Failure

Failure and Succeeding at Things That Don’t Matter

What are you wonderfully failing at? I will ask this question again as surely you must be thinking you misread my opening line. What are you failing at? This is a question that I myself have wrestled with time and time again. However, after reading a quote by Bob Goff, author of the remarkably well-written book Love Does, I got a fresh perspective on this not so popular topic: failure. He concludes, “I used to be afraid of failing at something that really mattered to me, but now I am more afraid of succeeding at things that don’t matter.” This quote hit like an arrow, straight to the heart. You see, I tend to get hung up on the first part of the quote: failing at something that matters to me. My guess is that I may not be the only one who lives with this burden and the ongoing pressure that comes from the need for approval and success. Yet, what about succeeding at the wrong things, isn’t that far more dangerous to the soul?

So I ask again, what are you failing at? Are you failing at a relationship with a loved one, a friendship, a job, a dream, finances, priorities, faith or another unmentionable roadblock that makes you pound your fists on the steering wheel as the GPS of life recalculates all your shortcomings? Personally, I have been there so many times, lost and devastated by the realization that I was failing, yet again, after so much effort was put forth. The truth is, man wasn’t made to be a punching bag and thus, failing should never knock you off your feet for long. Yet, how does any man have the determination to try, try, and then try yet again? The harsh reality is that some people do not recover from their failures, while others use their failures to propel them further ahead for the long-haul of life. Life requires the willpower to continue moving forward. God requires this too. After all, through failure and reliance on Him comes the character that only God Himself can bring beauty out of. I have come to see that while everyone loves success, a far greater man embraces failure. Likewise, Bob Goff takes it a step further when he reasons that it is better to fail and remain passionate, than to succeed in the wrong areas and not know that the triumph was pointless. It may be a blow to the ego to fail at something that matters, but to succeed and pat yourself on the back for the meaningless things in life is far worse. This, of course, reminds me of a story.

Paul, a Roman citizen and rather successful Jesus hater, radically changed the direction of his life when God intervened on the Road to Damascus. He went from succeeding in the wrong things to transforming millions of lives – a true way to measure success. Well, Paul was no stranger to listening to the voice of God, which in Acts 16:9-10 came to him through a vision:

“During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us.’  After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.”

As the story moves along, we see that a woman named Lydia receives the Lord and opens her house to Paul and Silas. All is off to a successful start! Yet, the story is about to take an unexpected turn. As they are making their long trek, Paul’s second missionary journey from Jerusalem to Greece, they stopped along the way to minister to those the Holy Spirit led them to. One of these people happened to be a female slave who claimed to be a fortune teller. The Scripture tells us that this nameless woman was rather good at her profession and earned an abundance of money (talk about succeeding at the wrong things in life). Paul was bold in his faith and cast out the demons which possessed her. However, this angered the owners who were profiting off of this young slave girl. Next thing you know, Paul and Silas are being beaten for doing what God willed them to do and for following His guidance towards their end destination of Macedonia. Can you imagine being physically beaten for following God’s plan? This could have very easily felt like an absolute failure, but the reality was that God was about to turn what appeared to be a loss into a great victory. I am sure you have heard what happens next in the story. Paul and Silas are put into jail and they decided that instead of asking questions, complaining, or even becoming angry at God, that they would praise Him. Their lowest point, in what probably felt like a huge failure, became a moment of unfathomable success.  What if Paul and Silas had decided to just go through the city streets and tell nice looking people, “God bless you.” Sure, it may have felt like a success as people smiled, but would it have been what God would have called true success? Perhaps, playing it safe for temporary success is what Bob Goff would have considered pointless, more about a feel good moment than impactful Holy Spirit-led win.

The truth is, often times we look at life in the present moment and we forget that God sees the full story of what He is doing in our lives. This was the case with Paul and Silas.  Through their obedience, God displayed His glory and an entire family’s life was changed as Scripture indicates that the jailer and his whole family were saved. That was only made possible because Paul and Silas were willing to take what could have been considered a failed moment and instead allowed God make use of it. So, next time you look at your successes, measure them on how God sees them. Likewise, the next time you dismiss your failures, ask God if He could use them for more than a fleeting moment of sadness and instead, make a lasting Kingdom-building impact out of them.