Recently, journalist Mark Colvin died. I, like many thousands of Australians had listened to him on PM for as long as I could remember, but I knew very little about him as a person. In the days following his death I read and listened to the stories told by his fellow ABC reporters and other friends of a man of outstanding intellect with immense breadth and journalistic expertise. But this was not the most prominent way in which he was remembered. Instead, almost every account highlighted Mark’s kindness, generosity, concern and care towards all those he encountered. While they admired his intellect, their lives had been profoundly touched by his acts of kindness and grace and it was this that would be an enduring legacy.
Mark Colvin was not a Christian (that I am aware) but his life challenges our current Christian conceptions of a fruitful/successful life. In examining my own concepts and in my interactions with other Christians I am aware that we have drifted from the biblical basis of assessing our lives. We have imbibed, as can be expected, a large dose of Western cultural thinking where success is equated with visible, tangible, laudable achievements that will result in a happy life.
Grown your church? – tick. Invited to speak at conferences? – tick. Paid your mortgage off? – tick. Raised your social media profile? – tick. Networked nationally and internationally? – tick. Constantly travelling? – tick. Proudly “too busy”? – tick. Available only via your PA? – tick. Written a best-seller telling others how to be like you? – tick. The list is endless.
There is nothing wrong with any of these achievements but, for the Christian, they are ultimately not the hallmarks of a fruitful or successful life. Jesus did not tell Peter that he would be a great apostle but rather that he would die as a witness to the gospel. Jesus did not promise he would reward those who were meeting the cultural criteria of success, rather he exhorted his followers to lead lives of courage, kindness and faithfulness. Jesus did not call all to prominence but he did call all to fruitfulness.
Too often I meet Christian leaders who are exhausted from trying to be seen as successful in the eyes of their Christian peers. They are unhappy, driven, over-busy, worried, disconnected, anxious and unhealthy. At the same time, they are telling others how to live a God-pleasing life, how to keep a work-life balance, how to be counter-cultural witnesses to their neighbours.
I read recently
“Surveys show that most young adults believe that obtaining wealth and fame are keys to a happy life. But a long-running study out of Harvard suggests that one of the most important predictors of whether you age well and live a long and happy life is not the amount of money you amass or notoriety you receive. A much more important barometer of long term health and well-being is the strength of your relationships with family, friends and spouses. “
In 200 years no one will know my name except perhaps a descendant who is an amateur genealogist. No one will know or care if I was a “success” in eyes of my peers. There will be no statues or public holidays dedicated to me. But perhaps, like Mark Colvin, when I die there will be people ready to tell stories of my kindness, courage and faithfulness. It may only be my children and grandchildren telling those stories but that will be the marks of a fruitful life in service to my Jesus.
Dr Cheryl McCallum
Principal of Eastern College Australia