Redefining Success

We lugged our chairs and the sun umbrella down to the shoreline with our books in hand, ready to read silently together (because, when you have been married for 13 years, and become comfortable in your skin, this defines an ideal date). I buried my feet in the  sand and glanced up to watch the waves before diving into the pages. But I never got to the book.

Surf school had my undivided attention for the remainder of our hour at the beach.

It was not the neon rash guards the students were wearing, though those most certainly draw attention. It was not said party’s incredible talent at riding the waves.  It was not even the proud parents who were fully clothed and wearing sneakers attempting to take action shots of their would-be surfers.

It was one particular surf coach who arrested my attention.  After carrying the bulky  board down the beach for her teenage student, both got into the white water. Every few minutes,  the student would get up on the board and ride a tiny wave onto the shore.  I honestly did not watch the surfer because my gaze was glued on the elated coach.

With every tiny wave the student caught, the coach would thrust both of her fists into the air as if she had just won an Olympic gold or the lottery. It was not a feigned or false excitement. It was her guttural, reflexive response to the success of her student.

I wondered at the beauty of the scene. A coach more elated at the small successes of her pupil than even the pupil herself.  Certainly,  this surf coach could be out in the deep waters, catching the uncharacteristically large waves that were churning that day. She clearly knew how to surf, and, as such, she could have been enjoying the wave herself.

Yet, here she was, wildly celebrating a newbie surfer in the shallows.

I kept watching, wondering if she would remain as excited throughout the lesson. Sure enough, every wave caught left the coach smiling from ear to ear with pride.


My husband and I spent the remaining minutes discussing the beauty of someone attaching their own success to the success of another. As those who disciple a staff team of twenty-somethings, we have had to learn to make the success of others our success. If they begin to learn their gifts and their unique contribution to the kingdom of God, if they find the lane in which they have been called to run the race marked out for them, we are successful.

I wish I could say I was always like the surf coach.  But celebrating the success of others is not natural to my flesh, nor is it celebrated in our get-your-own culture. If it were, teachers would be our celebrities, but, alas, they are not.

Left to ourselves, we (and I don’t mean the royal “we”) tend to measure success by our own moments in the spotlight, our trophies, and our individual triumphs.

But what if we defined success biblically? Then, success might look more like service and seeking the welfare of another above our own. My success as a disciple-maker does not always look like me getting to exercise and strengthen my natural gifts. It often looks like staying put and doing the same thing over and over again in the lives of new people. Rather than crushing it on the waves, God has called me to coach others in the white water. That means that their success, their learning to walk with God and share Him with others, their discovering their own gifts, is to become my success.

When he was on the earth, Christ could have done a number of things successfully. He was, after all, the God-Man. Yet, he poured himself into the lives of twelve men. He trained them, coached them, corrected them, and cared for them. Before he even went to the cross, when he was praying what has become known as the high priestly prayer,  Christ said something profound.

“I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do.” John 17:4.

Part of Jesus’ work on earth was to develop the disciples who would become God’s chosen instruments to bring the news of the life, death and resurrection of Christ to the world. He attached the success of his mission to his faithfulness in pouring into those men.

May we learn to do the same, no matter what the arena of our coaching and training.

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