By J.R. Miller
"May Your will be done." Matthew 6:11
"Not as I will--but as You will." Matthew 26:39
What is success? What is the true aim in life? What should one, setting out to make his way through this world, take as the goal of all his living and striving? 'Views of life' differ widely. Many think they are in this world to make a career for themselves. They set out with some splendid vision of success in their mind--and they devote their life to the realizing of this vision. If they fail in this, they suppose they have failed in life. If they achieve their dream, they consider themselves, and are considered by others, as successful.
The world has no other standard of success. It may be the amassing of wealth; it may be the winning of power among men; it may be triumph of a certain skill; or genius in art, in literature, in music, etc. But whatever the definite object may be, it is purely an earthly ambition. The two elements in the life, according to this view, are, that the career is one which the world honors, and that a man wins distinction in it.
Applying this standard to life--only a few men are really successful. Great men are as rare as lofty mountain peaks. Only a few win the high places; the mass remain in the low valleys. The percentage of those who succeed in business is small. In the professions, too, in literature, in art, in civil life, in all the callings, it is the same--only a few win honor, rise into fame, achieve distinction; while the great multitude remain in obscurity or go down in the dust of earthly defeat.
Is this the only standard of success in life? Do all men, except for the few who win earth's prizes, really fail? Is there no other kind of success? The world's answer gives no comfort to those who find themselves among 'the unhonored'. But there is another sphere--there is a life in which success is not material--but spiritual. One may utterly fail, so far as earthly results are concerned; and yet, in the invisible spiritual realm, be a splendid winner in the race!
The true test of life--is character. Everything else is extraneous, belonging only to the husk, which shall fall off in the day of ripening! Character is the kernel, the wheat, that which is true and enduring. Nothing else is worth while--except that which we can carry with us through death, and into eternity! Paul puts it in a sentence when he says, "So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal." 2 Corinthians 4:18
It is altogether possible that a man may fail of winning any earthly greatness, any distinction among men, anything that will immortalize him in this world's calendars--and yet be richly and nobly successful in spiritual things, in character, in a ministry of usefulness, in things which shall abide--when mountains have crumbled into dust! It is possible for one to fall behind in the race for wealth and honor--and yet all the while to be building up in himself--an eternal fabric of beauty and strength!
Here is a man who at mid-life, is a physical wreck. He has dropped out of the ranks, and fallen far behind those who at the first were his comrades. He is a hopeless invalid. The other day the physician said that he will never get any better. He may live for many years--yet there is nothing before him but pathetic invalidism.
Shall we say that this man's life is a failure because of his physical condition, which has put a stop to all effort and compels him to sit with folded hands in the shadows, watching busy men at their tasks as they continue to win honor and success? No, his life need not be a failure! He has lived nobly all his years. There is not a stain upon his name. He has been building up in himself a character in which the beatitudes shine: loveliness, meekness, hunger for righteousness, mercifulness, purity of heart, the peace-making spirit. He has won no name in the world's ranks--but he has followed Christ faithfully, and has pleased him. He has lived a life of love, too--love which has expressed itself not merely in word--but in countless ministries of grace to those who have turned to him for sympathy and help. He has had God and heaven in all his life, and has lived near the heart of Christ!
No doubt there is a mystery about the strange ways of Providence with him--but we may be sure that this godly man's life is in God's sight, no less successful, when all activity has ceased--than it was in the days when he was busiest, full of energy and toil. Who will say, indeed, that these are not his best days? While the outer man has been perishing, decaying--may not the inner man have been growing in all worthy qualities, in all spiritual graces, in the things which shall endure forever? Ofttimes it is in what the world regards as failure--that a man really achieves his noblest and best success. Many a man has found his soul--only when he had lost his fortune or his health or his place.
We are not accustomed to thank God for our disappointments, for the blighting of our earthly hopes and expectations, for the failure of our plans--but we might safely do so, ofttimes; for it is in such experiences as these--that we are led to the sources of truest blessedness, and most enduring honor.
What is the standard of success in the sphere of the unseen and the eternal? It is the doing of the will of God. He who does the will of God--makes his life radiant and beautiful, though in the world's scale he is rated as having altogether failed in the battle. He who is true, just, humble, pure, pleasing God and living unselfishly--is the only man who really succeeds--while all others fail.
Really, there is no other final and infallible standard of living. One who writes his name highest in earth's lists, and yet has not done God's will, meanwhile, has failed, as God Himself looks at his career. God has a purpose in our creation--and we succeed only when our life carries out this purpose. The most radiant career, as it appears to men, means nothing--if it is not that for which God made us. We fail in life--if we do not realize God's will for us.
We live worthily--only when we do what God sent us here to do. A splendid career in the sight of men--has no splendor in God's sight--if it is but the striving of human ambition; if it is not God's ideal for the life.
Not the making of a fine worldly career, therefore--but the simple doing of God's will--is the one true aim in living. Thus only can we achieve real success. If we do this, though we fail in the earthly race--we shall not fail in God's sight. We may make no name among men, may raise for ourselves no monument of earthly glory--but if we please God by a life of obedience and humble service, and build up within us a character in which divine virtues shine--we shall have attained abiding success.
The only way, therefore, to make our life nobly and truly successful, is to devote ourselves to the doing of God's will. It is not the things we want to do, that are the best--but the things God would have us do. Ofttimes these may be things which to our thought it is scarcely worth while to do, and the turning aside from our fine schemes and conspicuous efforts--to attend to these trivialities may appear to be a wasting of talent and time. But always, God's will is the grandest thing we can find to do in all the world, though it is in men's eyes--the lowliest task our hands can do.
An autobiographical passage in the life of Norman McLeod illustrates this. "My life," he says, "is not what I would have chosen. I often long for quiet, for reading, and for thought. It seems to me to be a very paradise to be able to read, to think, go deep into things, to gather the glorious riches of intellectual culture. But God in his providence, has forbidden this to me. I must spend hours in receiving people who wish to speak to me about all manner of trifles; I must reply to letters about nothing; I must engage in public work on everything; I must employ my life on what seems uncongenial, vanishing, temporary, wasteful. Yet God knows me better than I know myself. He knows my gifts, my abilities, my failings, and my weakness; what I can do--and what I cannot do. So I desire to be led, and not to lead; to follow him. I am quite sure he has thus enabled me to do a great deal more in ways which seemed to me almost a waste of life, in advancing his kingdom; than I would have done any other way."
The most successful life--is the one which submits the most cheerfully and the most completely, to the will of God. It will not be an indolent life, nor will it be aimless and purposeless. It is the will of God--that every ability of our being shall be brought out, trained, and disciplined to its highest possibility, and devoted to the noblest and worthiest service. But the dominant influence in our life, should always be the will of God--and not any ambition of our own. Then shall we fulfill the purpose for which God made us, when he sent us into the world. And this will be the noblest career possible for us!