The way that God defines success should liberate us to rest in his grace.
Jesus was all about the kingdom of God. Not only did he speak of it constantly, but he told his followers to make it a priority. Our Lord and hero maker said, “Seek first the kingdom of God” (Matt. 6:33). So how do we win at doing so?
Part of the reason people like winning is because winning equals success. This is where it gets tricky, because kingdom winning is not necessarily the same as this world’s view of success. Jesus said that in his kingdom, the first will be last and the last will be first (Matt. 20:16). He also taught that whoever wants to be great has to be a servant (Matt. 20:26). The apostle Paul said that God chooses the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and the weak things of the world to shame the strong (1 Cor. 1:27). You can probably think of additional verses that illustrate ways that Jesus’ kingdom “is not of this world” (John 18:36).
There’s also a strong theme in Scripture of faithfulness to God as a pathway of winning. Hebrews 11 is nicknamed “the spiritual hall of fame.”
It uses the word faith thirty-three times, showing that by faith people conquered kingdoms, administered justice, shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of flames, escaped the edge of the sword and more. Wow, almost anyone today would call that success. But the same chapter says that by faith people faced jeers and flogging, people were chained and put in prison, and people were stoned, sawn in two, or put to death by the sword. That’s not how most people picture winning, but to God it was. “These were all commended for their faith,” the chapter concludes (Heb. 11:39). To God, winning is faithfulness. Winning is a life that ends up with God saying, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” (Matt. 25:21)—words found in one of the parables telling us what the kingdom of God will be like.
In short, the more you read the Bible and the better you get to know Jesus, the more you understand that kingdom winning is not synonymous with the achievement and accomplishment prioritized in the Western world. So take a deep breath and breathe in God’s grace. You don’t have to be successful, only faithful.
If faithfulness is the sole measure of winning, that leaves the question, what must we be faithful in being and doing? Seeking first the kingdom of God, which I mentioned at the beginning of this section. If we are faithful in doing that, everything else falls into place. Our seeking starts on a very personal level, as this passage specifically deals with God’s cure for our anxieties about daily provision. It reminds us that material provision is not unimportant, but our first motivation must be the will of God, which is to advance his kingdom. But the principle of this verse applies far beyond as we view all of life and ministry as seeing God’s kingdom—his rule and reign (Luke 17:20–21)—take captive every spiritual stronghold as people respond to the gospel.
It is clear that Jesus’ scoreboard is solely focused on advancing the kingdom of God. Notice the priority of God’s kingdom in these verses:
• “Your kingdom come … on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10).
• “As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near’” (Matt. 10:7).
• “I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent” (Luke 4:43).
• “What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade” (Mark 4:30–32).
As I read the Gospels and compare them with leadership conversations today, I hear more about personal mission statements and churches’ visions and goals, while Jesus seems to talk more about faithfulness to building the kingdom.
Adapted from Hero Maker by Dave Ferguson and Warren Bird. Copyright © 2018 by Dave Ferguson and Warren Bird. Used by permission of Zondervan. www.zondervan.com