Worship is easy in the wake of success. As such, it is so easy to attach our identity to our professional prowess. Moving from plan to plan, project to project seemingly accomplishing much in our own workplace kingdoms, we can seem like kings and queens in this self-made kingdoms. Ministry or professional success can bring much glory to God, but it can also be a very subtle opportunity for our identity to become intertwined with our productivity and status.
Over the past year, I’ve experienced a variety of professional shifts and setbacks. On one level, these have been difficult to absorb, at times feeling sharp, painful and unnecessary. Success is great, and it is a gift. But it also can subtly deceive us into believing we have only successes coming our way moving forward.
Setbacks are a gift too, and they are used by our Father to sovereignly guide our hands to the work he has intended and our hearts deeper into communion with Him. In hindsight, my failures and setbacks have been as strategic and important for my direction and development as my successes have been.
This past year has been difficult, a journey from the professional realm to vocational ministry has been filled with many lows to process, but these setbacks have been opportunities to see God change and shape my heart like never before.
Breaking our control is a gift of grace.
I experienced another one of these setbacks last week, it was like a punch to the gut. It hurt, and led me to question what in the world is God doing. However, in the broader picture it was a tremendous gift of grace. It was a pervasive and loving reminder that God is more concerned about my holiness, than my ministry advancement. As a leader, this is an acutely important reminder.
Leaders beware: It’s not your own work that brings you from one place to another, but the work and will of God. Are you working toward that promotion? Are you seeking to take the Gospel overseas? Do you desire to move into full-time ministry? Every professional shift is from above, and is a result of our Father’s direct involvement in our life. Even our talents and skills are from him, so if you find an opportunity opens up for you, don’t assume it’s because you’re awesome. Assume it’s because God is providing another avenue for his mission to be fulfilled through his people.
Proverbs 16:9 reminds us: “The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps.” And when God closes opportunities, or you can’t seem to make that move happen, remember the psalmist: “I say to the Lord, ‘You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.’” Success or setback, we have no good apart from God.
Silence tells us much.
Lately, one of my greatest frustrations has been the silence I feel on the other side of my prayers. I do not write this from the wonderful “hindsight” we all wish to be in when we give advice. No, I’m in it today. And I’m waiting for God to show up and guide me and my family. I know he will, but his timing is almost never mine, and that brings a lot of frustration at times.
I just finished reading in Exodus about our forefathers, and their costly decision to build a golden calf for worship in the supposed absence of both their leader and their God. Sometimes God chooses to be silent. He is silent, and he may not choose to come through at the exact time we seek his face. When this happens remember: Silence from the Lord can either drive us to worship or idolatry.
For me, this silence has driven me to work harder for my own advancement instead of patiently and prayerfully waiting on God to act. This isn’t just misguided effort, this is dangerous idolatry. Instead of trusting in God, we trust in our own efforts making a golden calf out of our talents and abilities to get us from where we are to where we want to be. This idolatry steals our joy, happiness and peace in the One who passionately is for us. It also fills us with an enormous amount of anxiety, leaving us constantly wondering if what we’re bringing to the table is enough.
Ungrateful people are always unhappy people.
My pastor, J.D. Greear, said recently, “According to Jesus, happiness is not rooted in circumstances, but in being right with God … happiness is a response to the Gospel.” This is true in success and it is true in setbacks. If we are ungrateful, our joy and happiness is rooted in our circumstances, what’s changed and what hasn’t changed.
But as believers, we should live as the plant for a new humanity, a people who live and think wholly different than those who haven’t been reconciled back to their Creator. This is easier written than done. However, it should be a loud and echoing daily reminder that our joy, hope and happiness lie not in what today does or doesn’t bring, but in being right with the One who has the ability to fulfill us in every way for eternity.
If your dreams aren’t being fulfilled today, do not despair. God is just as concerned with the process as he is the end result. Root your happiness in the One who has already made you complete in Christ, regardless of what the future holds.