Purapuras and Katibas
It’s that time of year again – March/April. The graduation season for many institutions of higher learning. Our Facebook feeds and Twitter timelines are animated by mortarboard-covered heads proudly resting on gown-clad shoulders. Each with their own tear-jerker of a success story, often featuring a hardworking mother whose prayers enabled her to miraculously multiply her ‘five-loaves-and-two-fish’ of an income to feed the multitude of her children’s needs.
In as much as I enjoy these posts and get inspired to continue my own zig-zag of a journey towards the same destination, I ask myself, in what way can we tell the Christians’ success stories apart from the rest? I think to myself ‘Is it the one with the highest scores on their academic transcript?’ Not necessarily. God in his common grace does not discriminate when he endows people with talents and abilities. However it is worth noting that Christians feature among the average performers as well as the excellent performers.
Are the Christians’ success stories the ones that will be offered the best jobs after graduation because they prayed the hardest, or sowed the best seeds, or had the strongest faith? Nope! The same God who causes rain to fall upon the righteous and the wicked is the same God who opens career doors for the students who never missed SCO services as well as for those who were not interested.
We can ask the same question about Christians in other spheres of life as well. What does a successful Christian artist look like? How can we tell the successful Christian business person apart from other business people? What is the true meaning of success for us Christians?
The parable of the talents is a great portion of scripture to turn to in order for us to gain some understanding of what true success means.
Sit down, be humble.
One of the things we learn from this parable is that as Christians we are servants. We are not our own. The talents and opportunities we possess are not ours. Like the servants in the parable who were entrusted with the talents, we also are mere stewards of whatever gifts and abilities we have. Therefore we must not boast about our accomplishments and think ourselves better than others. As the Apostle Paul said when he politely told the Corinthians to sit down; “What do you have that you did not receive and if you have received it why do you boast as if you did not receive it?”
For us Christians then, the path to true success is through faithful, humble service.
Rise up, slay!
As much as our identity as mere servants should make us sit down and be humble, the identity of the one we serve should make us rise up and slay. We are not servants of some random rich dude whose wealth and power might be here today and expropriated without compensation tomorrow. We are servants of the eternal, sovereign King whose kingdom is an everlasting kingdom. And not only is our master all powerful, but he is also infinitely gracious. He is not a master who commands us to make bricks without straw, but one who gives us all the strength and tools required to accomplish the task that he has set for us. He does not command us to run without giving hands or feet, rather he invites us to fly and gives us wings. Therefore we have no excuse but to rep him well. As urban poet Propaganda says; “excellence, that’s what you should expect from us. Least we can do to say thank you for how He blessed us. All else is blasphemy. Disagree, get at me.”
For us Christians then, the path to true success is through grateful, excellent service.
The other lesson we learn from the parable is that there will be a day of recknoing, a settling of accounts. Ayeye! Our master has entrusted us with precious talents, and he expects a return on his investment. He expects us to use our talents to advance his kingdom. If we spend our lives side-eyeing our neighbours, swiping through their status updates with hearts full of envy, begrudging them their greater talents instead of putting ours to good use, the master will not be pleased to say the least.
If we use the talents he has given us to fulfill our own selfish desires, to make ourselves great instead of him, then all our hardwork will be for nothing, it will have no eternal value. We might be successful in the eyes of onlookers but we will be “climbing the ladder of success on the wrong wall.”
On the flipside, if we use the gifts he has given us to uplift and make famous his good name in whatever sphere the Lord has given us the ability, desire and opportunity to serve, he will reward us with everlasting, perfect joy.
So for us Christians then, true success is to be greeted by these words when we have breathed our last: “Well done, good and faith servant! The true meaning of success for us Christians is to enter into our master’s joy at the end of our time.
Our master’s own success story demostrates this very clearly for us, although his purapura was purple and his katiba was thorny: “…for the joy that was set before Him, [he] endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”