James’s Blog: Who Knows What Failure Looks Like?

James’s Blog:  Who Knows What Failure Looks Like?

One of the things about my life thus far is that it’s so blatantly intertwined with God that it’s impossible for me to answer a simple question like ‘What do you do for a living?’ without getting all spiritual if I so choose.  However, when I try to explain the labyrinthian nonsense of the past twenty years I get a bit self-conscious.  When I step outside myself and listen to what’s coming out of my mouth, I worry that I just come across as an indecisive loser, saying “I did this for a while, but that didn’t quite work out, so I went and did this…” ad infinitum.  By now, it would have been nice to have found something that was a) sustainable and b) that I was actually good at.

The issue is that, precisely because it all involves God, I get a bit worried about how it reflects on Him.  I’m not confident that I sound like a particularly good advert for a life committed to following Jesus.  “Make God the centre of your life,” I seem to be saying, “and you too can know the joy and freedom of repeated painful failure!”  So, the temptation is to be not quite honest about the path I’ve walked, but only because I want to make God look good.  Nothing wrong with that, right?  Well, actually, it’s all a bit ridiculous.  It makes me think of a lyric from the Blindside song Silver Speak – “I’m an ant trying to protect my dinosaur friend.”

There were once three men who were very concerned about making sure that God got a good rap.  They had a friend who was going through a hard time, and was not shy about complaining.  “Stop blaming God for your problems!” the three men said.  “Who are you to drag His name down to your level.  Pull yourself together!”  They were angry with their friend, because he was making God look bad.  In the end, God said to them, “You’re angry on my behalf?  Well, I’m angry with you because you have not spoken of me what is right, like my servant Job has.”

I have to keep reminding myself, you see, that the journey I’ve been on has been because of God.  I’m not someone who has tried a variety of career paths and not stuck at anything.  I’m not even someone who “…just hasn’t found his calling yet”.  I’m someone who has done what I believe God has asked me to do.  The difficulty is that, in the Kingdom of God, success looks a lot like failure, and failure looks a lot like success.  A sick church is unable to distinguish between the two, and chases success, unaware that all the time it’s just failure in a pretty wig.  In the end, all God asks for is faithfulness.  It’s my job to live honestly, and not worry about how that makes God look.

James’s Blog: Why I Am Not Successful.

James’s Blog:  Why I Am Not Successful.

If you’ve read my blog/heard me preach/seen my book, you are by now no doubt saying to yourself, “Wow! This guy is AMAZING! Why is he not a world-famous blogger/preacher/author who is, quite rightly and correctly, making an absolutely fortune from his work?”. The truth is that I have no-one to blame but myself. When I was a young man I remember hearing a quote from Martyn Lloyd-Jones – “The worst thing that can happen to a man is for him to succeed before he is ready”. Even though I am foolish, I saw that there was wisdom in those words and, as such, one of my prayers over the years has been ‘Lord, don’t let me succeed before I am ready’. Funnily enough, God’s been 100% on board with that prayer.

Success, as most people perceive it, is actually a wolf in sheep’s clothing. It promises much, but behind that sharp-toothed grin is a monster that will destroy you if you are not strong enough to tame it. By contrast, failure can be the making of us, even though we do all we can to keep it at arm’s length. Few things test the strength of our foundations like good old fashioned failure, and few things are better for us than when all the stuff that we’ve built is knocked down so that God can start His own Great Project.

But no-one wants to fail at everything that they do, and neither should we.  The issue is really how we define success and what it looks like in a framework of faith. The wise among us already know the truth. The story goes that Mother Teresa was once asked how she measured the success of her work. Her response was, apparently, to look puzzled and then say, “I don’t remember that the Lord ever spoke of success. He spoke only of faithfulness in love. This is the only success that really counts”.

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