Succeed at What Matters

Are you succeeding at the things that matter most? It’s been said that if we try to do too many things, we won’t do anything well. We can only do a limited amount of things really well.

The Apostle Paul, who was mightily used of God in bringing many to saving faith in Christ throughout the Roman empire, was totally committed to fulfilling His calling as an Apostle of Jesus Christ to the glory of His name. After explaining in the introduction of his letter to the Church in Rome that he was called by Jesus Christ to be an Apostle, Paul continued:

“First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world. For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I mention you always in my prayers, asking that somehow by God’s will I may now at last succeed in coming to you.” Romans 1:8-10

The great missionary to India, William Carey, who is known as the “father of modern missions” once said: “I’m not afraid of failure; I’m afraid of succeeding at things that don’t matter.”

When Carey talked about not being afraid of failure, he didn’t mean, for example, that if in his missionary endeavors, he saw no converts, that he would be a failure. Rather, no matter what opposition, obstacles or hinderance he faced, he would not be deterred. While preaching a sermon from Isaiah 54 calling for the transmission of the gospel overseas, Carey encouraged his hearers to “Expect great things. Attempt great things” (Read more about Carey here.)

Traveling to India in the 18th century as a pioneer to spread the gospel among the heathen was attempting a great thing. What’s more, his prayerful expectation was to see many coming to Christ. However, seven years past, during which Carey experienced great hardship including the loss of his 5 year old son to illness, before he saw his first convert. Although Carey expected great things because He knew he served a great God, his greater focus was on being faithful to the great commission, namely to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:18-20).

Jesus didn’t give a time frame for when His orders were to be fulfilled. Therefore Carey was determined to remain faithful to the work and leave the results to God. To men like William Carey and the Apostle Paul, “Staying faithful to what God calls you to do is what success is all about.”

While meditating on Paul’s words in Romans 1:5, I was struck not only by what Paul wanted to “succeed” at, namely to make it to Rome for the sake of gospel, but that he made this endeavor a matter of constant prayer. He wrote: “…without ceasing I mention you always in my prayers, asking that somehow by God’s will I may now at last succeed in coming to you.”

What do we pray about the most? Those who succeed at what matters most, pray mostly about the things that matter most. This is not to discourage us about praying about lesser things. If you’re going on vacation, pray about arriving safely. God hears those prayers. But pray also that while you’re on vacation that you would be reinvigorated so that you could continue the work that God has called you to do. Expect God to do great things while you’re on vacation and keep your spiritual eyes open so that you don’t miss a divine opportunity.

I appreciate what Tim Challies wrote in an article about succeeding at the things that matter:

“There are a lot of things in life we could do, there are a lot of things in life we could succeed at, but we come to realize there are very few that actually matter. There are very few that will make a difference to the world and to the people we care about. We know it would be tragic to look back on life and see that we had succeeded at all kinds of lesser things but we had failed at the greater things…What does it matter if you become CEO but lose your family? What does it matter if you win the gold medal but lose your wife? Or like Jesus said: What does it matter if you gain the whole world but lose your soul (Matthew 16:26)? We are so bad at making these assessments. We are so tempted to throw away all the big things to succeed at the lesser things. But we can’t deny it: Succeeding at lesser things at the cost of the greater things is the worst form of failure.” 

Again, the Apostle Paul wanted to succeed at the things that mattered most, therefore he prayed constantly about what mattered most. He understood that in Christ we have access to all the grace and gifts that we need to fulfill all that we are called to do and be all that we are called to be.

Notice that in addition to thanking God for the faith of the believers in Rome, Paul wrote:

“For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you— that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine.” Romans 1:11-12

Why did Paul pray that he would succeed at making it to Rome? He wanted to impart some spiritual gift. That is, he wanted to strengthen the faith of the believers in Rome through the revelations that he received from the Lord. Moreover, he also needed to be encouraged by their faith. And the end goal was for the gospel to continue to spread.

When our eyes are open to the riches we have in Christ, we understand that “succeeding at lesser things at the cost of the greater things is the worst form of failure.” The solution is the art of productivity rightly defined by the word of God.

“Scripture defined productivity helps us identify and pursue those very few things God means for us to succeed at and helps us avoid the million-and-one lesser things that matter so much less. Or, at least, it helps us put those million-and-one lesser things in their proper place.” Tim Challies 

What is productivity rightly defined? This biblical definition by Tim Challies hits the mark:

“Productivity is effectively stewarding your gifts, talents, time, energy, and enthusiasm for the good of others and the glory of God.” 

What matters most in life, what matters most in the universe, what matters most to God, is the glory of God. God calls us to bring glory to him in every way we can in every area of life and especially by doing good to others (see, for example, Matthew 5:16).

Now, if succeeding at lesser things at the cost of the greater things is the worst form of failure, what may we need to confess to the Lord and surrender to Him? Do you want to succeed at what matters most? If so, you must remember that the greater things in life have to do with looking out for the interests of others and not just your own interests (Philippians 2:3-4). Jesus said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”

“Do you want to succeed at life’s greater things? Then direct your life toward glorifying God by loving others. Take everything you are and everything you’ve got and deliberately direct it at doing good to others so God can receive the glory.” Tim Challies 

Who is God sending you to (Romans 1:5)? None of us hold the office of an Apostle today, but what the word "apostle" generically means, "sent one," is true of all believers. Who is God sending you to? Make this calling a constant matter of prayer. Pray, “Lord, grant me wisdom, strength, and attentiveness to be an encouragement and a blessing to _________ (name a person or group of people like your co-worker or neighbors)."

Concerning his God-given determination to go to Rome, Paul wrote:

“I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that I have often intended to come to you (but thus far have been prevented), in order that I may reap some harvest among you as well as among the rest of the Gentiles.” Romans 1:13

Keep in mind that when you make it your constant prayer and aim to succeed at what matters most, there will be opposition and obstacles. Paul was falsely accused by religious leaders and ended up imprisoned by Roman authorities. While on trial, he appealed to have his case brought before the emperor. As a result, Paul was brought to Rome under Roman guard and at the expense of Rome. It was a rollercoaster journey but the Lord was with Him every step of the way (Acts 23:11). Despite all the seeming hindrances, Paul made it there.

Knowing that there will be obstacles and opposition when we set out to succeed at what matters most, pray, “Lord, in my pursuit of succeeding at what matters most, help me to overcome the hindrance of ______ (what are you facing) for the good of others and to the glory of your name."

As Paul also wrote:

“And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” Galatians 6:9

Be faithful and trust God for the results,
Pastor Marco