We know what success looks like. Successful people have steady careers, impressive incomes, stylish clothes, fancy cars, and accomplished children. Successful people take extravagant vacations, enjoy expensive hobbies, and cultivate the right circle of influential friends. We live in an age awash with opportunities to broadcast our successes, and many of us take every opportunity to do so.
Every good moment in our lives is faithfully, sometimes painstakingly, chronicled on Facebook, Twitter, Instragram, or even our own personal website. We invest tremendous time and energy carefully curating the best versions of our online selves. We don’t want to look like we’re boasting, though, so our postings are finely tuned to include just the right amount of self-deprecation. The tendency to post only the best moments of our lives combined with our social inclination to not appear too self-centered has become so ubiquitous that we’ve coined a new word for the phenomenon; we call it humblebragging.
In the present age of social media we can fall into some dangerous comparison traps. We end up comparing our ordinary lives in all their messy detail to the polished, curated, shaped and well-presented lives of others and come to the conclusion that other people are happier, more adventurous, more successful and ultimately more significant than we are. But are they? And should we equate success with significance as easily or as often as we do?
Let’s start with a clear answer. Accumulation and consumption do NOT equal significance. And when we say we want to be happy and satisfied in life, we are not ultimately looking for success, we are looking for significance. We want to know that our lives matter, that we’re living with real purpose and impact. No amount of treasures and toys can fill the emptiness of insignificance. Our significance is NOT measured by how much stuff we have or how many beach vacation selfies we can post online.
So what does real significance look like and how do we move toward it? Here are 5 biblical steps to help you move from success to significance.
1. Embrace the mystery of God.
If we believe that God is alive and active in the world then we must be open to the times when God breaks into our ordinary lives in extraordinary ways. Isaiah’s road to significance began with his willingness to embrace a mystical experience (Isaiah 6). So did Paul’s (Acts 22). So did Jeremiah’s (Jeremiah 1). So did Abraham’s (Genesis 15). So did Moses’ (Exodus 3). So did Peter’s (Acts 10). You get the idea.
Our roads to significance begin with holy experiences. Believe in a God that is bigger than your five senses, a God who transcends your ability to understand Him.
2. Listen and seek to understand God’s calling on your life.
Significance in this life is rooted in faithfulness to a larger reality. God calls specific people to specific tasks; God has a specific plan and purpose for you. Our biblical examples (listed above) felt God’s call and sought to understand it by questioning, and finding clarity in God's answers chose to follow God’s direction for their lives. Much of what God led them to wouldn’t make much sense--or any sense at all--if their only goal was worldly success, but in following God’s design they each achieved lasting significance.
3. Prepare for significance through purification.
Our biblical examples of significance all underwent some process of purification. From Isaiah’s unclean lips purified by fire to Paul’s baptism to humble confessions before God, we all must be willing to leave our past selves behind to become the significant selves God calls us to be. God doesn’t need perfect people to accomplish significant work in the world—far from it—but God will not leave you as you are if you choose to partner in holy endeavors. A season of purification is a necessary step toward eternal significance.
4. Expect God to prepare you for your specific task.
God uses training, partnerships, abilities, and life experiences to prepare us for significant work. Often before we even realize it God is preparing us, creating connections and opportunities, and crafting vision and ambition that will be used—if we choose—for Kingdom purposes. Moses was raised by a princess so he would know how to speak to a king. Even after we experience and understand God’s call, God continues to prepare us. Paul was more than a decade removed from the Damascus road before he wrote his first letter. Be sensitive to how God is preparing you. And be sensitive to how God is preparing others.
5. Be prepared for God’s repeated assurance as you embark on a significant life.
God does not leave us to wonder if we’re on the right track or force us to guess if God is with us in our work. One of the most repeated biblical phrases at the outset of significant journeys comes from the mouth of God, “I will be with you.” God will be with you, too. Significant work is accompanied by the repeated assurances of a partnering God.
The ever-present assurance of a God who partners with me in my life and work? If you ask me, that sounds an awful lot like success.