The Folly of Pursuing Success




Let’s face it, we all like or would prefer to be successful. Everything we read, see or hear nudges us to work harder, try harder, and achieve the goal of “success.” And considering that I wonder if that is why we fear failure as much as we do.


Have we tied our sense of value to success to a degree that we determine we have no value or worth if we do not achieve some measure of success?


Perhaps one of the big challenges here is to determine how each of us defines success. Of course, the dictionary tells us what it means. Ads of all types for all sorts of things identify what success is from their point of view, but that is just it – it is their point of cap-celebration-ceremony-262485view, their standard.


Success is influenced by many things and it can drive us if we put it in the driver’s seat. Reaching goals and attaining success are not bad things at all, but it can be easy to forget it is illusive and can change in subtle or major ways as we go along. Often the measure keeps moving forward just as we think we might have reached it. Suddenly it is not quite in our grasp.


If we consider the factors that influence our journey to success, some of the things on the list might be family background, birthplace, education, health, intelligence, drive, opportunities, network connections, age, and more.


Most of us would agree with that list and there is a lot of evidence to point to how influential they are, but are we determining what success is based on by how our society, culture, family, profession, church, or peers define it? If so, we may well be headed for trouble.


Perhaps one of the guideposts to consider when we look at success is to recognize the value of one of Stephen Covey’s habits for successful people: begin with the end in mind. Too often we don’t consider where we want to end up, not just in school or a job, but in life. What do we want the end of our lives to look like?


What does the Lord want to see in us at the end of our life?


How does He measure success? What does He see as failure?



Those are the markers that are key to the choices we make throughout each day. It’s those little decisions and choices that move us closer or farther away from what the Lord has called us to be/do and/or what we have determined will mean a life well lived. It involves living life with intentionality, being proactive toward that end instead of only reactive to what comes at us.


“Success is not final; failure is not fatal. It is the courage to continue that counts.”

Winston Churchill


This quote of Winston Churchill’s is a favorite of mine and he said it in some of the darkest hours of WW II. The quote is a reminder that success is fleeting and temporal in this life. It also reminds us that failure is not fatal unless we believe it is. What we believe guides our choices and makes all the difference.


When I look at the life of Peter there is one example after another where it appeared he was not a success and might never be one. Scripture makes clear that Jesus viewed that differently.


On that last Seder Passover Jesus and the disciples shared together, Jesus was clear they would all fall away and leave Him on that night. Peter protests that he will not, but Jesus makes clear that He will. He also doesn’t look at Peter as a failure. Instead He tells him that He has prayed for him and that he (Peter) will return to Him after he falters and that he should then use that to encourage and strengthen his brothers.


Jesus saw beyond Peter’s weakness that most would call a failure (including Peter).


What did success look like? That Peter would turn to Jesus after the weakness, his failure was not fatal.


I sometimes wonder if Judas had turned back to Jesus after betraying Him if his failure might not have been fatal as well.


Those that others deem as unqualified with little hope of success have often proven to be quite the opposite. (There are so many examples – David, Rahab, Samson, and Peter come quickly to mind – the end saw them quite differently than they were at the outset.)


There are other examples closer to current history – Abraham Lincoln, the Wright Brothers, Walt Disney, and Henry Ford come to mind.


The Apostle Paul might define success this way from a portion of Romans 13:9-10 (ESV):


“…any other commandment..summed up in this word: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.”


What does success at the end look like?


“Commending his servant, the master replied, ‘You have done well, and proven yourself to be my loyal and trustworthy servant. Because you were faithful to manage a small sum, now I will put you in charge of much, much more. You will experience the delight of your master, who will say to you, “Come celebrate with me!”’

Matthew 25:23 (TPT)




When Hope Is Out of Focus



Wherever we may be in our faith, on days that go along without many hiccups our hope can stay fairly steady. It’s when an avalanche hits us from one direction or another or we falter and fail yet again on something we felt we had overcome that hope can get out of focus.


Hope can get out of focus for a lot of reasons.


The lack of focus can be how the enemy seeks to defeat us or it can also be because we have placed our hope in the wrong thing. No matter the cause, if you live long enough you will have opportunity to have such an experience. And it will be easy to start berating ourselves when that happens. It’s a temptation the enemy knows will usually work.


The temptation usually works to move us into greater hopelessness because it pulls us deeper into focus on us. Then accusations of the enemy get turned up louder in our heads as memories of other times play across the jumbo screen in front of us. The goal is to nudge us to despair and loss of faith as well as hope.


If you have been reading some of my writing recently, you are aware I have been studying a bit about Peter and gleaning rich insights into Christ’s love in the midst. Too often messages give us more focus on when Peter opens his mouth and blurts out something without appearing to think and shows everyone what he has missed in that process.



But Peter’s life and personality are brimming with windows into so much about our own relationship with God though Christ. They offer us a rich understanding of Christ’s covenant with him, but also with us.


On that pivotal night of the Lord’s Passover so many story lines leap off the page to consider. One of the saddest is when Jesus tells these disciples He has loved and walked with so closely that they will all be tempted to betray Him and fall away. He does in fact already know who and how this will happen. He knew it before He called each of them to be among the chosen twelve.


Then the Lord turns to Peter specifically and gives him the example that he will be sifted like wheat and in the testing, he will falter despite his protestations of steadfastness. What comes next is something we need to pause and digest because we will need to remember it – not just Peter.


Jesus tells Peter that He has seen all this and has prayed for him already for that moment. There is no hint that He is surprised or disappointed, but instead He reassures Peter that He has already prayed.


“How incredible that Jesus Christ and God the Father do not stand back and watch to see if Peter, or the disciples, or any of us, will have enough strength to endure in faith.”

Eric and Kristen Hill


Those words are no less true for any one of us who are his current day disciples, but we cannot stop there with what Jesus said to Peter and says to us in the last portion of Luke 22:32:

“And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”


IMG_2624 (1)Jesus does not doubt that when Peter falters as He knows He will that He will turn again and be able to then strengthen others around him. He is making an assured statement about this most impulsive and dearly loved disciple.


Eric and Kristen Hill in The First Breakfast make the truth stand out in bold bright colors:


“Peter’s faith will be tested, but it will not be abandoned. The prayers that Jesus has already been praying will go on to strengthen Peter, drawing him back to Jesus again. Peter will not be left without a shield to fight the temptations of the enemy. Jesus has already gone before him, making a way back to Himself in restoration before the testing of his faith even begins.”


It confirms the promise John writes in John 10:27-28:


“My sheep hear my voice, I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand.”


Jesus’s heart for us sees ahead of the temptation, the testing, the faltering or failing in the test, and looks toward the restoration and reconciliation. Even in our weakness, we will not be snatched away.


“The hands of the Father and the Son are wrapped fully around us, even as we walk through the flames of the refining fire. And though we may be knocked down and shaken to our very core, we will not fall through the sieve. His loving hand will hold us fast. The words of Jesus are true of our own souls, just as it was for Peter that night, just hours before Peter would do the one thing he so confidently insisted he never would.”

Eric and Kristen Hill



An Invitation



Inviting people to come to our home for dinner is something I very much enjoy doing. There is a special sense of connection that takes place around a table over good food.


Somehow conversation flows so easily that often we never leave the table for more comfortable chairs in other parts of the house. Coffee cups get refilled multiple times and the lit candles on the table flicker as the evening progresses. We can easily lose track of time.


When the schedule is busy or I have worked all day or all week, I can still feel pressure to plan the menu, shop, clean the house, choose good music to play in the background, and choose the dishes and linens I most prefer.


When I was first married, the pressure I felt had more to do with proving myself somehow to the other Marine Corps officer wives at our table. Later, I felt an internal pressure to somehow make the preparation look like it was easy and that I “had it all together”.



The goal was always to have everything done before guests arrived and that included me changing my clothes and touching up make-up. I felt I could relax when everything was in place. Of course, that didn’t always happen which tended to leave me feeling unsettled. Over time and years, the organization of such an evening became easier.


We were also blessed with one couple whose relationship with us grew to such a point that I didn’t worry if things were not ready because they would jump in and help finish while we all laughed and talked. The same would happen at their home as well. We were truly “at home” with each other no matter which home we were enjoying, no matter what had happened with a recipe, no matter whether the table was set or I still had flour dust on my clothes.


What a gift!


Recently, we were having new friends to our home for dinner and I had chosen a simple menu, which ended with my homemade pie. Homemade pie has been something I have become known for and usually I manage it with ease and the results are fairly predictable.


I was in the midst of making the cherry pie when everything began to fall apart. The crust had rolled out perfectly. Now to make the filling. The thickening agent I usually use was not working at all and suddenly I was racing about trying to sort out what I could do to accomplish the job. What had started out as a simple task I have done hundreds of times became a mountain to be conquered and it took much more time than usual to do so.


I suddenly felt like Martha racing about the kitchen and I could almost hear Jesus admonishing me to look at what was important regarding the evening. From that perspective, the cherry pie filling did not meet the criteria of what mattered most.


We are encouraged to practice Christian hospitality, but that really isn’t about how perfect the food turns out, whether or not we eat from china or paper plates, use fine linens or paper napkins, have the house in order with no dust lingering or have stray magazines or toys left on the floor.


What really matters is the love, warmth, and kindness we extend.


That is what sets the stage for the lingering conversation around the table, the sense of community, and the enjoyment of deepening relationship.


That is also what allows those we invite to feel valued, relaxed, and free to enter into the time together.









But He Went Off Script

Photo by Bich Tran from Pexels


If we think we are okay with a less structured schedule, one way to test that is to think about our reaction when someone in our lives does something differently or at a different time.


We might discover that we are in a better place when there is some predictability in the rhythm of our days.


I’m a fairly structured person, but one who likes some free-flowing times here and there. How structured am I?  Even after retirement I keep a calendar for appointments and to remember birthdays, anniversaries, and special occasions. If I get a call to change one of those scheduled times, I can most often accommodate the change and yet I am not usually excited to do it.


There is a rhythm to my days and weeks and in retirement I like to make sure those things that matter most to me can happen with regularity and without getting shifted much. They got squeezed and sometimes deleted for many years and now I choose to value and prioritize them.


Many persons who work shifts find challenges in their rhythm changing. A social person agriculture-antioxidant-carrot-33307who enjoys gardening and getting together with friends can feel pretty upended if their employment position requires them to work at night and sleep during the day. The things they love are not going to fit very well and they can feel disgruntled.


You can get that sense with the rhythm of the school calendar as well. More than a few parents prefer the school year rhythm – not just because the children are out of the house, but because it sets a more predictable ebb and flow of each week. (especially bedtimes) That allows everyone to be clearer on what they can plan to do and when it fits. Summer schedules are fun but can also feel like a whirlwind.


New retirees who have worked all their lives have worked within a scripted planner to varying degrees. When retirement comes and they now have the freedom they were looking forward to, some express a sense of uncertainty about what to do to fill their days after the novelty of the first few weeks has worn off. For those whose careers gave them little time to develop their hobbies and passions, it can be even harder.


When someone goes off script too much of the time, most of us feel unsettled.


No one did that quite as effectively as Jesus in his earthly ministry.


Think how many times He did what no one expected. It’s little wonder the religious leaders of the day doubted He was the Messiah. He wasn’t acting in the way they expected. He chose common men and women to be closest to Him including the 12 He chose as disciples instead of choosing the religious scholars of the day.


It happens over and over again. He spends all day teaching a multitude and then asks the disciples to come up with a lunch for them when there is only one boy with five loaves and two fish.


Jesus is walking on the road to Jerusalem passing through Jericho and a short wealthy tax collector wants to get a glimpse of this Jesus and runs ahead and climbs a tree to get a better view. Jesus sees the man in the tree, calls him down and says He is going to the house of this Zacchaeus. Calling out a tax collector perched in a tree and inviting yourself to his home is certainly going off script.


Then there was that day where the religious of the day took a woman caught in the act of adultery and prepared to stone her as the law required. This was a grievous sin after all, but when Jesus came on the scene He stooped down and wrote something in the dirt for those who had stones in their hands to read. Whatever He wrote, it caused them to drop their stones and walk away and Jesus told the woman He forgave her. Who could have seen that coming?


bark-boat-dawn-1039080At the end of another long day of teaching Jesus tells the disciples He needs some time alone and goes off into the mountain to pray. They head out across the lake in a boat to meet Him on the other side and an incredible storm starts rocking the boat to an extent even these seasoned fishermen are afraid. Who could have expected to see Jesus walking on the rough waves to rescue them?


Passover and the traditional Passover Seder was a special observance that everyone grew up knowing. The same foods were served in the same order, the same prayers were said as the history of the first Passover was observed.


When Jesus told Peter and the disciples to meet Him for this Passover Seder, they have no idea it will be different or that we will forever remember it as The Last Supper. Jesus went off script again at an observance they would likely have experienced with Him before. He washes their feet and takes on the role of a servant, lowering Himself before them. It’s little wonder the disciples are bewildered and struggled with what He was doing. Peter even insists He not do this thing and misses the point.


You see when Jesus went off script, He showed love in ways that caught them off-guard. Moment by moment when Jesus was with them, He was not just teaching the gospel, but living it out. He was reminding them of the humble positions He was calling them to take when He ascended into heaven and entrusted them with the gospel and told them to build his church.


It can be easy for us to fall short in our understanding of spiritual formation. Reading and reflecting on the life of Peter in The First Breakfast, I was reminded again as the authors (Eric and Kristen Hill) wrote these words:


“Incredible spiritual formation happens in us when we recognize that we genuinely are unworthy to have Jesus wash our feet, but in His posture of grace, He kneels before us and washes them even still. Once that realization begins to take root in us, only then can the gospel of His great love and grace come alive in us. Even if we don’t understand it all just yet, the way forward to be with Jesus comes only in a posture of surrender. Only then can the unworthy soul begin to feel its worth in Christ alone.”


He is demonstrating in his actions how little they understood what love means in a myriad of ways and we miss it as well far too often. He catches us by surprise as we glance out our window at sunset on a winter’s evening and the sky is awash in reds, golds, purples, and yellows. We have seen many lovely sunsets, but He arrests our attention again.


He also models how He would have us show love and how that can happen when we go off script as He leads us.


Nothing is the same in a life when Jesus goes off script to reveal the truth and love we would otherwise miss.

Photo by Rob Blair






We Like a Script


Photo by cottonbro from Pexels


As you read this title, do you tend to agree or disagree?


Some of us are free spirits that like to take life as it comes and enjoy our days unscripted. It feels better to us that way and gives us room for doing what we want to do when we want to do it. We feel more relaxed when there is no “demand” for our time or a schedule.


The problem with that desire is that adulthood brings with it responsibilities and goals that interfere with most of our days being that way. Our employer usually has a time we are to arrive and leave, work that he is paying us to accomplish within a specified timeframe. We may not like the parameters but growing up means accepting more of our days will belong in this category even if days away from work give us more freedom.


Young adults fresh from college or other training are sometimes shocked to discover the new job they have is not always to their liking and find it hard to adjust after idealizing what this new season might look like. How we navigate that tension within us will be key to what follows.


We may well be tempted to pursue comfort at all costs rather than deal with imperfect armed-army-battle-894655working conditions, inconvenience, frustration, confusion, and more. We might be even more troubled if our faith walk convinced us that God had opened this new door for us and because of that we anticipated things would be going far better than they are.


Sometimes we really do like a script because we would like to skip ahead a few pages and see what happens next or how things work out in the end. It gives us the illusion that we may have some semblance of control over potential turns in the road that we do not like.


If we are trusting God with our life and direction, we can lose sight of this passage:


“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

Isaiah 55:8-9 (NIV)


God’s path, interruption, or disruption of our plan for us may make no sense at all. Why would He take us this way? This certainly must not be the right script for me.


Once we start debating that in our head it inevitably leads us to what Larry Crabb says are three choices in his book When God’s Ways Make No Sense:

“Resist and run. Distort and deny. Tremble and trust.”


 Larry says:


“When we realize that God’s way of running the world and guiding our lives make no sense, tremble. Tremble before a God whose thoughts and ways are far above our thoughts and ways about what the truly good life is and how to live it. Feel our confusion. Own our doubts. Embrace our fears. Face our disappointment. Experience our anguish. Then trust…”


samme-mejias-narnia-11That can only begin to happen if we hold the steady belief that God is good. Saying that brings to mind those famous lines in the conversation between the beavers and the children in C.S. Lewis’ classic, The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, as they ask about Aslan and if he is safe. It’s perfect:


“Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”


 God knows us better than we know ourselves.


We look at the backside of a tapestry and it seems like the colors and textures make no sense as He weaves them into our lives. But He sees the opposite side and the stunning beauty of his handiwork.


You see, He knows what those darker threads and knotted places can accomplish in our lives to develop more of his character and fulfill his purposes. He knows that without them, the bright lovely colors and smooth textures we like so much will never really look all that spectacular.


He has the original design, created when He created each of us.


Does that mean we have no choice and are merely puppets?


Not at all, but sometimes when we do not “tremble and trust” and choose what seems like an easier way, we will actually add more knots and dark threads that could alter the better image He has in mind.


Larry Crabb points to why trembling is the best choice:


“Tremble before the incomprehensible God and trust that He is good. Trust that His love is committed to our growing awareness of the deepest and happiest well-being that’s available to us now, that His love will lead us into an eternity where we will know every delight we were created to enjoy. Gaze on the cross. Remember Christ’s death. Nowhere is the love of the incomprehensible God more fully and clearly displayed. But always remember: tastes now, the full banquet later.”


And remember that our finite minds could never have imagined the script that included a cruel cross for our ransom. That kind of love eclipses our capacity to fully grasp.