What Success Really Looks Like For The Believer

And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.” And he said, “Go, and say to this people:

‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’ Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.” 

Then I said, “How long, O Lord?”

And he said: “Until cities lie waste without inhabitant, and houses without people, and the land is a desolate waste, and the Lord removes people far away, and the forsaken places are many in the midst of the land. And though a tenth remain in it, it will be burned again, like a terebinth or an oak, whose stump remains when it is felled. The holy seed is its stump.” (Isaiah 6:8-13)

Failure. That’s what these words seem rife with as I read them. That is what I sense ahead for poor, dear Isaiah — at least, failure in the eyes of the world.

I cannot read these verses without my heart breaking into a million pieces for that man. Because I have FELT that way: Like everything I do will end in utter failure on this side of heaven. 

But I can’t imagine being told at the beginning of a calling or new adventure, “Your mission will not be met with success. You will face failure, but you must dedicate your life to the mission regardless”?

I most certainly believe God said these words to Isaiah out of love in order to prepare him for what was to come, but still. WOW.

Like most people in this world, I am terrified of failure. I fear failing the God I follow, the people I love and within the positions I fill.

Sometimes it seems like all of my insecurities are founded on that feeling that I will fail.

I will never accomplish anything. Success will never be within my reach. All that I do and touch is destined to end in disappointment. I have BEEN there. 

Failures of Post-Grad Life

I had my first real encounter with failure immediately after college. My post-grad life was more full of crippling fears than dream jobs and life experiences.

I had moved to Nashville, Tenn., found a full-time job at Panera and was, in addition to that, working at unpaid internships in the hopes of obtaining the life I had envisioned for myself.

For nearly two years, I lived that way. I often worked 12-14 hour days, picked up any side work I could, and rushed to internships hoping for a big break that would pave my way into the music business industry.

It seemed I never got enough sleep, never made enough money and never found enough success. 

Early on in my time there, I began to sink into depression. Amid all my work, I couldn’t help wondering how God could be who he said he was in the Bible when everything I touched seemed to end in complete and utter failure.

When I looked at my peers, despair nearly overwhelmed me.

All around me were successful people — some of whom were not even pursuing God — while I pursued him and met failure.

My prayers tended to revolve around these questions: Why would God not give me the very thing I desired, a job in the music industry? Why was I failing in my dream, a dream I thought had come from him?

I continued to pursue God, thanks to a wonderful church and small group in Nashville, but my feelings of failure did not stop haunting me.

The Turning Point

As time went on, though, I slowly began to discern God graciously teaching me and redefining failure. It may have been something my mom said to me, or something God impressed upon me.

But it was as if one day I woke up and realized I could work the rest of my life at a dead-end job, and if I did so while being completely surrendered to God, I would not be a failure.

The feelings of failure didn’t vanish completely, but through them, I learned that if I couldn’t choose to be joyful in the hard times I was experiencing, then I would always struggle to be joyful.

I continued to cling to the fact that success in God’s eyes means following him in whatever circumstance I inhabit, not that I achieve what the world around us says we must. 

God drove that truth home time and time again over two years. Every moment I would begin to complain in prayer, I would instead remind myself of this. The true definition of success became a proverb etched onto my soul. 

And though each day presented new challenges, long hours and unique problems, I continued to tell myself the truth: That all God wanted was my obedience and joy, not success as measured by the world around me.

If I stayed true to that, through the power of the Holy Spirit, I was most NOT a failure.

Things changed, thankfully

At the end of that period, my situation changed. I moved to Charlotte, found a new job and began to have some of the dream job moments and life experiences I had longed for. 

But while much had changed circumstance-wise, my heart remained the same one that had struggled in Nashville. 

I began to see that each job and life experience — even the best jobs and life experiences — presents a new challenge to obedience, joy and success in my walk with God.

There will always be something to make me feel like a failure, always an area where it seems others are doing better than me and always a seemingly greener pasture.

The Crux of the Matter

But the glorious work of God allows every day and every circumstance to offer the chance of being the best version of myself wherever I am, even if that place is full of things that I sometimes (or often) dread. 

The greatness of God is that my “failures” are merely an opportunity to learn that success in God’s eyes is available for me, and for everyone. If I am obedient to him, I am successful!

And that’s when I look back at Isaiah with such respect. He pressed on. He spoke out. He knew how the story would end: That it would absolutely look like failure in the eyes of the world, and he STILL acted in obedience. 

So I, who do not know the ending, can most certainly be obedient. I can hold loosely to the world’s definition of success and cling to the fact that obedience is true success in the eyes of God, the only eyes that matter. 

So bring it on “failure.” I’m not scared of you anymore.

(From the Bethany Weaver Archive, 2014)

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