“For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.” — 1 John 5:4 (NKJV)
Victory is something I think about a lot. It’s what we’re all striving for, right? We might not always start out knowing how to win in every area, but we don’t set out to fail. We all want to win.
But how do you define what winning looks like? It’s a question worth thinking about—and my answer has changed as I’ve matured.
When I ask young people at youth retreats or on college campuses to define what winning is, I often hear about accomplishing goals in sports or academics. And youth pastors or public speakers give me the same answers in different forms—growing their ministry, earning a raise in pay, or being promoted into a leadership position.
I used to have similar ideas myself. But let me tell you about how God turned those ideas inside out.
The Way I Used to Define Success
As I look back on my time as a new youth pastor, I’m amazed how much my definition of what winning looks like has changed. About a decade ago, I was 22 and had been given an opportunity on a church staff to lead and grow a vibrant youth group. Now, you know I was pumped about the possibilities! What was God going to do through me to influence the lives of young people? It was going to be huge, baby!
And I was sure I could use that energy to make our youth group one of the largest anywhere! Numbers dominated my mind. I got busy doing everything I could think of to bring in as many young people as possible to our church events.
Then one night I was scheduled to lead a youth Bible study. I was ready to inspire an enormous group of students. And that’s when my vision for big numbers took a painful hit—I got to church and found only 10 students had shown up.
I felt like I’d failed.
Redefine Your Wins
I wish I could tell you I jumped into our Bible study that night with the same level of enthusiasm I was feeling on the way over. But I’d be lying if I said that. The truth is I felt so low about the small turnout that—without much thought—I canceled our time together.
You can probably guess how many angry phone calls I got that night from parents who brought their children to the event. And I understood where they were coming from! They reminded me that however small the crowd looked, their sons and daughters had been looking forward to what God had in store for them in our Bible study.
As I talked with my senior pastor later, he showed me that my focus on numerical growth was blocking my vision of spiritual growth.
“You’ve been trying to be this big guy in front of the most people,” he told me. “You need to let out the real guy inside you, and he will become your success story.”
That night God redefined winning for me. He took my eyes off of the numbers and the world around me and focused them on the greater plans He had for my gifts. With the help of my pastor (and a few ticked off parents), I saw I needed to learn how to win from within.
Listen to God, Not the World
Whether you desire to grow your ministry, to be a successful athlete, or to get a certain job or academic result—those are all good goals. But if we define winning only in those terms, we’ll end up limiting our success because those victories all depend on the judgment of others.
But in the Bible verse we began with, we’re reminded to look beyond the world for real and lasting victory.
After years of leading and speaking with youth, I now know I’m only winning when I’m living God’s plan for victory in my life. That’s going to look like different things for different people, and it depends on your specific gifts.
For me, winning means impacting this generation and reaching them for Christ. And it has nothing to do with numbers, dollars or titles. The real wins show up in moments that I love, like when a teen stops me just to say, “Pastor Anthony, thank you!”
To me, that’s winning!
Real and Lasting Victory
God tells us that real victory—winning that overcomes the world—is born of God. It’s determined by the faith He gives us. Rather than looking to the world for approval or proof of our value, we can look to God and find a way to win from within. Even if our results start out small, God has promised to bless our work with fruit that lasts and grows over time. Let’s seek victory in the only place it can really come from: the God who overcomes the world.
About Anthony ONeal
Since 2003, Anthony has helped hundreds of thousands of people make smart decisions with their money, relationships, and education. He’s a #1 national bestselling author of Debt-Free Degree and national bestselling author of The Graduate Survival Guide. He recently released Destroy Your Student Loan Debt. He travels the country spreading his encouraging message to help teens and young adults start their lives off right and people of all ages succeed with money. You can follow Anthony on YouTube and Instagram @AnthonyONeal and online at anthonyoneal.com or facebook.com/aoneal.