Commit your actions to the Lord, and your plans will succeed. Proverbs 16:3 (NLT)
This is a topic that has always interested me. How do you define success? Is it a matter of your accomplishments in your job, your profession? Is it tied to your family – being a successful parent, sibling or parent? Or, for those rare few, is it a product of achieving a championship in your sport?
You might ask the coach of the University of Clemson football team what he thinks about success. You see, Clemson was the underdog (at least to everyone else), when they played the University of Alabama for the National Championship last week.
They won the game in the last second. Literally. Deshaun Watson, the Clemson quarterback, completed a pass to Tucker Renfrow in the end zone for the winning touchdown with 1 second left on the game clock to win the game 35 to 31.
But listening to Davo Swinney, the Clemson coach, before the game, I was struck by one thing he told his players: “Let the light inside you be brighter than the light that shines on you on the outside.” When I repeated what he said afterwards to my wife, she said “there’s a post in that statement.” She was right.
The Clemson story gets better when you learn about Davo’s humble upbringing. He was the product of a broken home: an alcoholic father, and his family lost their home in foreclosure when he was a teenager. When in college, his mother had no other place to live so she moved in with her son and they shared a bedroom in a tiny apartment with another student when he was in college.
For most young men in college, it’s a time to enjoy life. But not for Davo. He was a walk-on on the Alabama football team and earned a scholarship after two years. After college, he ended up in the coaching profession. His outspoken faith got him in a controversy in 2014 when an anti-Christian Foundation wrote Clemson University to complain that Swinney’s open Christianity with the football team at a public university was unconstitutional.
I won’t go into the legal aspects of the charges in the letter, but this is a time when public Universities are quick to bow to any pressure about embracing Christianity. But not Clemson. To their credit, they backed Swinney. When asked about it, Swinney said “We weren’t doing anything (wrong). Ain’t nothing to change.”
I’ve heard it said that sometimes good guys win. But winning the National Championship wasn’t everything to Davo Swinney. Building character into his players was just as important. He is a remarkable example of not just being successful, but being significant in God’s eyes.
I was listening to a song by Francesca Battistelli entitled He Knows My Name. The lyrics are a perfect expression of the theme of this post: “I don’t need my name in lights, I’m famous in my Father’s eyes. [….] I’m not living for applause, I’m already so adored.”
You see, success here on earth is just one aspect of your life. In my professional life, I achieved some remarkable milestones and received peer recognition by being listed in Super Lawyers, Best Lawyers in America, and North Carolina’s Legal Elite, among others. Only a small percentage in my profession achieve those lists. For example, only 3% of North Carolina lawyers are selected to the annual North Carolina Legal Elite list.
Ironically, I still get emails from Martindale Hubbell, another national peer rating list, telling me that I have again achieved their highest rating (AV) for 2017. The only problem? I retired in 2013. It makes me chuckle. I might still be getting their award after I am dead, too, but I doubt I can get my emails in heaven so I may never know for sure.
As I look backwards over my legal career, I don’t dwell on those accomplishments. I am more proud of my achievements as a person in providing services to my clients and how I related to my peers and everyone I worked with. I tried to make being a “Christian lawyer” not be an oxymoron.
Part of my thinking was shaped by Half Time: Moving from Success to Significance written by Bob Buford in 1997. Buford wrote a sequel to the book in 2016 entitled Beyond Half Time. Buford aimed the book at those that have achieved success in their careers, but felt that they wanted more. They wanted to replace success with significance – finding some way to take their Christian faith and make a difference in other people’s lives.
Buford’s books have been best sellers. Why is that? Well, I can only look at my own experience to provide an answer. You see, I learned that professional accolades and accomplishments go only so far to fill one’s need to be successful in God’s eyes. Ten years from now, the players on the Clemson team will feel the same way. Oh, yes, they will be proud of their Championship on the field, but you can’t live in the past.
For many who have achieved success in the world’s eyes, they realize that the accolades are fleeting. They don’t last and have no eternal significance. As the new testament tells us, those trophies will only rust away.
My retirement was the start of my “Half-Time”. Not that I have an equal amount of years left, but I have tried to devote them in ways that have eternal significance by mentoring young men and doing leadership training of pastors around the world through MentorLink. I am investing in lives of men and women, each of them at different points in their lives.
I cannot predict the outcomes of my investments. Unlike a portfolio of public stocks where you can look at what price the stock is trading on the internet, the “market” value and returns on my investment can’t be seen or priced like a stock.
All I can see is that I am providing input and acting as a sounding board to each of my mentees as they face the daily challenges of life. I used to get paid for my legal advice. Now I get to watch God work in my mentee’s lives which is more valuable than money to me.
The challenge here is to look at your job – your occupation or profession – as an opportunity to serve others – your clients, your customers and your colleagues at work. Being successful is fine, but leaving a lasting imprint of Christ on the lives of others is more important. It is letting the light within you shine bright. It has eternal significance.
If you are already successful or facing retirement, spend time with others talking about what you could do to have significance in this world. Oh, and I would be remiss in not suggesting that you consider mentoring. It is badly needed by the next generation.
FURTHER STUDY: Read the complete story (before the game) of Davo Swinney in the National Review. http://www.nationalreview.com/article/429571/coach-dabo-swinneys-christian-faith-he-wont-hide-it
Bob Buford’s Books are available on Amazon: Half Time and Beyond Half Time: https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_c_1_9?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=half+time&sprefix=half+time%2Caps%2C266&crid=PWYX1Y7A6TSP
WORSHIP: Join Matt Francesca Battistelli sing she sings “He Knows My Name”
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