Upside Down Success



I’ve been thinking a lot about success lately.

I started blogging about nine months ago and I wasn’t sure where the Lord would take me with it.

Since then I’ve read numerous books and articles about writing, blogging, using social media and publishing. Everyone talks about how to be more successful. How to build a bigger subscriber base. How to become famous.

I struggle with that.

I struggle not because I don’t want to be famous, successful, or well-regarded. On the contrary, I want all those things. But I want to look humble when I get them.

I don’t want to look like I worked to become famous. I want it to look like I was humbly obeying God in my own little obscure corner and then surprisingly, naturally, even organically, people discovered me.

It sounds so shallow and deceitful when I write it. And it is. But it’s also the ugly truth.

I want people to read my blog or my articles and appreciate what I say. I want recognition. All too much.

It seems everywhere I turn, people are telling me it’s okay to pursue success. It’s okay to want acclaim and go after it. Overtly or subtly. But go after it nonetheless.

Success is defined by increase. Earning more money, having a nicer house, getting more blog subscribers.

Success always means having more than we had before.

Isn’t that what we all want? Isn’t that what we work for? And wait for?

But that is not the way of the cross. Jesus says that no one born of woman is greater than John the Baptist. And John the Baptist saw that his only role was to point to Christ. He said, “He must increase, while I must decrease.”

No one says they want to decrease nowadays. No one even thinks it.

I certainly don’t.

Jesus wants us to serve from a place of success, right? He wants us to succeed so we can look attractive to the world.  We have a message that the world needs to hear, and it can’t hear it if we live in obscurity. Isn’t that how we justify our self-promotion?

It’s how I justify mine.

I have been haunted ever since I read a quote by Shaun Groves in Emily Freeman’s book A Million Little Ways. In it she quotes his blog post on downward mobility where he says:

From more to less. Served to service. From honor to degradation. From eternal to time-bound. God to flesh. Heaven to earth.

Is it possible that the descending way of Jesus might be God’s way for me?

I’m thankful for the Josephs who govern from pharaoh’s side for the good of the masses, for the Esthers who influence the influencers and change the trajectory of history.

But where are those people called by God to step down, leave behind, earn less, influence fewer, to follow? Does God only call His Son to downward mobility? Or does God call me downward too and I fail to recognize His voice because it sounds too backward?

Forward or backward. Up or down. More or less. Follow.

 Even as I read this again, I am humbled. Deeply.

I don’t want downward mobility. I don’t want to step down… Earn less or influence fewer. I want to keep moving upward.

And yet downward mobility seems strangely like the way of the cross. To humble myself. To be empty so that God can fill me. Because God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise.

To even consider downward mobility, I need to redefine success. Success to Christians is otherworldly. It should have little to do with what others think of us, and everything to do with what God thinks.

Mother Teresa put it this way, “God does not call us to be successful. He calls us to be faithful.”

When Satan tempted Jesus, he took him atop one of the highest mountains and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. Satan said they belonged to him and Jesus did not contradict that statement.

It’s not that worldly success is ungodly. Or that we all need to strive for downward mobility. But perhaps we need to be content with it, if that’s where the Lord has us. Perhaps we shouldn’t feel that lack of worldly success signifies failure.

Perhaps we should relinquish our rights for the future. Lay them down. Let Jesus dictate our direction.

I’m not sure how this should look for me, or for you. It could be taking a pay cut for a job that you feel called to. Or turning down a promotion if it will negatively affect your family. Or downsizing, or reducing your budget or getting by with less.

Or maybe for you, it’s the opposite. Perhaps it is accepting success if God gives it you and not running from it.

For me, I don’t know how this mindset should affect me regarding leveraging social media, establishing a platform and increasing my reach. None of those things are inherently wrong. What determines whether they are wrong is my motivation. My goal. My heart.

The problem is that my heart is wicked and deceitful above all things. I certainly can never know it. And I cannot assume my motives are even remotely pure.

I need to listen to the One who knows my heart and loves me extravagantly. He alone knows what is best for me. He alone can dictate my success. He alone can show me what is important.

I need to be willing to give up what I’m tightly clinging to. To subordinate my will to God’s will. To relinquish my picture of success.

Perhaps instead of striving for upward mobility, or nobly accepting downward mobility, I need to desire Godward mobility.

Godward mobility is moving in the direction that the Lord directs. It requires earnest prayer. Listening for God’s voice. Waiting. Dying to self.

Each of us must recognize our own sin predisposition- whether it be towards fame or towards comfort. We must be willing to accept any answer from God, even those that we don’t want and that don’t fit in with our plans.

Charles Wesley’s prayer describes this heart attitude well:

I am no longer my own, but yours.

Put me to what you will, rank me with whom you will;

Put me to doing, put me to suffering;

Let me be employed for you, or laid aside for you,

Exalted for you, or brought low for you;

Let me be full,

Let me be empty,

Let me have all things,

Let me have nothing:

I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things

To your pleasure and disposal.

 For me, ‘being laid aside for God’, ‘being empty’ and ‘having nothing’ all sound painful. And God may or may not call me to those things.

But if He does, I can be assured that they are the very best for me.

I am convinced that doing whatever God calls me to do, guarantees I’ll be successful.

In the things that really matter, that is.




photo courtesy of Jonathan Davidar

  • October 3, 2014 - 7:08 pm

    Erika - Thank you so much for this post, Vaneetha! It was exactly what I needed to hear. I’m at a crossroads, and this will help me make the decision I’ve been praying about.ReplyCancel

  • October 5, 2014 - 7:15 pm

    Rob - I am speechless.
    To live with that heart and mind and spirit would be a blessing. My only question is that while waiting, and praying and listening, what do I do? While waiting for direction I work hard, which in turn fuels my drive to succeed. Hampster on a wheelReplyCancel

    • October 5, 2014 - 7:37 pm

      Vaneetha - Its so hard to get away from, isn’t it? It’s a trap I fall into over and over. When I feel like that hamster, I beg God to change my heart because I cannot will to do it myself… I’m thankful for grace.ReplyCancel

  • October 9, 2014 - 11:30 am

    Paul - You’ve written a much needed balanced perspective. In today’s cultures, success, the pursuit of more recognition, more income, more influence, etc is showered upon us by all media and most measure success that way. You are correct in saying that our success as believers is measured in obedience to God’s will. “To obey is better than sacrifice” and Yeshua said that He only said what Abba Father gave Him to say, He only did what He saw His (our) Abba Father, doing and that He was incarnate to do the will of Abba who sent Him. It may be that Abba will elevate as He did to Esther, David, Moses, Abraham, and others. First, however, He has to bring us to the point of humble submission and obedience, so that we will depend on Him, and lean not on our own understanding. The fruit of the Spirit is the character of Yeshua, that Abba wants manifested in us. We all have to come to the point Yeshua exemplified in Gethsemane when He said, “nevertheless not My will by Your will be done”. It’s not that He hadn’t been doing Abba’s will to that point but at that point of the most difficult trial, He had to submit at great personal cost of which He was well aware, in order that the will of the Father would be done, and salvation made possible for mankind.ReplyCancel

    • October 9, 2014 - 2:48 pm

      Vaneetha - A great reminder, Paul. Thank you for sharing that.ReplyCancel

  • October 10, 2014 - 9:26 pm

    Jenny - I found this site by accident , love your “real world ” comments” about success . This gives me a new perspective on how to view my situation when I am faced with promotion or demotion. Thanks for the well thought through reflectionsReplyCancel

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