Are you successful?
It was an ordinary day on Facebook when this picture appeared in my feed and grabbed my attention. Amid the regular rhythms (school run, work, cooking dinner) and the irregular rhythms (Pinterest, new outfit) of my day, this image won’t stop flashing through my mind. If the response to my posting the picture on my Facebook wall is anything to go by, I’m not the only one.
This little image as produced something of a kairos in me, a time standing still moment, presenting an opportunity for God to move in my life:
I thought of the times when I’ve seen and indeed spiritualized the idea that success is about going from strength to stronger strength, one degree of greatness to another. I think we’ve often over invested our hearts and minds in the idea that success is found in fame, popularity, wealth. We’ve overcommitted our energies into producing perfect bodies, perfect homes, perfect marriages, perfect children. We’ve overplayed the view that the most successful church or ministry is the biggest one, producing conference invites and book deals.
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be successful. There’s nothing wrong with wanting healthy strong relationships, a fulfilling career, or wanting healthy strong churches and ministries that change the world for good. Its just that if we think that the way we get there is by soaring in our own strength, or on our terms… we’ll soon reach beyond the end of ourselves. Our relationships become strained, our churches, our careers aren’t anymore successful or effective, even though we’ve driven ourselves to work twice as hard.
God has a different way for us.
My grace is enough; it’s all you need.
My strength comes into its own in your weakness.
(2 Corinthians 12:9 The Message)
There’s something in that squiggly arrow that looks and feels plain wrong, and misdirected and frustrating… and weak. We’re not doing, being, getting to where where want to be. Yet it appears that when we realise we can’t succeed or make it happen , we might just be on the brink of the success that truly matters.
The twisted arrow reminds me that we are people on a pilgrimage. The answers aren’t always clear; and yet you find that its how you handle life’s questions, not finding tidy answers that seems to make the difference. Life is littered with setbacks; and yet we can reflect that times of great pressure has often produced incredible creativity. Its opened up new doors and directions that you would never have discovered if life had gone your way.
Guidance doesn’t guarantee good times and calling doesn’t always mean that you don’t find life and relationships confusing. Yet I wonder if you too have found there was something so powerful in seeking God that produced genuine strength and maturity in you? You felt like you were going in circles, yet you were completely unaware of the progress being made. You were growing, healing, learning in the silence.
Then there’s the lessons lived and learned in failure that have seared your heart. Whilst you’d rather not experience that kind of humbling again, you’re quietly grateful for the way that failure saved you from much greater pain in later years.
The apostle Paul responds to God’s reminder of grace by saying
Once I heard that, I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ’s strength moving in on my weakness. Now I take limitations in stride, and with good cheer, these limitations that cut me down to size—abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks. I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become.(2 Cor. 12:10 The Message)
So what could this mean for our lives? How do we learn to not only accept the squiggly arrow, but embrace and engage with a journey to success which encompasses weakness ?
I believe that for many of us, the first step begins with surrender to God. Its impossible to embrace weakness (and so His power), if we are still clinging tightly to our cultural definitions of our success in our own strength. They are incompatible attitudes.
If we want to be successful in a way that actually matters, then its worth exploring how we surrender our attitudes and our lives to Him. What could it mean to surrender to God, not as an altar call, but as a life? How would it shape how we handle our money, dreams, passions, strengths, weaknesses, relationships, if they were surrendered to His will, His terms, His influence?
I’ve found these words of John Wesley, (known as the Methodist Covenant prayer) a helpful prayer to return to. I first discovered it growing up in a Methodist Church as part of our annual Covenant Service. I was reintroduced to it years later, as the missionary movement that emerged from our church in Sheffield, affectionately known as TOM, began. But this prayer is best when its not expressed in my history; but when its prayed and lived as an integral part of my daily life. Perhaps this could be your prayer today?
I am no longer my own but yours. Put me to what you will, rank me with whom you will; put me to doing, put me to suffering; let me be employed for you or laid aside for you, exalted for you or brought low for you; let me be full, let me be empty,let me have all things, let me have nothing; I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things to your pleasure and disposal.
Glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, you are mine and I am yours. So be it. Let this covenant now made on earth be fulfilled in heaven. Amen.