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Moving from success to significance

“I shouldn’t bother you with this,” said the man at the bar to my daughter Talia.  “But I don’t know where the time has gone.  52 years have sped by and I don’t have anything to show for it.” Talia responded, “Why don’t you start over and do something now?”   “It’s too late,” …
By Seth Barnes
By Seth Barnes

“I shouldn’t bother you with this,” said the man at the bar to my daughter Talia.  “But I don’t know where the time has gone.  52 years have sped by and I don’t have anything to show for it.”

Talia responded, “Why don’t you start over and do something now?”
“It’s too late,” he said, “Don’t ever get to the place I am. Do something with your life.”
The man had provided for his family.  He gave them a nice home.  He’d been a good man, a father and a church-goer. Still, the ache in his soul arose from the question “What difference have I made in the world around me?”  He’d actually achieved his goals of success, but lately he’d begun to realize that the goals he had for himself no longer worked – they seemed too narrow. In the big scope of a world spinning out of control, he felt like he had more to contribute. He wanted to move from focusing on success to focusing on significance.

Bob Buford diagnosed the angst that so many people feel as they begin to grapple with how they’ve invested their life in light of eternity.  In his book “Halftime,” he talks about going from success to significance.  Most of us men are wired to provide for and protect our families, and that’s a God-ordained thing.  But many of us also want to do more than that. We want to make a difference in the world. We may well have done all that God had intended for us to do during the first half of our life, but as our circumstances change, we may need to look at our life in new ways. We may have achieved success and the esteem of our peers, but perhaps it’s been dawning on us that the questions we’ve been answering are small ones.

You want to be able to stand before God almighty having addressed the issues that are on his heart. But the question many struggle to answer is “How does one make a a switch like this in one’s career?”
Herminia Ibarra in her book Working Identity: Unconventional Strategies for Reinventing Your Career describes the issues that people confront as they negotiate a transition like this. Too many books emphasize the importance of self-analysis in the process. In contrast, Ibarra details how self-analysis and action must go together. She advocates engaging in a series of experiments to move from one area of endeavor to another.
As you make an experiment, you learn more about the area where you’re feeling called. You give God a chance to confirm what you sense he may be calling you to. You risk less with a more patient and empirical approach. Nor does this eliminate the need for faith; when you have a clear word from God, you need to move. But in the absence of a clear word, consider taking some small faith steps in the direction of a career that my address your inward drive to find a way to make a kingdom contribution. Sit on a board, volunteer, go on a short-term mission trip, or disciple people who are already involved.
You don’t have to jump off a cliff in order to begin making a difference in people’s lives now. And by taking a series of small faith steps, you may just wake up one day having made a huge shift in your life.
For a great story illustrating this principle, check out this blog.

Comments (7)

  • Thanks, Seth. This was a positive prod to redouble my own efforts in the area of insuring my half century life is being “well lived”.

    From my vantage point one of the problems in the Christian community is we often confuse “notoriety” with “lasting impact”. We also confuse “activity” with “impact”.

    Through the years I’ve had the privilege of working with many well know Christian leaders who when the day is done and I’m hearing their late night confessionals (I recall one where this Campus Crusade for Christ senior executive was sipping a Merlot–a no no) they often ponder the deep question, “Am I really making a lasting difference?”

    When that set of questions has come my way and especially in dark seasons of doubt I go back to the ethic of the Living God when the question is posed in Micah–“What does God require?”

    The answer is simple and talks about justice, mercy and humility. That combined with the Biblical priority Jesus placed on prisoners, aliens, orphans and strangers gives anyone lot’s of canvas and some colorful paints.

    I’ve made the Gospel too complicated.

    Perhaps other people have–too.

  • I feel sad for the 52 yr old man…his response to Talia sounded hopeless to me. Like his life is now over….

    As someone who just turned 53, and is starting over again for the second time in a decade, I actually see this as an exciting place to be. Why? Because it gives God the opportunity to work in and through me. It allows Him to do the moving and the shaking and the appointing and the calling.

    Can it be a discouraging place to be? Yes. But God is my encourager and has given me encouragers to cheer me on.

    Can it be a scary place with fearful thoughts? You betcha. BUT I also cling to and stand firm on His Word that tells me that He hasn’t given me a spirit of fear, but one of love, power and a sound mind. I also know I am only given today to live. Not yesterday as it’s the past and I can’t live tomorrow because I’m not promised tomorrow. So that leaves me with today. I focus on today. And when I do that, the fearful thoughts for whatever may lay ahead are put into perspective and I don’t dwell on those.

    I don’t know exactly where God is leading me next in the season I am in. But I am confident that He is with me. I don’t know what He is leading me to do next, but I know He is leading.

    As I look back over my first 53 years, I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that He has been with me every step of the way and has used me because I was willing to be obedient to do what He placed in front of me to do. I have confidence, not in myself, but in Him, that the next 53, He is still going to lead and guide me, walk closely with me as I stick close to Him.

    I also know that as I allowed Him to use me, He has impacted the Kingdom. And for that I am humbled and in awe of Him. And besides – this life of mine? It’s not meant to be all about me, but more about Him. And if I have been successful in that, then I am blessed.

    Thanks for sharing this, Seth. It has spoken to me today. God bless you!

  • I feel sad for this man, too – I’ve known some wonderful people whose biggest impact for the Kingdom has come in the latter half – even the last quarter – of their lives. People like J.I. Overholtzer who began the ministry of Child Evangelism Fellowship in 1937 at the age of 60 . . . decades later, this work is still going on and is now in 169 countries reaching over 8 million kids with the Gospel every single year (remember your old flannelgraph Sunday School lessons – that was CEF and they’re still around!) I think this humble man had some significant impact 🙂 … Or Dois Rosser, a car salesman who started a work of building churches around the world but not until after retirement age – in the last 20 years, he has built 2900+ churches overseas for congregations who needed a place to meet, teach and grow in faith!

    Stories like this thrill me because what God begins to stir in your heart or draw out of your own experience, HE can make happen no matter what your age. Like you said, it just requires some listening and faith steps – even small baby steps – to begin with. At 44 (soon to be 45), I can see God arranging some new things for me – and frankly, out of what I considered to be pretty unredeemable stuff. Wow. Who knew?! Indeed, the best and perhaps most significant contributions to the Kingdom are yet to come. THANK YOU for this encouragement!

  • Thanks for the Kingdom perspective, Seth. As a 58-year-old who has accepted a few Spirit-led life-changes, I appreciate your exhortation to explore our Creator’s adventursome promptings.

    Sometimes, in moving among his glory-to-glory appointments, I think the “born again” experience pertains to much more than that first encounter with God. In a sense, the rebirth happens over and over again as we follow His paths of mercy and justice. We die daily, or monthly, or yearly, so that seeds may fall to the ground. Who knows when they will sprout and put forth the green shoots? Not me. But there is One who knows.

  • Divine love..that’s what kept me going on..all the world offered me when i was younger,i seized them all and i am still alive looking back the tracks i made i saw in a higher perspective..yes it is not enough..so i decided to accept,think,contemplate,do and pushed my way to Divine love..why?because i learned humility,forgiveness and i accepted death as my finality.Upon being aware of all of these,i learned to kneel and say sorry to people i hurt and say I LOVE YOU to people who correct me..although i realized how much i love them or someone i am happy to see them prosper,to be happy naturally,to see them fly freely doing good things here on earth…that is divine love.You do not own a single thing here on earth,because we are unworthy,we must let God use us to announce His Divine love for us.We do not cling to anything..in so doing we wouldn’t be hurt anymore because we give DIVINE LOVE to everyone..and because we are humans our heart is fragile..true that is why do not own the world just let material,physical,emotional experiences pass thru your body as if you are a wind..floating and total silence will make your spirit smile..while waiting for our time to go home to our GOD..

  • I’ve been striving for and struggling with since since I became a follower of Jesus. At 39, I’m still running two businesses and have a pretty hands on ministry to boot but I still long to do so much more…the businesses, though successful and enjoyable, do not bring the fulfillment that kingdom work brings. There’s just something about teaching God’s word and contending for His kingdom.

    Great message Seth!


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Seth Barnes

I'm motivated to join God in his global reclamation project. He's on the move, setting his sons and daughters free from their places of captivity. And he's partnering with those of us who have been freed to go and free others.

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