How Do You Measure Success?

Today I am writing even more than usual as an old man. That’s another way of confessing that I have been reminiscing. It’s David’s fault. While reading through the Psalms the other day I overheard him speaking to himself.

Praise the LORD, O my soul;
All my inmost being, praise his holy name.
Praise the LORD, O my soul,
And forget not all is benefits
(Psalm 103:1,2)

That last line set my mind in motion, reflecting upon God’s blessing these past three quarters of a century. The list of benefits—though I’m sure I only remember a fraction—was very long. Life has been good. Yes, I’ve had my share of pain, too—and much of it resulting from my own poor choices. But God has shown me His grace in the lows as well as the many highs.

I reflected upon our family of two sons, five grandkids and one great grandson. Fifty plus years of Christian ministry brims over with great memories made in four churches in Ohio and Oregon. I have enjoyed mission trips loaded with timely provisions from God—and far too many to justify as coincidence.

In the voyage through the winding backroads of memory, I recalled listening to an old 33 rpm record that my father had. (Those old forgotten vinyl discs seem to be popping up all over the place again. Perhaps we all have a reflective side.)

That particular record wasn’t the usual collection of songs; it contained excerpts from sermons preached by well known, godly preachers and evangelists from previous generations. I used to love listening to these men. Most of them I had never heard of, but something about them seemed to resonate in my pre-adolescent heart. Perhaps it was God planting a small seed that would germinate into His call on my life.

This record from the 50s included voices from men as far back as D. L. Moody. Moody was an evangelist in the last few decades of the 19th century, so his voice may have been recorded on one of Edison’s wax cylinders. The sound was distorted badly, but behind all the noise I could the voice of Dwight L. Moody reading the Beatitudes: “Blessed are the poor in spirit…”

I could hardly believe it! I knew about The Moody Bible Institute in those days, but didn’t know I would someday be an alumnus—and also a preacher. I knew the evangelist had died in 1899, but I heard him speaking from that scratchy old record back in 1957.

There was one other voice that I still remember over 60 years later. Perhaps it was his name that leaped off the record label, but I think it was his voice that camped in my mind that day. Rodney “Gypsy” Smith was born in 1860 near London, England. He was the son of a gypsy family wandering around the countryside—despised by the locals, and often accused of thievery. His father spent a fair share of time in local prisons.

Gypsy, as he became known, claims he never went to school. Not even for a single day. At 16 years of age, however, Gypsy happened to hear a Methodist evangelist preaching to a crowd. The teenager’s heart was gripped by God’s Spirit and he was, in his own words, “converted.” He returned to his family that night declaring his conversion to follow Jesus Christ. Soon he carried a Bible and a prayer book that he couldn’t read. He learned to read and preach and sing the good news. And God used him.

Crowds mobbed into churches where the young gypsy boy was preaching. He became a phenomenon in his own country and began to cross the Atlantic to preach in the States. Before his death, in 1947, Gypsy would cross 45 times and preach to huge crowds in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Paris, France.

Once when defending his lack of formal education Gypsy explained, “I never went to any of your colleges or seminaries. They wouldn’t have me, but I went to the feet of Jesus where the only true scholarship is learned.”

That uneducated, social outcast, gypsy boy became one of the most listened to preachers of his day. He often burst into song in the midst of a sermon, and it was a song that I heard on that old 33 rpm record long ago. It was the same song that I just heard once again this morning through the Internet. It moved my old heart today as much as it did my teenage decades ago. I believe the lyrics hold the secret to the success of Gypsy Smith’s long global-wide ministry.

I can hear my Savior calling,
I can hear my Savior calling,
I can hear my Savior calling,
Take My cross and follow,
Follow all the way.

Where He leads me I will follow,
Where He leads me I will follow,
Where He leads me I will follow,
I’ll go with Him,
with Him all the way.

Just now I listened once more, trying to sing along with this hero of the Faith, but lost my voice in the emotion of the moment. You will discover a link at the bottom of this blog if you care to hear Gypsy Smith singing in 1902.

So you ask, “What does this have to do with measuring success?”

One of the preachers on that old record album defined success this way: “Success is knowing God’s will and doing it.” 

Now I can’t swear that it was Gypsy Smith who made that statement about success, but I have always remembered it that way. If those weren’t Gypsy’s words they certainly reflect his life and the lyrics from the song above. One day a young gypsy boy, rejected and hated by peers, heard Jesus calling him to follow all the way, and he did. For over six decades he proclaimed the good news around the world.

There we have it. Success isn’t accumulating money or trophies or being famous for some other reason that our culture values. Rich men have died paupers, if not in gold, in reputation. Strong men succumb to disease and death like the rest of us. Musicians with great voices are silenced by death. But the man or woman who knows God and understands God’s will and does it will abide forever.

How do you measure success? Success is knowing God’s will and doing it.