What Defines “Success”?

God works in mysterious ways indeed, and while we are still on earth there are many, many things we don’t have the capacity to understand yet. And this issue, naturally, is addressed in Scripture. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9).

Sometimes we feel that what we do is meaningless, and it isn’t going to get us anywhere. But how do we, as human beings, define being “successful” as? Are you successful when your work brings you approval from other people? As you successful when your work brings you money or other worldly pleasures? If so, this is very dangerous.

For example, a website that receives 100,000 likes per month is not necessarily better, from God’s perspective, than one that only receives around fifty. What the people in our society think of us is not exactly what God thinks of us! And, as I said earlier, there are dangers to measuring our success by human standards. We may start indulging in what appears to be confirmation of our greatness from other people.

Since success should not be defined by human standards, is our work really meaningless as we feel it can be? Not necessarily. If it is truly meaningless and even harmful, then hopefully God makes this clear to us. But sometimes we want to give up doing something because we feel it is a waste of time and fruitless, yet we know there is a higher power that is urging us to continue, not matter what. So what are we supposed to think in this situation?

I would like to share with all of you an excerpt from my novel, Missa Solemnis, that I hope will adequately express what I am trying to say. In this particular scene, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, one of the characters, feels unappreciated. While he feels ready to give up, one of his friends offers him advice as tells him that he should continue to do what his conscience is telling him to do, since it is God’s will, though not necessarily what he believes is “meaningful” from a human perspective. (And, as one of my friends pointed out, I might have made a reference to 1 Corinthians 12 without really meaning to!)

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Mozart sighed and put down his pen. He turned and looked at Franz, who was busy working. “What’s the use?” Wolfgang heard himself ask.

Franz looked up, startled. “What are you talking about, Wolfgang? What’s the use of what?”

“What’s the use of working so hard? I’m not appreciated here, and my music isn’t even performed so much anymore. My job at court pays only eight hundred gulden a year!”

How could Mozart’s great talent, and the utter beauty of his music, be so unappreciated, treated so carelessly by those who should know better? Wolfgang was almost living in poverty, and he was starving. What does this mean? Franz wondered. I know it’s merely our job to create, but do we always have to pay with every fiber of our beings? He’s working himself into the grave! Unless…

“Who says you aren’t appreciated?” Franz asked. “Whether it’s now or in a hundred, or a thousand, years, you’ll be appreciated. Besides, the less our reward here, the more we get in Heaven.”

“Do you really believe that?” Wolfgang turned around to stare at him. “Do you really think God planned for me to unappreciated, and then…?”

“Look at it this way,” Franz said. “Maybe we’re just contributing to something greater, but we just don’t know it. It’s probably part of God’s plan, and someday we may know why things happened this way, since everything happens with a reason. When you were a child, did your father tell you everything he had planned for your family? Probably not, since he knew what he was doing and didn’t need a child’s limited viewpoint. Isn’t our viewpoint limited compared to God’s? He knows what He is doing and doesn’t need our opinion on this, but everything will turn out fine.”

Franz’s explanation was convincing, but something else was on Wolfgang’s mind. “Franz, I had a weird dream last night. Before I tell you…well, I feel like I’m writing this music just to give it away, and that I’m not earning anything from it. I dreamed I was growing flowers and that I had many assistants helping me with this. I was growing all those beautiful pink flowers just to give them away!”

While Wolfgang was still puzzling over this, Franz immediately understood. “Wolfgang, pink is the color of love. You were growing pink flowers and giving them away to show your love for others.”

“But what about the assistants?” “Going back to what I said about God’s plan…these assistants probably represent other musicians over the world, who are contributing to this plan. Don’t you see, Wolfgang? You could get a government job to make Constanze and her mother happy, but you don’t! Why? Because you were born to give the world your flowers of love, expressed through music.”

“I suppose you’re right,” Wolfgang said. “But still, even if things are really like this, I still need to get a commission and earn some money. I’d still rather not end up on the streets!” He lowered his voice. “The other day I applied for position of Second Kapellmeister, under Salieri. It was, as usual, to no avail.”

He returned to his work.

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Roses. Just roses. Everywhere Wolfgang turned, he saw nothing but roses. It was beautiful, but he didn’t know what to make of it. What is the use of working so hard? Wolfgang wondered. I never keep any of my roses; I grow them just to give them away! But somehow I know this is what I was made to do, to give out my flowers of love, in spite of the fact that I am living in poverty.

He turned around and saw some people standing near the fence to his garden. What are you doing? Wolfgang called out.

We’re here to help you, responded one young man. All of us will grow flowers of love and release them into the world to give the world beauty. Why else are we here, on earth?

And everybody who walks upon the earth is different, replied a young woman who looked not much older than fifteen. I see that every flower here is different; different colors, shapes and sizes. But they’re all the same in another way, they’re all beautiful. Let us show everyone that they are all different from each other, like these roses, but that they’re all beautiful and special in their own ways, all as children of God.

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“Wolfgang?” Franz asked. “Are you okay?”

“What?” Wolfgang blinked and was startled to find himself sitting at his desk, holding his pen limply in his hand.

“I kind of lost you for a second,” Franz explained, relieved. “I was talking and you were staring at me, but your eyes had this blank look…”

“Oh, sorry!” Wolfgang exclaimed. “I was daydreaming and thinking about my dream from last night. After hearing what you said…I understand. When the group of people came to help me with my flower garden, there were two people in particular who came and spoke to me personally, a man and a woman. Now I realize they were supposed to represent you and Dorothea.”

“Truly?” Franz asked, suddenly interested. “Tell me about it.”

“You told me…” Wolfgang whispered, “We are all here on earth to give the world beauty. Dorothea said she had noticed that all the flowers were different in certain ways, but in other ways they were the same… Just as we, as people, are all unique, but all are the same as children of God.”

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This quote from 1 Corinthians proves that there is not a single person in the world that is useless, because nothing that God does is meaningless. Therefore, from a human perspective, although our work can appear to be useless at times, if it is God’s will and He is the reason why we do what we do (hopefully!). It is my hope that my writing can share the Good News, but if someday God tells to find some other way to do this, I’ll follow Him. I know I shouldn’t follow my own will, but God’s, for “we must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). Sometimes I may think it is in my best interests to do a certain thing, but God knows me better than I know myself. And God will never ask you to do something useless as well – as long as it is for His glory, what you’re doing will help yourself and others, even if you don’t see it now.

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From an earthly and human perspective, one could argue that even Jesus was a failure! Jesus obviously had valid reasons to tell those He had healed not to tell anyone that He was the Messiah. Of course, everybody would misunderstand, just like Peter did. One could have expected Jesus to lead a rebellion against the Romans and win a victory, but he didn’t! However, Jesus’s death on the Cross did us more good than if he had won a victory against the Romans (or anything else, for that matter)! It seems that the Cross was a failure, but God had his own mysterious plans and we don’t understand. Something that seems to be one thing on the surface can actually be quite the opposite. When we determine our success by how much money we earn and how much adulation we get from other people and from society, we are, like Peter did, “thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”

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