I’ll just come out and say it—I really want to succeed in life. And not only do I want to succeed, but I want everything that I succeed in to be done perfectly. Clearly (as Liz often tries to point out), this is a losing proposition. The truth is that I simply can’t do everything that God has called me to do perfectly (sometimes I struggle to reach “moderately skillful”), nor, and here’s the rub, can I succeed at everything God wants me to do. All of us, at one time or another, will FAIL.
Jobs will be lost because we’re not as skilled as others. Academic degrees that have takes years of hard work will be left unfinished (shudder). I will act as a less-than-perfect Air Guard chaplain at times. I will say clueless things that a “good” husband shouldn’t say to his wife simply because I’m too obtuse to realize what’s going on (I swear, I would have done it differently if I had just known). There will come a time when we will not live up to the standards placed on us (be they reasonable standards or not). These aren’t sinful mistakes, rather they are just the result of human error. And these types of failure can leave us feeling pretty depressed.
Take this situation as an example: I was chagrined, angry, and despondent. I had just spent hours puttying, sanding, priming, sanding again, and painting the trim of a new construction house. And instead of being praised for a job well-done, I had been chewed out by my boss. All my mistakes were pointed out and my abilities as a painter were ridiculed. And this wasn’t the first time. (I wanted to throw my paint brush against a wall, but in a flash of insight realized that would only make the situation worse.) Instead, I brooded the whole way home. And then the Holy Spirit whispered those words which were so very helpful: “So what?” In other words, “So what if you got yelled at by your boss?” This seemed like most indecorous thing for the Holy Spirit to say (he is holy after all). I had expected him to take my bosses side of things. But from that “conversation” ten years ago grew a steady confidence in my pursuit of God through my failures. Over the years this confidence has flagged and flown, but it has always remained constant in direction.
The following is my attempt to put it all into succinct statements for myself (and you):
I work for God, not my boss.
In Colossians 3:23, Paul is talking to slaves that had found true freedom in Christ. Yet they were in a bad situation. Without any recourse, they were expected to serve their masters no matter how reasonable or how unreasonable the task. But God kindly exhorts the slave to “obey your masters,” but don’t try to please them (Col 3:22). Why? Because the slaves didn’t don’t work for their owners, they worked for God (Col 3:24). The same is true for us. So, let’s stop working to please our bosses and start working to please God.
God doesn’t always want me to succeed…or at least not in the way we think.
Our bosses and the world have their own measures of success. But these are not God’s. God isn’t really interested in your paycheck or whether you climb to the top of your career fields ladder. Rather, he is interested in whether or not you work heartily for him. So it may be that we are a success in God’s eyes even as we face losing jobs, ministries, or any other earthly position. In God’s eyes it might be that the fast food restaurant worker is more successful than the CEO of a fortune 500 company. Think on that! As a child of God, you can be more successful than Bill Gates. It’s all in what measure of success you use.
The power of the Spirit is with me to help me succeed in life.
God does not expect us to do his will solely with our own mental and emotional resources. He will help me “work heartily” for him. In Ephesians 6:10, in a similar context, he gives a wonderful thought “be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.”
My true identity is safe, even in the midst of earthly failure.
Whatever happens to my reputation as a “success” here on earth, my true identity remained steadfastly anchored to Christ. As a child of grace, God sees me a co-heir with Christ (Gal 4:6-7). And even when I do fail to work heartily for God (as we all will!), being “accepted by the boss” is a mere repentance away. As sons and daughters of God we never have to complain that “the boss doesn’t like me.”
Lastly, true success will never go unrewarded.
Our bosses overlook the good we do. We overlook the good others do for us. Children overlook the good work of parents. Parents overlook the good work of children. The opportunities to feel undervalued and forgotten are many. But God never overlooks the good work we do. So, in a sense, we are never unappreciated in heaven. God says, “you will receive the inheritance of your reward” (Col 3:24). We must focus our hearts on serving God from a heart focused on true success—knowing that there will come a time when what we have done will be judged and eternally honored (1 Cor 3:12-14). This is how we can continue to serve unnoticed and unacknowledged without losing heart (2 Tim 4:7-8).
These are just some basic thoughts (and I have more swirling around in my head which I may or may not write down and post ;-) but I hope that they encourage your heart. Whether you are a frazzled stay-at-home-mom who feels like she’ll never live up to that impossible standard of motherhood (which is as nebulous as it is crushing) or are a seminary student struggling to keep your grades within the passing range while others seems to breeze through their classwork with apparent ease—every child of God must learn to define success the way that God does. It takes the burden of perfection off our shoulders. It frees us to live for God, rather than living for accolades and affirmation found only here on earth.