“The call is to faithfulness, not to success.”
Over the last couple of months, this phrase has come to mind regularly. I’m not sure where it came from, but it seemed like something God wanted me to pay attention to. (Apparently Mother Teresa said something similar, but I only discovered that very recently.)
When the phrase came to mind, I have to confess that my initial thought was: does that mean God is calling me to fail?
As you’ll know if you’re a regular reader here, I started 2020 full of vision for a ministry that only just got going before the pandemic stopped it in its tracks. Over the last couple of months, I have begun preparing again and making some tentative plans to start again this year, so at first the phrase worried me.
Did this mean it was going to fail? And, if so, why would God call me to something that would fail?
I still have a lot to unpack in the phrase, and I hope to do that more as we go through the year, but it didn’t take me long to reach the conclusion that God is not calling me to failure. These are some of my initial thoughts on what God might be saying.
First of all, there’s the question of what true success really is. It’s tempting to define success myself: if I meet my goals and fulfil my plans, I am a success; if not, I am a failure. It’s equally tempting to look to others – to want to be seen as a success by them, to meet their expectations, or to impress them.
But actually, it’s God who defines success, and often his idea of success is very different from ours. The Pharisees looked successful to those around them because they had a good reputation and were careful to observe all the laws, but Jesus saw the sin that was in their hearts. The widow who visited the temple and placed two copper coins in the offering plate certainly didn’t appear successful to those looking on, and I doubt she would have thought of herself as a success, but she was a success to Jesus. He praised her because he knew her heart and he saw that she had given all she had.
So the first challenge is to let go of my own ideas of success and to stop worrying about what others think, to look to God to define success.
The second challenge is to keep my focus in the right place. It’s not that the call is to failure; it’s more about trusting God with the outcome (whether that looks like success or failure to me) and focusing on being faithful.
In Luke 10, Jesus sends 72 disciples out to share the Good News both by telling people and by doing miracles. When they return, they are thrilled with their success.
“They joyfully reported to him, “Lord, even the demons obey us when we use your name.”” (Luke 10:17 NLT)
While he is pleased, Jesus also takes the opportunity to redirect their focus:
“Don’t rejoice because evil spirits obey you; rejoice because your names are registered in heaven.” (Luke 10:20 NLT)
This reminds me that success or failure is not to be what defines us. The most important thing is not all that we can achieve for God; it’s the fact that we belong to him. And it’s about holding onto that regardless of our circumstances or how successful we seem to be – to choose to focus on God and to rejoice in him.
I like how Habakkuk puts it:
“Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vines, even though the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren; even though the flocks die in the fields, and the cattle barns are empty, yet I will rejoice in the Lord! I will be joyful in the God of my salvation.” (Habakkuk 3:17-18 NLT)
His words show a depth of faithfulness and joy in God that endures, whether in success or failure, and that is what I want to explore and cultivate this year.