That’s what I thought.
We all want to be good at what we do, to be competent and respected and admired. We even spend large amounts of money on things we don’t need in order to show off just how successful we are.
But we don’t just like to be thought of as successful—we also judge others on their degree of success, naturally admiring those with high powered jobs and big bank accounts. We assume those with more accolades, or money, or possessions are better people. We admire a CEO more than a janitor simply because he brings home a huge paycheck and has lots of power. We shouldn’t, but we all too often do.
Bigger is better?
This success-oriented thinking also creeps in in other areas of life, especially when it comes to numbers. Men like big numbers. The bigger and more impressive the number, the more we think it matters. One million must be better than ten thousand, right?
Even within the Church, it is easy to judge success in terms of numbers. Is your parish growing? How many baptisms took place this year? How big was the collection this week? How many people are involved in your programs?
There’s nothing wrong with statistics, but all too easily it becomes an idolatry of sorts, the only measure of success we care about. Quantity replaces quality, the work of God is treated like a business, and numbers rule the day.
But here’s the thing: When it comes to God’s economy, outward, numerical success means exactly nothing.
We Follow a Failure
I say this with all due reverence, but humanly speaking, Jesus’ earthly life was a complete failure. He didn’t overthrow the Roman government and usher in a glorious earthly kingdom as so many had hoped. He didn’t make friends with the powerful and influential. He didn’t win many to the truth of the Gospel. Quite the opposite. He was despised and rejected almost everywhere he went.
The once adoring crowds that followed him later turned away from him because his teaching was too hard to hear. Those in his hometown sneered at him and tried to throw him off a cliff. The religious leaders hated him and considered him a demon possessed blasphemer. One of his closest friends betrayed him for money, and the rest of his friends disowned and abandoned him. He was mocked, laughed at, and considered a madman. And the zenith of his life? It was being unjustly condemned to death, stripped naked, humiliated, nailed to a cross with common criminals, and buried in a grave that wasn’t even his own.
Yet despite all this, Jesus is the most important man who ever lived or ever will. His life, death, and resurrection is the hinge upon which history turns. Why? Because God’s ways are not our ways. His judgement is not our judgement. It is higher, and better.
The Spiritual Economy
God doesn’t assess value shallowly like we do. In the spiritual economy, the most successful human works—the big, glitzy stuff with big numbers that everyone praises as incredible achievements—are often worth zip, zilch, nada. The famous names, the best-selling books, the huge sums of money? They don’t impress the Ancient of Days.
That’s not to say that outward success is wrong by default. God very well might bless and multiply your efforts abundantly. There are many famous, respected, and wealthy people who are holy and righteous.
But the point is, it is not wealth or power or fame that makes these souls pleasing in God’s eyes. It is what is in their hearts.
The Greatest of These is Love
So what makes us successful in God’s economy? What makes us truly great men? What gives worth to our efforts if not numbers and statistics and outward fruit? Love. Love alone is what God desires of us. It alone gives our actions worth in his eyes. It was the widow, and not the wealthy, who won the heart of Jesus with her gift.
Fame means nothing. Money means nothing. Blog stats and social shares mean nothing. Human respect, book contracts, fat paychecks, power, praise and adulation—they all mean nothing in eternity. Even repeated frustration, mistakes, and failure mean nothing. Love alone will last forever. It alone unites us to God and floods our hearts with happiness.
So let me ask you this. What are you living for? Power, wealth, fame, the admiration of others? If so, you very well might get what you wish for, and you will have your reward. But it will be so much sound and fury signifying nothing. It will be so much vanity in the eyes of God.
There is only one way to be a truly great man—not just in time, but in eternity. And that is by becoming a man who loves the divine heart of Jesus deeply, by becoming a man who belongs wholly to God.
This is the summary of the matter: Now abides success, failure, and love. But the greatest of these is love.