


Jesus Christ says in Luke 10: 20, in effect, ‘Do not rejoice in successful service, but rejoice because you are rightly related to Me.’ The snare in Christian work is to rejoice in successful service, to rejoice in the fact that God has used you. You never can measure what God will do through you if you are rightly related to Jesus Christ.


          Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest

The book Friendship at the Margins also contains wisdom on this matter:

If an assessment was done shortly after the crucifixion of Jesus, the numbers were not there for success. How do we measure success in the midst of ministry? Was Jesus “successful” in His calling, mentoring, training, and sending of the twelve disciples? When do we take the measurements, and what do we measure?


Perhaps success is the wrong category. Jesus was faithful. Even to the end of Judas’ life, Jesus loved him.


Success does not make sense of a self-giving love that is offered even to those who betray, deny, abandon, and doubt us. But according to Scripture, faithfulness in loving our friends—whether or not we see immediate results—does yield a harvest of fruit. And together, we are drawn closer to the heart of God.


          Heuertz and Pohl, Friendship at the Margins (emphases added)

Joel Vestal, in his book Dangerous Faith, picks up this same theme of being faithful rather than aiming for success:

I heard God’s still small voice in my soul, ‘I want you to be faithful. You are not called to be successful, only faithful. Be faithful.’

Perhaps instead of aiming for and measuring personal success, you or I should rather deem ourselves useful?

The trap you may fall into in Christian work is to rejoice in the fact that God has used you. Yet you will never be able to measure fully what God will do through you. If you make usefulness the test, then Jesus Christ was the greatest failure who ever lived. For the saint, direction and guidance come from God Himself, not some measure of that saint’s usefulness. It is the work that God does through us that counts, not what we do for Him.


          Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest

Of course we know, when we read the whole story, that Jesus pleased His Father. There was no measuring of success along the lines of what we humans often look for—amazing numbers, extraordinary miracles, incredible achievements, or stimulating stories with perfect endings.

What was important about the life Jesus lived on this earth was that He fully obeyed His Father’s will.

I am come to do the will of God who sent Me.


Jesus, the Gospel of John


I will do what the Father requires of Me.


Jesus, the Gospel of John

And so, as I continue to follow God’s calling on my life and do His work in Kenya, I must not attempt to measure success or even aim to be useful. Might I rather follow the example of Jesus and simply obey and be faithful to the will of my Father! I hope to one day hear my Master say, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You are My daughter whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

At the end of my life, may I confidently echo Paul’s sentiment: I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith (2 Timothy 4:7).

The aim of the missionary is to do God’s will, not to be useful. He is useful, but that is not his aim. His aim is to do the will of his Lord.


Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest


©2014 Thrive.


Question to consider:  How do you resist the urge to measure success in ways that are not Biblical?