The Success of Failure And The Failure of Success

Posted by on Aug 12, 2013 in Blog, Sam | 0 comments

I used to know a guy—just an everyday guy—who was a perfectly pleasant person. Then success spoiled him.

I first met him on a client visit where he was a mid-level manager. Fifteen years ago, through a fluke—and a dash of superman-250good luck fueled by a couple coincidences—he became the company president.

At first he was very humble about his promotion, “It was just God’s grace. I hadn’t wanted it, didn’t deserve it, and never tried for it; God just dropped it on my lap.”

Within a couple years, however, he began to take credit for his hard work and brilliant insights. He claimed the promotion had been too long in coming. Mild mannered Clark Kent became Superman. Without the smile.

He felt his genius was needed everywhere:

  • He convinced the local high school athletic committee to fire the coach because he knew a better way to coach—even though he had never played football (or any organized sport) in his life.
  • He became head elder at his church and bullied them into adopting a “superior” Bible translation—even though he had never studied Greek or Hebrew (nor any other language, even Pig-Latin).

And he couldn’t take the slightest correction. He once scowled in anger at a friend who mentioned his fly was unzipped (really!), and he sent his dental hygienist home in tears when she suggested he begin flossing.

Success had turned a wonderful, humble human being into an insufferable know-it-all.    

The tests of adversity and achievement

Of the two tests of God—adversity and achievement, failure and success—I think we handle difficulties better than victories. We go to God in hardships and we go to pride in accomplishments.

Alas, it’s easier (and a bit more fun) to see this in others than in myself.

The last several months have been difficult for me. Nothing life-threatening, just a small series of humdrum disappointments:

  • I put our small sailboat in a marina for the first time ever. A freak storm sank it.
  • My speaking engagements were “blah.” While no one threw tomatoes, neither did they fall to their knees and shout “Hallelujah.”
  • My emotional life felt like I was running waist-deep through Jell-O.
  • My blog articles lacked inspiration and readership declined just a tad.

But the thing is, I sensed God’s presence. In my difficult blahs, I barely missed a prayer time. And God kept speaking small words of comfort.

Then things changed. I spoke a few times and it was well received, and a blog I wrote about Sunday school problems went mini-viral, with over 300,000 reads in one week.

And I liked it

People asked for my advice, and of course I “graciously” offered it. In helping other people, I missed a few—quite a few—prayer times. Instead I enjoyed my brilliance. I was pretty sure my opinions could save the world.

Frankly, I was surprised—and a bit disappointed—that NASA hadn’t asked me for advice about their solid-fuel rockets. I had, after all, written a pretty successful blog about Sunday school.

Why are we always like that?

In my lows (which were only drainage ditches compared to Grand-Canyon-tragedies of others), I depended on God. I went to him out of humility and desperation.

In my high (which was a speed bump compared to the Mt. Everest-success of others), I depended on myself. I didn’t go to God as much because of pride and self-reliance.

Why do we let outer-success determine our inner-confidence? And why do we let success in one area make us feel competent to offer advice in all areas? Success in writing reveals nothing about my latent rocket-science aptitude. Or dental hygiene.

The Sinai dessert and the land of milk and honey

I didn’t forget God altogether, and he certainly didn’t forget me. Last week I read the death-bed words of advice that Moses gave to the Israelites: their forty years of hardship is over, and soon they will enter a land flowing with milk and honey. He warns,

Remember how the Lord has led you through the wilderness for these forty years, humbling and training you; because the Lord is bringing you to a good land, filled with olive oil and honey. You’ll eat plenty and lack nothing.

Be careful, or you will forget the Lord your God. Otherwise, when you have built beautiful houses, and your cattle and oxen multiply, and your silver and gold increase, then you will become arrogant.

You may say to yourselves, ‘I have become wealthy by my own strength and by my own ability.’ But remember the Lord your God, because he is the one who gives you your abilities (Deut. 8:2-18, selected verses).

God has given each one of us great abilities, a unique perspective, something to offer.

We often fail to see our gifts because we are in the desert and all we see is desolation. Don’t despair. The gifts and abilities are still there. God is just training (and perhaps humbling) us, all in preparation.

And sometimes all we see is our successful brilliance. Avoid arrogance. Everything we have is a gift: our age, opportunities, personal discipline, brilliant insights, and abilities.


P.S. If any NFL football team out there wants my staffing advice, you’d better hurry and contact me. I expect a call from NASA any moment, and my schedule will quickly fill up.

© 2013 Beliefs of the Heart

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