Success and Failure

Psalm 118:25 (NIV)
O LORD, save us;
O LORD, grant us success.

Success & failure.
We think of them as opposites, but they’re really… companions – the hero and the sidekick. ~Laurence Shames

I used to be afraid of failing at something that really mattered to me, but now I am more afraid of succeeding at things that don’t matter.
– Bob Goff, Love Does

Jesus’ life didn’t go well. He didn’t reach his earning potential. He didn’t have the respect of his colleagues. His friends weren’t loyal. His life wasn’t long. He didn’t meet his soul mate. And he wasn’t understood by his mother. Yet I think I deserve all those things because I am spiritual. – Hugh Prather, quoted in Secrets of a Good Life

Usually, without growth being forced on us, few of us go willingly on the spiritual journey. Why would we? The rug has to be pulled out from beneath our game, so we redefine what balance really is. More than anything else, this falling/rising cycle is what moves us into the second half of our own lives. There is a necessary suffering to human life, and if we avoid its cycles we remain immature forever. It can take the form of failed relationships, facing our own shadow self, conflicts and contradictions, disappointments, moral lapses, or depression in any number of forms.
– Richard Rohr

Anyone who doesn’t make mistakes isn’t trying hard enough. -Wess Roberts

No matter how significant or life-changing your greatest hit or miss might be,
neither even begins to define who you are. – Colin Powell

Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.
-Winston Churchill

We err when we think that we can have a “sliding scale” of accomplishment in the rest of our lives, but must have a “perfect score” when it comes to discernment. Instead, we must understand that finding and following God’s will inevitably brings us to moments when we realize we have failed to “get it right.” It’s in that moment we must understand that discernment is not about complete accuracy, but rather about complete devotion.
– Steve Harper, Ministry Musings: What if I Get it Wrong

While Adam and Eve had done something wrong, what they felt wasn’t guilt. Guilt didn’t make them hide their nakedness…it was shame. And here’s why that’s a significant distinction, because guilt is about what we have done – but shame is about who we are. We should feel guilty for the wrong we do. That is healthy and leads us to the foot of the cross where we receive grace upon grace for the forgiveness of sins. Shame on the other hand…that’s different. Shame keeps us afraid of God. As I said earlier, this is an origin story and here’s something we learn from Adam and Eve: shame has an origin… and it’s not God. – Nadia Bolz Weber, Sermon: A re-telling of Adam and Eve and that Damned Snake

Genesis 24:42 (NIV)
When I came to the spring today, I said, “O LORD, God of my master Abraham, if you will, please grant success to the journey on which I have come.”

The beginnings of Jesus’ ministry required after his baptism that he immediately enter the desert, where he was tempted. The basic temptations were the three “Ps” — power, prestige, and possessions. … Here we reach the depth of the gospel’s foolishness. In our society, these three “Ps” are not temptations at all. Instead they are the basic promises advertised all around us as the rewards for living society’s values. There is no escaping the seriousness of Christianity. Either it is a stumbling block to the people in our society, or the values of modern society are foolishness to the serious Christian. It cannot be both ways. – W. Paul Jones, The Upper Room Disciplines 2003

Success is liking yourself, liking what you do and liking how you do it.
– Maya Angelou

All the greatest things you have done,
with those of all the masters,
are little purple berries
on the end of bare branches
that songbirds come and eat
and then migrate far,
strong and beautiful.

All the mistakes you ever made
fall like leaves and rot
in God’s good dark earth
until, after time and regret
and a winter of letting go,
it all becomes rich, black soil.

Reckoning by Steve Garnaas-Holmes

If your success is defined as being well adjusted to injustice and well adapted to indifference then we don’t want successful leaders. We want great leaders – who love the people enough and respect the people enough to be unsought, unbound, unafraid and unintimidated to tell the truth. – Cornel West

We 21st-century types want our lives to be full of successes and significance. We want our children to be impressive to the world around us. Jesus calls on us to have more patience with and respect for failure, hiddenness, and insignificance.
Alyce M. McKenzie, Reflections on the Seed Parables in Mark 4:26-34

Mark 10:42-45 (NRSV)
So Jesus called them and said to them, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

In the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. – Martin Luther King, Jr.

Nehemiah 1:11 (NIV)
“O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of this your servant and to the prayer of your servants who delight in revering your name. Give your servant success today by granting him favor in the presence of this man.” I was cupbearer to the king.

The plain fact is that the world does not need more successful people, but it does desperately need more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers, and lovers of every kind. It needs people who live well in their places. It needs people of moral courage willing to join the fight to make the world habitable and humane. And these qualities have little to do with success as our culture has defined it. – David Orr

A Servant’s Prayer
Divine Master, we are your servants;
Bearers of the cup of salvation from you, our King, to a thirsty world.
Forgive us, for we often twist and waste your gifts and empowerment.
Set our hearts and minds aright,
that we may rise above falsehood and selfishness.
Open our eyes and hands,
that we may share every ounce of your blessing with joy and thankfulness.
Renew us and send us forth again,
that we may live courageous and faithful lives,
for the honor and glory of you alone. Amen.

A Servant’s Prayer © 2012 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
You are welcome to use this work in a worship setting with proper attribution. Contact Lisa for posting and publication considerations.

For more information on the art, scripture translation and the use of this post in other settings, please refer to the copyright information page.

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