Redefining Success

Part one of an eleven-part series on “Habits of Highly Successful People”

By Kevin Riggs

Two Kentucky farmers owned racing stables and developed a keen rivalry. One spring each entered a horse in the local steeplechase.  Thinking that a professional rider might help, one of the farmers hired a world-class jockey. On the day of the race the two horses were neck and neck with a large lead over the rest of the pack at the last fence, but suddenly both fell, unseating their riders. The professional jockey remounted quickly and rode on to win the race.

Returning triumphantly to the paddock, the jockey found the farmer who had hired him fuming with rage. “What’s the matter?” the jockey asked. “I won, didn’t I?’

“Oh, yeah,” roared the farmer. “You won all right, but you crossed the finish line on the wrong horse.”

Everyone is in a race to be successful. Sadly, once they cross the finish line, many will realize they were riding the wrong horse. Is striving for success wrong? Absolutely not! But there is a right kind of success and a wrong kind. I have not always felt that way, but over time I learned to redefine the meaning of success. The Ten Commandments were my teacher.

God’s Covenant with His People

For all intents, the people of Israel were failures. They were slaves to the Egyptian government with no rights of their own. They were despised by the Egyptians and had no social or economic standing of their own. They were considered the lowest of the low the poorest of the poor.

God, however, saw things differently. In an incredible display of love, mercy and grace, God called Moses and equipped him for the task of freeing Israel from bondage. Miraculously, after hundreds of years in slavery Israel was set free.

For three months the Israelites traveled, and every day they saw the hand of the Lord provide. Even though they had nothing they could call their own, no idea where they were going and an uncertain future, for the first time in centuries they were beginning to experience success.

After weeks of traveling, they came to Mount Sinai and “pitched (their tents) in the wilderness; and there Israel camped before the mount.” Mount Sinai was a rugged, barren desert mountain reaching 7,500 feet at the summit.  At the base of the mountain was a broad plain on which Israel camped. God called Moses up the mountain and from the mountain gave him the Ten Commandments.

Exodus 19 is the turning point of the Old Testament. Here, God speaks to Moses and enters into a covenant relationship with His people. It is here that God defines success.

Redefining Success

God said to Moses, “Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine: And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel.”

For me, success would be hearing God say, “Then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me . . . and ye shall be unto me a kingdom of Priests, and an holy nation.”

If that is true, then the secret to success is obeying God and keeping His covenant. Success is not measured in terms of how much I gain or lose. Success is not measured by my accomplishments. Success is measured in terms of my relationship with God and my obedience to Him.

When this realization came to me, I admit I struggled. Did this definition put too much weight on the Commandments? After all, I am no longer under the law but under grace. I don’t have to obey the Commandments to be a Christian, do I?

Then it dawned on me; God’s Covenant (spelled out by the Ten Commandments) was not given as steps to become a follower of God. Instead, they were given to those who were already His followers as a sign that they were His followers. We who are saved keep the Commandments, not as our attempt to choose God, but because God, through Jesus Christ has already chosen us.

Out of these Ten Commandments flow the other 600-plus laws in the Old Testament. The apostle Paul said the law was given “to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come we are no longer under a schoolmaster.”

The original ten declarations of God’s Covenant with His people are still valid and relevant today. If I obey them I will be a success. If I break them, I set myself up for failure.

How to Be a Success

When I am at my lowest point and when I am at my highest point, I remind myself that success is measured in terms of my relationship with God. This means that success requires me to commit to three things.

The first commitment is to take God up on His Covenant. In the Old Testament a “covenant” was an agreement between two unequal parties in which the stronger party obligated himself to the weaker party through a promise.

What this means to me is that God—the party of the stronger part, has obligated Himself to me—the party of the weaker part, through His Promise of Jesus Christ.

The day I placed my faith in Jesus, my sins were forgiven and I received abundant life on this earth as well as eternal life in heaven. This, however, was the beginning, not the end of my journey toward success.

The second commitment I need to make is to engrave the Commandments on my heart in the same way God engraved them on stone for Moses. The condition of my salvation was faith in Jesus Christ. The condition of my success will be obedience to God by keeping His Covenant–the Ten Commandments.

In a sense, the Ten Commandments were a piece of paper that God and Israel signed to represent their covenant to one another. What’s so important about a piece of paper?

The Declaration of Independence is just a piece of paper, but the original is kept in a helium-filled bronze case in the Library of Congress. At a moment’s notice it can be lowered into a fireproof, shockproof safe. What’s so important about this piece of paper? It represents our freedom as a country!

Likewise, the Ten Commandments are our declaration of independence. The Israelites were no longer slaves to the Egyptians; they were sons and daughters of God. Through Jesus Christ I am no longer a slave to sin, but a child of God. God’s Commandments do not enslave me; rather, they give me complete liberty.

My birth certificate is just a piece of paper, but I have one safely tucked away in my top drawer. My birth certificate establishes my rights as a United States citizen, and it gives me my identity. Likewise, the Ten Commandments identify who I am and whose I am. I am God’s treasured possession; I am a part of His kingdom of priests and His holy nation.

Under no circumstance would I ever refer to my marriage certificate as just a piece of paper. That single piece of paper signifies all the thousands of details involved in two people sharing life together. My marriage license symbolizes intimacy with my wife.

More than anything else, the Ten Commandments—piece of tablet—tells me God desires a personal, intimate relationship with me. He cares about me. He cares about how I treat others, how I treat myself and how I treat Him. He loves me and cares about my success. He wants to know me and wants me to know Him. If I want to be a success, I need to engrave the Ten Commandments into the stone tablet of my life.

Third, I must make a commitment to never look back and never compromise. Many times the difference between success and failure is that success gets up one more time. Success keeps going and keeps believing. Success doesn’t fall for the relativism of today. Success recognizes there are at least ten absolutes in life.

For me, I have redefined success to be hearing Jesus say, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.” Success is measured in terms of my relationship with God. My relationship with Him is the only thing that will outlast this life.

At times I have been like that jockey riding the wrong horse to victory for the wrong guy. I have repented, and God in His grace has forgiven me and given me a new start on a fresh horse. Now I know that by taking God up on His Covenant, engraving the Commandments into my life and never looking back or compromising, I will be successful.

But that’s just me. What about you? How do you define success?

Article adapted from Contactmagazine, January 2002.