Developing a Biblical Understanding of Success

By: Dr. Steven C. Riser; ©2008
Before we can understand success, we must first understand what success is, and what it is not. Dr. Riser tackles this challenging task.



Before we can understand success, we must first understand what success is not:

Success is NOT to be measured by human standards:

  • Static – unchanging – the same for everyone.
  • Being served – having others wait on you hand and foot.
  • Personal Autonomy – doing whatever you want whenever you want.
  • Hedonism – living a hedonistic lifestyle.
  • Egotism – living a narcissistic lifestyle.
  • Materialism – worshipping money or the things money can buy.
  • Ritualism – having a form of religion but denying the power of it.
  • A Life of Excess – living an imbalanced life or excelling in only one area.
  • Wasting time in idleness or worrying about too little time.
  • Accomplishing tasks without considering the welfare of others.
  • Rationalizing or making excuses for your behavior to yourself or others.

Success IS defined by God in the Bible:

  • Dynamic – transformative – success is a moving target.
  • Servant-leadership – seeking to unselfishly serve others.
  • Freedom in Christ – having the desire and power to do what you ought.
  • Living by God’s values, priorities and goals.
  • Knowing, loving and serving the one true God.
  • Becoming the kind of person God created you to be.
  • Living a balanced life – a life of personal integrity.
  • Being a wise and faithful steward of all God’s resources.
  • Learning to trust God with all our heart in all things.
  • Accepting personal responsibility for one’s actions.
  • Enjoying healthy interpersonal relationships with others.

What are some of the various dimensions of success?

  1. Spiritual – being rightly related to God – developing a Christ-like character
  2. Vocational – making progress in doing what God has called you to do.
  3. Relational – effectively relating to others – especially one’s immediate family.
  4. Financial – experiencing the financial freedom that God wants us to experience.
  5. Personal – a healthy self-concept and a positive attitude – living the abundant life
  6. Mental – operating according to a biblical values and a Christian worldview.
  7. Physical – properly caring for your body – the temple of the Holy Spirit.

Definitions of Success: Glorifying or pleasing God in all we do.

  1. Loving God first and foremost and your neighbor as yourself.
  2. Making progress in becoming the kind of person that God created you to be and accomplishing the goals that He helps you to set.
  3. Success is when those who know you best love and respect you the most.

What do you think is the role of relationships and success?

Healthy relationships are the key to living a healthy, happy and harmonious life. The vast majority of counseling is due to conflicts in relationships (fear, anger, etc.). Miserable is the only emotion left for people who have alienated everyone around them.

A happy self-centered person is an oxymoron. The more unselfish the better your self-concept. Since we reap what we sow, we must sow good seed before we can reap good fruit (Gal. 6:7-8). Love involves unselfishly meeting the needs and acting in the best interests of others.

What is it that most people say they want in life?

  1. To be happy
  2. To be healthy
  3. To materially provide for one’s family
  4. To be secure
  5. To have good friends
  6. To have peace of mind
  7. To have good family relationships
  8. To have hope for the future

What is the biblical formula for success?

Success is = Attitude/Faith + Skill/Wisdom + Biblical worldview/Discernment + Biblical objectives + Christ-like character

Biblical Faith and Christ like Attitude

Faith is essential. Without faith we can’t please God (Heb. 11:6). While attitude is not everything, a positive attitude is essential. Having a positive attitude doesn’t mean that you are blindly optimistic. (Unrealistic expectations are the seedbed of depression. Blind optimism can make you are target for victimization.) Your positive attitude must be biblically based and tempered by realism.

Biblical Living Skills (Wisdom)

We develop living skills by learning biblical principles or by the mistakes of others or by our own mistakes. Wisdom has been defined as skill in living which involves the ability to make good decisions. Skills relating to people are also extremely important. If you are properly motivated, you will receive the necessary education and training needed in order to develop certain skills. The fear (reverence) of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.

Biblical Worldview (Philosophy)

We need to have a proper understanding as to how God has constructed the universe. Specifically, we need to understand how and why we reap what we sow. We need to develop the proper biblical assumptions and convictions. We need to base our ethics on the Golden Rule – Do to others what you would have them to do to you.

Biblical Objectives/Priorities

We need to understand God’s will for our lives. People with well-thought-out written goals are more likely to accomplish them. They are also happier, healthier and get along better with others. Have you ever met a depressed individual who had meaningful goals and a specific plan to reach them? Expectations play a major role in success in any field of endeavor. We must expect to get where we want to go. If not, it will be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Christ-like Character/Conduct

Cultivating Christ-like character requires having the proper values and, with the desire and power that the Holy Spirit provides, consistently acting upon them. People with character (integrity) will seek to do the right thing for the right reason. Proper character enables us to do God’s will, God’s way, in God’s strength, for God’s glory.

The Role of Relationships

If you ask people what they want most out of life, many would respond happiness. When you ask people what would make them happy, the overwhelming majority would say, “Having wonderful relationships with the people I love.” Of the eight things that people want most in life, six of them – happiness, health, prosperity, security, peace of mind, and hope – depend to a large degree, on relationships. The two others – friends and good family relationships – are relationships.

What are the three primary relationships?

God, yourself and others (especially family)

The best things that happen to you and the best things that you do are done for love. That’s why healthy relationships can motivate people to higher levels of success.

One of the keys to healthy relationships is learning to manage your frustration. Why? Because frustration is a prelude to anger which can damage personal relationships. Good communication with God, yourself and others reduces your frustration and makes it easier to build healthy, positive and lasting relationships. (Note: When you are feeling frustrated or angry, do absolutely nothing – except pray.)

What is one of the keys to good relationships? (Phil. 2:3-4)

Treating people as being very important; because they are.

Does your physical, mental and spiritual well-being affect your relationship with others? (Relationships can’t be built on selfishness, insensitivity, rudeness, impatience and anger.)

Sir John Templeton was one of the wealthiest men in the U.S. said, “If we have not developed a reservoir of spiritual wealth, no amount of money is likely to make us happy. Spiritual wealth provides faith. It gives us love. It brings and expands wisdom. Spiritual wealth leads to happiness because it guides us into useful or loving relationships.”In order to build healthy relationships we need to begin by focusing on the positive. Surround yourself with optimistic people, positive examples and enthusiastic individuals. How?

Focus on the ‘tudes of life:

  • Gratitude – being thankful for all God has given you.
  • Attitude – is one of the most important ingredients in the formula for success.
  • Magnitude – don’t make mountains out of mole hills – keep proper perspective.
  • Latitude – seek to become all that God has created you to be.
  • Multitude – focus on a multitude of opportunities rather than a multitude of problems.

Seek to build your relationships of trust (truth/love) and mutual benefit (win/win) See things from the other person’s point of view. Don’t be a know it all. Take time to be kind.

The Ten Commandments of Human Relations

  1. Have unshakeable integrity, a good attitude, and a thorough knowledge of the skills necessary to do the job well.
  2. Smile and take the initiative to speak to people.
  3. Call people by their name.
  4. Be friendly, helpful, and encouraging.
  5. Speak and act as if everything you do is a genuine pleasure.
  6. Be genuinely interested in other people.
  7. Be generous with your praise and careful with your criticism.
  8. Be considerate of the feelings of others.
  9. Be of service to others.
  10. Develop a good sense of humor.

The Hallmarks of Success

Success is made up of the following characteristics:

  • Conviction – you must have the conviction that you can be successful (Phil. 1:21)
  • Commitment – you must have the desire to be successful
  • Hard work – giving your best in every situation (Col. 3:23)
  • Love what you do – use the gifts that God has given you and you will be fulfilled
  • Integrity – is integral – say with you mean and mean what you say
  • Character – requires moral soundness as we cultivate Christ-like character qualities
  • Consistency – requires that our actions match our words
  • Persistence – sheer dogged persistence can overcome many barriers and limitations
  • Discipline – successful people discipline themselves to do things unsuccessful people don’t
  • Heredity – we all inherit certain aptitudes and temperament traits from our parents
  • Environment – since success begets success, environment is an important factor
  • Humor – a sense of humor helps you not to take yourself too seriously
  • Luck – is a product of preparation, effort and opportunity
  • Faith – this is one of the keys according to Joshua 1:8, without it we can’t please God
  • Passion – is related to seeing and developing your potential – seeing the possibilities
  • Connections – your relationships with people have a strong influence on your future

Getting Motivated By the Holy Spirit (Eph. 5:18)

Motivation is one of the keys to success. The degree to which you can become and remain motivated is the degree to which you can make forward progress in realizing the life goals God leads you to set.

What are some of the benefits of motivation?

  • Creativity – more focus – think more clearly – result: more creativity
  • Energy – motivated people need less sleep and have more energy
  • Flexibility – motivated people are more flexible and less rigid – results oriented
  • Health – motivated people have a good reason for staying healthy
  • Magnetism – a motivated lifestyle is naturally attractive to others
  • Momentum – it is self-perpetuating and becomes easier when it becomes a habit
  • Multiplication – it is contagious – it spreads and multiplies – it is caught rather than taught
  • Recognition – they are more noticed, respected and commended by others
  • Optimism – motivated people learn to find the good in everything
  • Productivity – they move quickly and deliberately and get more done than others
  • Stability – because they are more focused they are not easily dissuaded by others

What is motivation? An individual who is motivated is ready to take some kind of action.

What motivates people? Everyone is motivated but not in the same way. There are basically two kinds of motivation: the desire for gain (carrot) or the fear of loss (stick). The manner in which people may perceive gain or loss may vary. One man’s meat is another man’s poison.

What are some of the basic desires for gain?

(Different people have different carrots)

  • Wealth – money and the things that money can buy
  • Power – can give people increased influence over others
  • Pleasure – personal gratification of sensual desires
  • Wisdom – enables one to make good decisions and treat others ethically
  • Honor – comes through effectively serving others in some capacity
  • Pleasing God – this is potentially the greatest motive of all

What are some of the ways that one fears loss?

  • Fear of losing a job
  • Fear of failing
  • Fear of losing a family
  • Fear of losing health
  • Fear of poverty
  • Fear of ignorance
  • Fear of the unknown

How do you spell FEAR? False Evidence Appearing Real

(Note: legitimate fear for realistic reasons is not only natural but desirable.) We must be able to distinguish between healthy and unhealthy fear.

There are nine things that people want to gain and are afraid to lose:

  1. Respect – tells us that we are capable and valuable
  2. Reputation – when others pass along a good report concerning you
  3. Status – this is a compilation of respect and reputation
  4. Appreciation – people want to be liked and noticed for what they have done
  5. Power and influence – some people mistakenly confuse this with self-worth
  6. Happiness – cannot be sought and achieved as an end in itself
  7. Joy – learning contentment and gratefulness is a prelude to joy
  8. Peace – not just tranquility, but becoming a fully integrated individual
  9. Love – this is the most powerful motivator for good or ill

There are three dimensions of motivation: personal, social and theological.

There are three stages of rewards: carrot, milestones, and the prize

What about de-motivation?

You de-motivate yourself when you do things you know are wrong. Your self-disappointment makes you feel worthless and you engage in negative self-talk. De-motivation may come from the outside but how you handle it comes from the inside. Smiling and being verbally positive can motivate. The proper books and tapes can motivate, so can worship, people and music. Greed is a de-motivator and robs us of godly contentment.

You Can’t Get Motivated Until You Know Your Motives

How can we be motivated as a Christian? What personally motivates you?

  • Guilt/Fear/Failure
  • Money/Materialism/Hedonism
  • Ministry – Service
  • Personal Spiritual Growth
  • Gratitude for God’s Grace
  • Enjoyable/Fun Activities
  • Accomplishment/Completed tasks
  • Motivating/Challenging others
  • The Godly Example of Others
  • The Golden Rule – Loving others
  • The Glory of God – Pleasing God

Putting Together a Strategic Plan

Discover God’s purpose for your life and an effective strategy to accomplish that purpose. You are where you are right now because of the choices you have already made. Deciding what is the most important thing: What is God’s will for my life? (Eph. 5:15-17) Reflecting on that question can save you an enormous amount of time and heartache. To accomplish great things, we must not only act but also dream, not only plan but also believe. Discerning a God-given vision is a key to proper direction as well as personal motivation. What did Solomon decide he wanted must out of life? What did He ask God for? Wisdom!

Understanding the decision making process. The more difficult the choice, the more time and attention it deserves and requires. Proverbs – “In the abundance of counsel there is safety.” Decisions and determination are the engineer and fireman of our train to opportunity and success. While your experience may influence your decisions, it doesn’t have to control them.

How do you determine which decisions take priority? Integrity – what have we promised God we would do? Make principled based decisions in advance when possible – you make better decisions that way. When one bases one’s life on biblical principles, most of our decisions are already made. When you ask for advice, seek godly counsel, listen carefully and write is down if necessary.

How to make good decisions: Think and Pray: Ask yourself:

  • How would I feel if this decision appeared in tomorrow’s paper?
  • What impact will this decision have on my spouse and children?
  • Am I compromising my integrity with this particular decision?
  • Is the decision consistent with biblical principles and personal goals?
  • Will the decision bring me closer to my primary objective in life?
  • Am I making this decision under the influence of those who have much to gain by this decision?
  • Are the people who are influencing me looking out for my or their best interests?

Consistency is a key. Conflicting philosophies, objectives, values and priorities is a recipe for disaster. Make sure that your decision fits your long-term objectives. Be willing to endure temporary pain for long-term gain. Weigh the benefits versus the risk of decisions. Depend upon your faith. The most important question to ask is: How does this decision line up with God’s Word? When you ask God for wisdom, you are asking Him for the ability to live skillfully. Nothing should take precedence over God and His will for your life. Prioritize your decisions. Doing the right thing always takes priority. Doing the right thing is always the right thing (decision).

Forming a plan of action to execute a decision: once you make a decision, you need a plan to implement the decision. While your decision is only as good as your best option, the ability to realize the results is only as good as your best plan (strategy). Keep in mind that even bad decisions can lead to good things if you follow up a bad decision with a good one.

Focusing On Needed Goals

Know where you are and where you want to go. If you don’t know where you want to go, you’ll probably end up somewhere you don’t want to be. Having a clear mental picture of the goal before you start is critically important. Your life can’t go according to plan if you don’t have a plan.

We all need to get a check up from the neck up from time to time (Psa. 139:23-24).

Make sure that you really want to become what you think about because you will. Proverbs says, “As a man thinks in his heart so is he.”

Setting goals gets you to first base. Developing an effective strategy to reach your goals gets you beyond first base. It’s not enough to be a goal setter; you must become a goal achiever – that requires an effective strategy.

A psychologist surveyed 3,000 people and asked, “What do you have to live for?” More than 90% were simply enduring the present and waiting for something to happen tomorrow; rather than proactively making it happen today. This survey can be summarized in one word: waste. What an incredible waste of time, talent, ability and potential.

Setting your priorities:

  1. Identify your goals.
  2. 24 hours later ask yourself why you chose each of them.
  3. If you can’t articulate why it is important, delete it from the list.
  4. Ask yourself these five questions:

Is it really my goal? Is it morally right and fair to everyone? Will it take me close to my long-ranger objective? Can I commit myself to start and reach this goal? Can I see myself reaching this goal?

  1. Give each goal this final test of eight basic wants in life:

Will it make me happier, healthier, and more prosperous, more secure, have more friends, give me peace of mind, improve my relationship with God and others, or increase my hope for the future?

When you know what your values are, making decisions becomes easier. Learn to cross your bridges before you come to them. Don’t be mentally lazy and procrastinate.

The heights of great men reached and kept

Were not obtained by sudden flight

But they while their companions slept

Were toiling upwards in the night.

Getting SMART About Your Goals

The S stands for specific. How will you know when it is achieved?

The M stands for measurable. You can measure activity/actions.

The A stands for attainable. Setting unattainable goals is self-defeating.

The R stands for realistic or reachable.

The T stands for timely or time-related. Setting a specific deadline for realizing the goal.

Identifying A Goal-Setting Process That Works:

  1. Set a goal that’s SMART
  2. Identify how you and others can benefit from the goal
  3. List the potential obstacles of barriers to accomplishing the goal
  4. Seek counsel and guidance
  5. Consider who can help you
  6. List the skills and knowledge required
  7. Develop a plan of action
  8. Set a deadline for achievement

Be Positive: Getting Started Toward Your Goals

Be positive that you need and want to achieve a specific goal. According the William James, the father of American psychology, the attitude that you have in approaching an objective is the single most important factor in determining whether or not you reach that objective. When we walk toward the light the shadows will always follow, but when we walk away from the light, the shadow is always in front of us. Whatever your objective, plan to win, prepare to win and then you can expect to win.

Make the best of what you have. Focus on what you can do, not what you can’t do. These are the tests of greatness: to bear up under loss, to fight the bitterness of defeat and the weakness of grief, to be victor over anger, to smile when tears are close, to resist disease and evil men and base instincts, to hate what is evil and love what is good, to go on when it would seem good to die, to always seek that God-given vision, to look up with unquenchable faith to something ever more about to be. These things any man can do and so be great.

Most people who are successful have encountered their share of failures. High hopes help people persevere in the midst of failure. We must develop a positive attitude if we would be successful. The attitude of gratitude is the key. Gratitude is not only the greatest virtue, but it is the parent to all others. It comes in response to God’s grace.

Some one said that success is 10% motivation and 90% perspiration:

The heights of great men reached and kept

Were not obtained by sudden flight.

But they, while their companions slept

Were toiling upward in the night.

Paul said in Colossians 3:23, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men.”

Appendix: You’re Not Making Progress – Now What?

Mountain tops inspire leaders, but valleys mature them. Understand that failure is an event, not a person. Failure isn’t who you are. Trials that don’t kill us can mature us if we face them with the proper attitude. People will go out of their way to fulfill their expectations of themselves. If you think you will fail you probably will, if you think you will succeed. You probably will. An attitude of enthusiasm has as much to do with success as any other variable. One enthusiastic flea is enough to worry a whole dog. If you maintain your enthusiasm, little things don’t inhibit your progress. Even big disappointments can’t squelch true enthusiasm. Whatever you do, don’t compromise your integrity. Integrity has to do with who you are; it encompasses your whole moral character and guarantees that you will do the right thing because it is right, not because it is expedient.

Keep looking for opportunities to serve God. They are everywhere; you just need to be on the look out for them. Forget those who say you can’t. Often their comments reveal more about them then they reveal about you. For example, Albert Einstein was considered mentally slow, Walt Disney was fired from his first job because he had no imagination. Thomas Edison was asked to leave school at age 9 because he was at the bottom of his class, Abraham Lincoln had the equivalent of three months of school and people ridiculed him for his appearance. You can measure IQ but you can’t measure “want to” You can measure the size of your head but you can’t measure the size of your heart. Doing things for others brings you greater happiness and success. Doing things for others frees your mind to think about things other than your own problems.

Understand the awesome power of forgiveness. Lack of forgiveness results in anger and bitterness and you can’t be truly successful as long as you remain angry and bitter. Anger and bitterness is not exactly the prescription for healthy interpersonal relationships. Each time you fail to forgive you are making an unconscious decision to shorten your life. What poison is to the body, bitterness is to the soul and when we fail to forgive, we poison our own soul. Forgiveness is essential for our own growth and success.

Realize that words make a difference. Words can be the determining factor in whether you feel encouraged or discouraged, inspired or dejected. Words can tear you down and they can build you up. Next to God’s Word, your self-talk is the key to you keeping properly motivated. For ill or for good, your conversation is your advertisement. Every time you open your mouth, your let others look into your heart. What do they see? Use inspiring, encouraging and helpful words with a kind and gentle voice and you will build up other people. The most important word is you; the least important word is me.

Mistakes can be springboards of accomplishment. It would be wonderful if we could avoid mistakes altogether but that would be unrealistic. One of the best things we can do when we make mistakes is to learn from them so that we do not have to repeat them. Don’t let a mistake depress or discourage you. Admit your mistake. He would covers his sin will not prosper. Understand that when you confront your mistakes, you can take full advantage of them as the positive experiences they can be. The good news is not only is their forgiveness from God for our short comings but God is more interested in where we are going than where we have been. Please be patient with yourself because God is not finished with you yet (Phil. 1:6; Eph. 2:10).

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