When We FailDaily Reflection / Produced by The High Calling
You can see how I suffer insult after insult, all because of you, Lord. Don’t be so patient with my enemies; take revenge on them before they kill me. When you spoke to me, I was glad to obey, because I belong to you, the Lord All-Powerful. I don’t go to parties and have a good time...
I sat alone in my car on the side of a four-lane highway somewhere in rural Indiana. Sheets of rain were falling from bloated clouds, forming muddy puddles in the early summer cornfields that stretched to every horizon.
I turned off the engine to my small, black Chevy Cavalier, and the only sound was the rain beating hard on the windshield. A Walmart semi-truck zoomed by at seventy miles an hour, its driver blissfully unaware of my existential crisis.
I started to cry. Then sob. Then, something that might be described as wailing. Successive waves of emotion swept over me—like trying to stand in the ocean during a storm—threatening to drown me.
It was the second worst day of my life.
Months earlier—after a lot of thoughtful prayer—I had made the decision to pursue God into a risky endeavor. I felt immediate exhilaration. Working alongside God was going to be great!
Almost immediately after deciding to follow God, everything began to go wrong. Supporters reneged on earlier promises. The easy tasks became remarkably hard. The hard tasks became impossible. Nothing was going the way I expected it.
I couldn’t see it sitting on the side of a rainy road, but part of my devastation was the result of a misguided idea of what it means to follow God’s will.
I don’t have much patience for a prosperity gospel that tells its adherents that if they follow God’s will (and tithe enough), they will receive financial blessings and windfalls. I don’t think God is so easily manipulated to open up the holy checkbook for believers.
I am guilty, though, of a modified version that applies similar thinking retrospectively. It goes something like this: if a project succeeds spectacularly, then it was a true calling of God. If a project stumbles, then it wasn’t really God’s calling in the first place.
There are a few problems with this thinking:
- First, it idolizes success, putting it above faith in God.
- Secondly, it—like the traditional prosperity gospel—simplifies God into a mere dispenser of heavenly favors.
- Third, the Bible—taken as a whole—does not support such a view. Like Jeremiah complaining to God in chapter 15, the Old and New Testaments are full of examples of divinely appointed actions that didn’t end well by human standards (consider Stephen who is martyred in Acts ).
In spite of what prosperity preachers would have us believe (if we buy their books), following God is really hard work and “success” is never guaranteed.
So what are we to do?
Mother Teresa is credited with saying something like, “God does not require that we be successful, only that we be faithful.” While this concept is often misused as an excuse for cynicism and inaction, there is profound wisdom in it.
If we find joy in the mere act of doing God’s will, we can never fail (in God’s eyes or our own). If we take pleasure in serving the Kingdom of Heaven we will always be successful.
In such a way, we are free to attempt mighty things for God, confident that God delights in our faithfulness, even when things don’t work out the way we intended.
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: When has a ministry goal of mine failed? How did I respond to that failure? How did I think about God in that endeavor?
Dear God, we ask only two things of you: Give us the wisdom to know your will. Give us the courage, strength, and focus to do it. Amen.
What does it mean to pursue God in all aspects of life? How do we live in such a way that every area of our lives and every facet of ourselves is available to the pursuit of God? Are we living fragmented, viewing parts of our lives as sacred and other parts as secular? What would happen if we let the different parts of our lives exist together in an integrated life, pursuing God in every aspect of who we are at work, at home, and at church? Dictionary.com offers a few definitions of the word pursue, one of which includes the idea of following in order to overtake or capture, but who can capture God? Instead, let's consider an alternate definition that lifts up the idea of following close upon or going with. In this series, Pursue God, we'll consider how to go with God in every aspect of our lives—inviting him to integrate each part of our lives and to be Lord over all.