The minister had just returned from a missions trip.
"What did you accomplish?" I asked.
"Well, the most important thing I did with the small churches in difficult situations," he said, "was give them permission to succeed."
That was an interesting thought. He must have sensed they saw themselves as losers. Their ministry was supposed to be tough, and they couldn't expect more than meager results. He realized they needed to raise their sights, to see the opportunities for success.
Why we're afraid to succeed
An incorrect concept of God. I have a son, and it would disturb me if my son were to say to some friend, 'My dad's got me right where he wants me—unsuccessful.' He and I would have to have a talk about his wrong concept of my feelings and desires for him.
An incorrect concept of how God works. Sometimes we hear, "Ask, and God will work a miracle." Normally, that isn't the way he works. God is the one who brought cause and effect into being, so usually right results come from right actions. You have a right to expect pay when you work because "the worker deserves his wages" (Luke 10:7). In the same way, you have a right to expect results when you diligently and intelligently use the talent he's given you.
A hesitancy to accept plaudits for abilities. Before speaking at a meeting of one of the very strict denominations, I was preceded by a young woman who sang beautifully. Afterward I said, "You have a lovely voice."
She hung her head and said, "Don't give me the glory. Give the glory to the Lord."
I said, "My dear, I didn't make a theological statement. I simply gave you a compliment from somebody who tried to sing and was not able to, and yet who recognizes that you can. Since I believe you have nothing except what you've received, any comments I make after that are within the scope of giving God glory."
I remembered a much healthier response from a charming woman I'd met years before. After having dinner with her and her husband, I said to her, "I believe you are one of the most gracious people I have ever met."
She smiled and said, "Thank you for noticing, Fred. I've dedicated it to Christ."
She didn't deny her graciousness; she confirmed it. Oswald Chambers said that worship is when you give your best to God. This was her best, and so she gave it to God as worship.
The issue, at its heart, is accepting a "worm theology." Scripture makes many statements about our human condition, both complimentary and critical. The problem is that we are quick to accept the negative. We have a harder time accepting the positive, that God made man only "a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor" (Ps. 8:5). Those who are most comfortable losing readily picture themselves not as children of a great God, but as worms. Now, compared to God, we are worms, but that's not the way he sees us. He made us from the dust but didn't intend for us to live there.
What is success?
Before we go any further, let's define success. Many people have the wrong understanding of it.
For Christians, success can never be measured by money. When people say to me, "That man's worth ten million dollars," that tells me he's wealthy, but it doesn't prove he's successful. In some cases, it could mean the opposite. For instance, if Mother Teresa, whom I consider a tremendous success, confessed she was hoarding a million dollars, I'd think she was a hypocrite. Money would prove her a fraud, not a success.
The measurement of success is simply the ratio of talents used to talents received. What you are doing with what you've got, plus who you are becoming. Are you a growing, maturing Christian? Whether you work in business, or in Christian work, or as a day laborer, professional, or academic, if you are a maturing Christian, using a large percentage of your talents, you are successful. Be glad.