When Our Success is Actually Failure

Written By Maleakhi P. S., Indonesia, originally in Bahasa Indonesia

Everywhere I go, I see people around me striving after something. Some study hard to get the grades they want, some work hard to get promoted in their jobs, while others earn extra to buy nice cars and houses. Although the end results are different, they’re all about the same thing: everyone is pursuing something. Everyone wants success in one form or another.

But why does everyone pursue success? What is true success? Is there a way we can be guaranteed of it?

For a long time, I was not able to answer those questions—until I chanced upon a quote one day that drew an interesting relationship between success and failure. It read:

“Failure is any form of success that God doesn’t delight in.

I instantly saw the truth in that quote. There is only one way to measure success—against God’s standard. But more often than not, that’s not the case. Instead, we measure success in terms of what we have physically achieved, not because God is pleased with us. We rarely stop to ask, “Does God take delight in my success?”

Consider these scenarios: What if someone is able to afford a rich lifestyle because his wealth is accrued through corrupt means? Or what if someone is the CEO of a company because he attained his position by sabotaging his competitor? Would we deem their lives as successful?

In the eyes of the world, perhaps, yes. But in God’s eyes, these “successes” are actually failures.

When Saul failed

I was reminded of the account in 1 Samuel 15, where God commanded Saul to attack the Amalekites and completely destroy all that belonged to them, their people and animals alike (v. 3). Saul successfully attacked them (v. 7), but instead of completely destroying everyone and everything, he spared Agag, king of the Amalekites, and the best of sheep and cattle, the fat calves and lambs. He kept everything that seemed good (v. 8), blatantly disregarding God’s instructions.

To the rest of society, Saul may have appeared to be successful in his conquest, but in God’s eyes, he had failed in his mission completely because of his act of disobedience. Despite the great loot he had taken and the number of Amalekites he had killed, God was terribly disappointed with Saul. God said after that, “I regret that I have made Saul king, because he has turned away from me and has not carried out my instructions” (v.11).

Have I failed?

After reading what God said of Saul, I began reflecting on my own life. If God could say such a hard-hitting statement to a king that He had anointed, surely I was no exception. I couldn’t imagine how I’d feel if God told me that He regretted making me a leader or giving me certain talents.

Sure, we might have skilled hands, good looks, and self-confidence, but if our emotions, thoughts, and actions are not pure, God does not delight in us. Sometimes, we may even be like Saul: We may be doing God’s work, but not in a manner that pleases Him. For example, I could be leading the congregation in worship every Sunday confidently, but my motives could be wrong. Others around may think that I’ve got it all together and that I’m walking closely with God. But He is able to see past my actions, right into my heart (1 Samuel 16:7).

True success, therefore, is achieved when what we do delights God. Instead of asking ourselves how we can be successful in the world’s eyes, we ought to ask ourselves how we can be successful in the eyes of God. Even if the world doesn’t recognize what we do as success, let’s strive to please and obey Him.

God delights in us when we obey and heed Him, just as 1 Samuel 15:22 says, “Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the Lord? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams.” Outer appearances do not matter to Him, but the heart does. Are we obeying Him today? Are our feelings, thoughts, and actions pure before Him?

May this be our prayer today. May we strive for success—in the eyes of God.

2 replies
    KWAN SIEW KONG says:

    The world celebrates success but God celebrates faithfulness and hardwork. I, as a father often made this mistake. When my son studied hard and worked faithfully on his study but didn’t get good results, I can only give a word of consolation saying he has done his best in an uninteresting tone. But when he gotten fantastic results, my tone is so jubilant with praises. We should be jubilant too when one works hard and faithfully but doesn’t get the desired results. Thankfully God knows how much one puts to achieve success. He celebrates faithfulness and hardwork not success.


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