All a man’s ways seem innocent to him, but motives are weighed by the LORD. Commit to the LORD whatever you do, and your plans will succeed. – Proverbs 16:2-3
Best-selling motivational author Stephen Covey once said, “If you carefully consider what you want to be said of you at your funeral, you will find your definition of success.”
John Wooden was a very successful college basketball coach. He wrote, “Success is the self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best you are capable of becoming.”
These are definitions of “success” from two men who experienced a great deal of success in their respective fields. What these definitions have in common, and what many definitions of success do, is that they focus on the end result of your hard work. Indeed, the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines success as: “a favorable or desired outcome,” or “the attainment of wealth, favor, or respect.”
A godly definition of success, however, does not focus on the end result of hard work. It focuses instead on motives at the beginning. “Motives are weighed by the LORD,” the Bible says.
This means that someone who is regarded as successful in the world’s eyes may not be successful in God’s eyes. Someone who has attained great earthly wealth, for example, but whose motive in doing so was primarily to store up more comfort or pleasure for themselves, would not be considered successful in God’s kingdom. The same is true for someone who has gained the favor of many friends because they desired more popularity than everyone around them, or someone who has attained the respect of their neighbors because they thought it might help them eventually get something they want from them.
The Bible helps us identify what a godly motive is when it urges us in 1 Corinthians 10:31: “Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” In other words, our motive in whatever we do ought not be that we gain something, but that God does; that through whatever we do, God would gain greater recognition.
This is how Jesus defined success. As Jesus hung on his cross, he had no money, his friends had run away, and there were far more people ridiculing him than respecting him. And yet Jesus considered the day a success because his motive from the very beginning of his life on earth was to help the world recognize his Father’s desire to love you and me more than anything. He glorified his Father in whatever he did, and his plan—to forgive us of every sin so that our future would include the great gain of heaven—did succeed.
When we do the same thing, when we commit each task to the Lord, remembering that our plans are in the care of the one whose love led Jesus to the cross and whose power pulled him from the grave, then whatever amount of earthly wealth, favor, or respect we may gain, we will have already received success through Jesus in the greatest kingdom of all.