What is Being Successful? Have You Felt You Failed?


October, 2002

Dear Ministry Partner,

What is success? Have you ever felt you were less than successful in some way? Have you felt like you failed in some area? Or even worse, have you felt you were a failure in general? If any of these are true in your life, I have some good news for you. The only time in the Bible that God is pictured as running is when He was hurrying to embrace the prodigal son (Luke 15:20). The prodigal son is the classic symbol of someone who has made mistakes, sins, foolish living, or little commitment to righteousness. Yet God ran to embrace him and accept him. Why?

Two reasons — first it was because God made us. This is usually only understood after we have children ourselves. There is something about those who you made that are different from other people. Many fathers and mothers have given their lives for their son or daughter. I once worked for a man who ran through a burning house to pull two of his children out alive. Judi and I have a friend who just gave one of her kidneys for her daughter whose kidneys had failed due to disease. This is great love. God so loved us that He gave His only begotten son. How much more proof should we demand from God that He loves us? In Jeremiah 31:3, God Himself says, "I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore with loving kindness I have drawn you." It is God's attributes of love, grace, and mercy that drew us to forgiveness and salvation.

Along these lines, the only time I know of where God shouts is when He shouts for joy over you and me. Zephaniah 3:17 says, "The LORD your God is in your midst, a victorious warrior. He will exult over you with joy... He will rejoice over you with shouts of joy." Why will Almighty God shout over you? Because He was trying to win you back — and if you are saved, He is excited that you came back to Him (like the prodigal son or daughter). I don't know exactly what God yells, but you can't get away from the fact in scripture that God is excited — and shouting for joy over you and me.

That brings us to the second reason God ran to embrace the prodigal son. He had repented. To repent means to turn "180 degrees" around and go the opposite direction. To see the prodigal son returning clearly indicated he had turned around and was heading in the opposite direction from when he had left the father. This is symbolic of what God wants us to do. Any time we have sinned: blown it, lost our temper, stolen something, lied or deceived, used profanity, engaged in an addiction, been really selfish, done things we knew were wrong, or even walked in pride or self-righteousness — God wants us to repent and He will embrace us like the prodigal's father. He doesn't want us afraid of Him, He wants us to know He loves us and will take us back every time.

This was one of the two big themes that Jesus taught on in the Gospels of the New Testament — the "father" nature of God (the second was how the spirit realm works). The Pharisees and Saducees thought they knew all about God (like a lot of Americans). They knew a lot of the "thou shalt & shall nots", but didn't know the character of God — His "father" attributes of caring for His children: His grace, mercy, and forgiveness.

But just how often will God forgive a person? Well, He instructs us to forgive the same person at least 70 times 7 — or 490 times. God is not a hypocrite, so He has to also be willing to forgive the same person over and over. And I think He is willing to forgive in "King-size" amounts, as long as we keep turning to Him for forgiveness.

Most people's biggest stumbling block is our remembrance of our own earthly father. The Bible teaches that our image (as a child) of what our earthly father was like created our theology of what the Heavenly Father is like. This is revealed in 1st Corinthians 11:7, "For a man ought not to have his head covered, since he is the image and glory of God." You may need some extra explanation about this verse to understand it. The context was Paul's instruction on family relationships, and particularly between a husband and wife. The Greek language did not have different words for man, husband, and father to easily distinguish these. You had to read the context to know what was intended. In this passage, the husband is mature and was presumed to have children. So this verse could be rendered, "For a father ought not to have his head covered, since he is the image (& the glory) of God (to his young children)." The father is the image of God to his children, because they don't have the ability to read the scriptures or even understand abstract concepts until they are well past 6 or 7 years old. So our "theology" about what God is like was formed by what our natural father was like. Now, we can renew our minds with the teaching of the Word of God and therefore change our theology. But nevertheless, most people still have "strongholds" in their minds about what God is like based on the flaws, weaknesses, and personality of their earthly fathers.

We need to renew our minds to see God as He really is — the good, merciful, compassionate Father God of the universe who is always ready to forgive whenever we turn to Him and confess our sins. And we need to realize that no matter how many times we have failed, God wants us to get past it. Failure can be a learning opportunity — the school of hard knocks. And most successful people had many failures. Thomas Edison failed in over 1,000 experiments when inventing the light bulb. Abraham Lincoln failed to win numerous political elections before becoming President. On the topic of failure, Dr. Martin Seligman, a renowned author and psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania, said, "It is the combination of reasonable talent and the ability to keep going in the face of defeat that leads to success. What's missing in tests of ability is motivation. What you need to know about someone is whether they will keep going when things get frustrating. My hunch is that for a given level of intelligence, your actual achievement is a function of not just talent, but also of the capacity to stand defeat." The Bible says we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. So there is no need for anything more than temporary defeat for a Christian. The future holds total victory for the believer, so we should dust ourselves off and get back up if we ever stumble and fall. "The path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, that shines brighter and brighter until the full day (Proverbs 4:18). So this brings me to conclude with the definition of success for a Christian: knowing the will of God, and continually working at doing it.

Building Overcomers,

Dale & Judi Leander


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