Our need to be successful. You can redefine what success means for you.

Notes on the Sunday address by Dr Francis Macnab, 28 June 2015.
By John Abbate.

Purple Mountain Majesty

“Ye have compassed this mountain long enough…” —Deuteronomy, 2:3 (KJV)

Nobody wants to be a failure. We all want to be successful. But what is the meaning of success? There are many different kinds and measures of success: the accumulation of wealth and power, material success, social status, marital and relationship success, successful ageing—each can grow and diminish in importance as we transit through the lifespan.

We have a general idea about how not to be successful: by succumbing to an unfocused life, getting people offside, and churning away at things that are not very important. We can make bad choices that keep us stuck, unable to move beyond the limits we impose on ourselves.

What does success mean? Dr Macnab answers this question in two parts. The first part examines success in its psychological aspect; the second part elucidates the theological meaning of success.

“Unless we get involved in the psychology of it, then the theology of it remains just ‘up there’—it doesn’t come down to the practical, nitty gritty of how it will be achieved.”—Dr Macnab

The Psychological Meaning of Success


Success means effective management and control of the major emotions. Dr Macnab lists nine major emotions split into two groups:

Top line emotions: Love, affirmation, joy, and excitement.

Bottom line emotions: Fear, hate, anger, sadness, and solitude.

Success in life is determined by how we manage these nine emotions.


Facing up to your neurotic blockages—the blockages to enjoyment and growth; the repetitive grumblings and resentments; the past mistakes; the stumbling relationships. We need to move beyond those blockages.


God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

The courage to change the things I can,

And the wisdom to know the difference.

—“Serenity Prayer” by Reinhold Niebuhr

Adaptation—we need to develop the wisdom to know the difference between the things we cannot change, and those we can. This means adapting to the stark and sometimes rigid realities of life.


Success means to adopt an attitude of compassion towards ourselves—self-compassion. Without it, we can become “rather awkward in the expression of our compassion toward others.” Self-compassion does more than replace negative emotions; it can generate positive emotions.

The Theological Meaning of Success


One consistent lesson in the Bible is to look squarely at where you are. Face the reality of your life, its everyday hurts, and find some healing for them.


New growth, new pathways, new relationships—look for the new things.

“Behold, I make all things new.” —Revelation, 21:5 (King James Version)


What will you set your mind to? Dr Macnab joins focus with the fencing off of your hurtful experiences, and filtering out the intruding, negative emotions, the troubling memories, and the anxious, angry thoughts. Filter in the good things, the memories that are growth enhancing. Focus on your adaptation and growth.

Growth is a basic theological theme, as well as being a psychological one. It is a life theme. But it’s just a word, and we can easily ignore it.

Growth is contextual; we should avoid environments that stifle and stunt our growth, while we actively place ourselves in growth environments, or proactively set out to create them.

Psychiatrist George Valent said of one of his patients, “It was hard to tell what stunted this man’s growth. My guess is that we all stop growing when our human losses are no longer replaced. The seeds of growth must be eternally resewn.”

Set your mind on these things.

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