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  • Writer's pictureMark Alan Williams

How To Be Successful In Life When You Have Failed

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Recently I was asked to make a 150 word contribution for an upcoming book by answering this question: “What has been your biggest failure as a church planter and what did you learn from this failure?”

Here’s my response:

My biggest failure was forgetting that Jesus said, “I will build my church” and instead seeing it as my job to build the church. The result was that I placed undue stress on myself and my family. I burned myself out and became depressed trying to do what Jesus said He would do. My efforts at church growth were good, but I put my trust in theories and methods instead of God’s sovereign work.

Now I have learned that Jesus is the boss of His church and the builder of His church. “If the Lord does not build the house, it is useless for the builders to work on it” (Psalm 127:1 GW). He might not build His church the way I would, but that’s OK, it’s not my house, it is His.

I appreciate the words of D. L. Moody, “Pray like everything depends on God. Work like everything depends on you.” My goal would be less striving and stress, more prayer and trust.

So that’s my short answer. But you might wonder how that works?

Here are 3 actions you can take to be successful even when you have failed:

01. Refuse to Focus on the WRONG Thing

Who would want to endure a major failure, a terrible national disaster, or a “plucking up” of what has been planted? (Jeremiah 45:4)? Such was the situation that kept Baruch, Jeremiah’s secretary, awake at night constantly groaning.

Yuck! That terrible situation would make me groan, too. I struggle to handle failures, setbacks and disasters. I long for accomplishment, admiration, and success. Don’t you?

But God’s instruction was: “And do you seek great things for yourself? Seek them not…” (Jeremiah 45:5a ESV) 

It is so easy to focus on the wrong thing—seeking great things. But God had an important message for Baruch and for us. God wants us to refuse to focus on the wrong thing.

02. Set your Mind on the RIGHT Thing: Seek to Know and Please Jesus

Instead of seeking “great things,” what should we seek? We must seek to know Jesus and to please Him – that alone – whether it brings what people consider success or failure.

The Apostle Paul briefly recounted his great “successes” in Philippians 3. But his point was not his personal greatness; it was the triviality of all human accomplishments, when compared to knowing Jesus.

His conclusion was: “But Christ has shown me that what I once thought was valuable is worthless. Nothing is as wonderful as knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. I have given up everything else and count it all as garbage. All I want is Christ and to know that I belong to him.”(Philippians 3:7 – 9a CEV)

No matter how we might look to others, we are a success if we are children of God and working to please Him.

03. ACCEPT God’s Plan for You

As we trust Christ, it is possible that we might not achieve the dreams of success we have set our eyes on. But we might not achieve those dreams even if that is our sole focus.

The beauty of trusting Christ is that we are a success no matter what happens! We can’t lose if our goal is Christ—either in this life or in eternity.

The Apostle Paul testified to this truth saying, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21).

So, do you seek “great things for yourself?” Seek them not. And don’t seek failure and disaster either. Neither of these should be our aim.

If success is our goal, we will end up with “garbage,” even if we are “successful.” If knowing and pleasing Christ is our goal, we will be filled with His love, peace, assurance, hope, joy, comfort and grace. That is true greatness and success.

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