HOW DO YOU JUDGE SUCCESS?
If someone were to ask you the question, “What makes you term people successful,” what would you answer? Would you consider how recognisable their names are, how wealthy they are, how fashionable their clothes or list some of their remarkable achievements? While you wouldn’t be entirely wrong in doing so, I feel that success is actually specific to the individual. In other words, the yardsticks for determining success vary from person to person.
Why do I think so? I feel that one cannot be successful outside what God has called him or her to do. And since God has not called all of us to do the same things or to do particular things in the same way, we really can’t be judged by the same parameters.
To illustrate, I want to use the lives of two men from the Bible: the prophet Isaiah and John the Baptist. Isaiah spoke the counsel of God for about 60 years (740 B.C. to 680 B.C.) to kings, from Jotham to Hezekiah, his call coming in the year Jotham’s father, King Uzziah, died. He spoke to the nation of Judah and about other nations, particularly Babylon.
Isaiah walked the corridors of power. He was consulted on matters of policy and when the nation was in dire straits. When Sennacherib, the King of Assyria, conquered some fortified cities in Judah and had Jerusalem under siege, he sent his field officers to terrorise the people and make them to surrender, reminding them that the Assyrian army had overrun many nations. His insolent query was: “Who of all the gods of these countries has been able to save his land from me? How then can the LORD deliver Jerusalem from my hand?” – 2 Kings 18:35 (NIV)
The story continues ….
“And it came to pass, when king Hezekiah heard it, that he rent his clothes, and covered himself with sackcloth, and went into the house of the Lord. And he sent Eliakim, which was over the household, and Shebna the scribe, and the elders of the priests, covered with sackcloth, to Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz. And they said unto him, Thus saith Hezekiah, This day is a day of trouble, and of rebuke, and blasphemy: for the children are come to the birth, and there is not strength to bring forth. It may be the Lord thy God will hear all the words of Rab–shakeh, whom the king of Assyria his master hath sent to reproach the living God; and will reprove the words which the Lord thy God hath heard: wherefore lift up thy prayer for the remnant that are left.” 2 Kings 19:1-4
Well, Isaiah did pray and a subsequent passage says that the Lord sent an angel and he killed 185,000 Assyrian soldiers in one night (v. 35). One account said it was a plague. Same thing. End of siege. The northern kingdom, Israel, had been conquered and its citizens exiled about eight years before this incident but the southern kingdom not only outlived Sennacherib, the threatening king, it survived for another 115 years till it fell to Babylon in the time of King Zedekiah in 586 B.C.
Isaiah midwifed this and other awesome deliverances of the Lord’s people. When God wanted King Hezekiah to prepare to die, it was the same Isaiah that he sent. Hezekiah was quite unwilling to go and “wept sore” (v.3). God sent Isaiah back to announce he had got a reprieve (15 years added to his life span). Isaiah also gave directions to bring about Hezekiah’s healing (2 Kings 20:1-6).
So on all accounts, Isaiah was super successful as a prophet. His predictions came to pass, and with far-reaching implications. He performed miracles like causing the shadow to go back the ten steps it had gone down the staircase of Ahaz (some sort of sundial). This guy turned back the hands of time! Incredible, but true! (2 Kings 20:9-11) Of course, it was God working, but He did this through Isaiah.
We might be tempted to think thereafter that any prophet worth the title must do the sort of things that Isaiah did. Sounds reasonable, but that’s not the way these things work. Centuries later, a priest called Zechariah had a vision in the temple that his wife would have a son who would walk in the spirit and power of Elijah to prepare God’s people for the coming of the Messiah (Luke .1:8-17). Around 5 B.C., that child was born.
When he grew up, he lived in the desert. His food was locusts and wild honey, his robe was made of camel hair held with a leather robe. From about 29 A.D.,he preached a message of repentance, baptising those who felt convicted in the River Jordan, hence his name John the Baptist (Matthew 3:1-6). His preaching sparked such a huge revival that all classes of people sought him out in their numbers, including soldiers and tax collectors, considered the most oppressive and corrupt segments of society.
His ministry lasted about two and half years before he was imprisoned by King Herod and subsequently beheaded (Matthew 14:3-11). But the Lord Jesus said he wasn’t just a prophet, he was more than prophet! He also declared that of those born of women, there was none greater than John (Matthew 11:9,11).
These were His exact words:
“As John’s disciples were leaving, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: ‘What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swayed by the wind? If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear fine clothes are in kings’ palaces. Then what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written: Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist …'” – Matthew 11:7-11 (NIV).
John’s ministry was so short. He performed no physical miracles, he didn’t move in exalted circles. He gave no personal prophecies to anyone, the destiny of kings and nations was not in his hands. He rebuked sin, short and simple. Then he pointed to the way of salvation, which was and still is Jesus. And that was enough! Why? Because that was what he had been sent to do. A man of the wilds, he captured the nation’s attention for a brief moment and then he was gone! He was the end of the old order, the new beginning with Christ.
When we compare the lives of these two men (Isaiah and John), we will see that each of us need to stay in our own lane and run the race appointed for us. The measurement of our success should be based on how true we stay to our course and how well we fulfil our mandate.
So, do you know what God has called you to do? Are you carrying it out with zeal and diligence? May the Lord multiply grace for you to do this daily. And even if people don’t, may the Lord Himself certify you successful at the end as He did John and countless others before you in Jesus’ name.
The scriptures used in this post are from the King James Version of the Holy Bible except where otherwise stated.
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