Look up the 50 or so occurrences of the word success in the Bible, and you'll find the overwhelming majority describe God's blessings. Both the books of Joshua and Psalms open with verses touting the unwithered success that comes to those who ponder and practice the Scripture. According to Proverbs 2:7, "He holds success in store for the upright." Add words like prosperity, blessing, and victory, and you have an entire vocabulary of good fortune. God, it seems from Scripture, longs for you to be successful, and to be successful today.
But success is a slippery subject, because most people don't pause to think about how God defines the term. Biblical success isn't measured in net worth, self-fulfillment, fame, fortune, or even happiness. Instead it has three critical aspects.
First, success is doing the will of God. One of the most astounding Bible verses I've ever read is Psalm 139:16: "You saw me before I was born and scheduled each day of my life before I began to breathe. Every day was recorded in your book." I've marveled at those words since first reading them in The Living Bible in 1971. They tell us our days are not accidental or incidental. We are not random or rudderless souls, not simply products of evolutionary sludge. We're made in God's image and have a heavenly Father who orders our steps, ordains our stops, and assigns our tasks; who wants to equip us with everything good for doing His will. There's a blueprint for your life with no other name on the page. All your days are designed in advance before any of them appears on the calendar, and God longs to fulfill his plan in your life just as fully as His will is done in heaven.
The child of God never awakens to a day unplanned by heaven or unattended by the Lord. When the alarm goes off each morning, we roll out of bed knowing we have a divine purpose. There are no blackout dates on the calendars God keeps for our lives. There are no mistakes in His almanac. Having purpose, we're infused with eternal usefulness and significance.
Jesus knew this. His first recorded words were: "I must be about my Father's business." At the end of his life he prayed to the Father saying, "I have brought glory to you on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do." From beginning to end, Jesus viewed success as doing the Father's will and carrying out the business he was sent to accomplish.
The Lord's first and last words are a stencil for our days. To master life and fulfill God's will, we should say: "There are many things I can do in life, but Christ gave me a pattern to follow. I must be about my Father's business." Our attitude should be the same as that of the apostle Paul who in Acts 20:24 told his friends, "Life is worth nothing to me unless I use it for finishing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus."
The second aspect of success is doing the will of God in one-day increments. We often dream of future opportunities, but Proverbs 27:1 says, "Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring forth." While we should address future plans in a prudent way, we can only do today's work today.
Elizabeth Fry is remembered as the "Angel of Prisons" because of her incessant efforts at prison reform in 19th-century England. Behind her reformer's zeal was an abiding desire to wake up every morning to serve Christ. Before she passed away at age 65, she affirmed she had never awakened from sleep, whether in sickness or in health, without her first waking thought being: "How best may I serve my Lord?"
Today there's a service you can render. Today there is someone you can support or encourage. There's a prayer you can offer today. There's a habit you can correct. There's a task you can undertake today. We must tackle our God-given assignments in one-day units. If we think of the total accumulation of what faces us, we'll break down. But if we shoulder our tasks one at a time, we'll accomplish a lot in the long run. The most important day in our lives, therefore, is today. "This is the day the LORD has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it" (Psalm 118:24).
Finally, success is doing God's will in one-day increments with the right attitudes. These attitudes are listed in Galatians 5 as the nine essential virtues of the Holy Spirit: Love. Joy. Peace. Patience. Kindness. Goodness. Faithfulness. Gentleness. Self-control. These are the character traits of Jesus, which the Holy Spirit replicates in our lives as we mature spiritually.
When we do the will of God in bite-sized chunks with the right attitudes; that is sterling success. We may not become billionaires or leave our names etched on the tablets of history. But we can fulfill God's plans recorded for us in His book, day by day, and with the attitudes that please Him. In the process we'll end up accomplishing more than most of the characters immortalized by monuments and mausoleums.
The French mystic François Fénelon summed it up like this: "Cheered by the presence of God, I will do at each moment, without anxiety, according to the strength which He shall give me, the work that his Providence assigns me. I will leave the rest without concern; it is not my affair. I ought to consider the duty to which I am called each day, as the work that God has given me to do, and to apply myself to it in a manner worthy of his glory, that is to say, in exactness and peace."
That's all the success we'll ever need, and it's available starting now.