Saturday, October 8, 2011


“And when John had heard in prison about the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples and said to Him, ‘Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?’” Matthew 11: 2-3

“Did I miss it?”
Sitting in a dark prison awaiting his execution John began to doubt himself, his message, and his work. “Are you the One or do we look for another?” he asked Jesus. He wanted to know if he had wasted his life in a pointless and now painful exercise in futility or if he had genuinely heard God’s voice and accomplished a legitimate and divine task. Jesus responded by giving him honor and calling him “more than a prophet.”

We too are often faced with inexplicable and unexpected turns in life that cause great perplexity and  bring us to the verge of despair. We forget the significance of our purpose in God and do not see the hidden fruit of our labor. During these times we must not necessarily trust our sense of failure. Perceived failure may not be real failure.

Flawed, but Succeeding
David completed his course and served the purpose of God in his generation (Acts 13: 36) even though his life was not perfect. There were instances of failure and stumbling, yet he still went on to fulfill God's plan for his life. David's example shows us that God, while not condoning sin and irresponsibility, does factor in our mistakes, failures, and short-comings.  He is not surprised. "He knows our frame; He remembers that we are but dust" (Psalm 103: 8-14) and so extends great mercy and abundant grace.

A Matter of the Heart, Not a Matter of Competency
There are Biblical examples of those who actually failed in God's service, but their failures were indicative of heart problems rather than competency issues. King Saul is an example. He was disqualified and removed from the throne, not because he lacked skill at being a king, but because he did not have a heart to obey the Lord (Acts 13: 22). He failed at obedience and faith, and he refused to surrender to the will of God. The issue comes back to the heart. A person who is rebellious at heart will fail and then use his failure as an excuse to disobey even more. A person who has a heart after God may stumble but will get back up and persevere in his attempt to please God and do His will.

A Graceful Thoroughbread, a Bucking Bronco, and a Swayback Mule
God is the ultimate judge of success and failure. In one phase of ministry I felt I was riding a graceful and beautiful thoroughbred. In another phase I was riding a bucking bronco, tossed and thrown. A third situation felt like sitting on an old sway-back mule that could barely stand up. The first seemed to be a success, the second was a partial success and a partial failure, while the third started off slow and then gradually tapered off, a failure by human standards.

But things are not always as they seem. Man and God do not always esteem things the same, and the mysteries of His will are not always known to us. Therefore, we should do our best, but let God be the judge. Sometimes we succeed in God's plan while failing in our own, while at other times we fail in our own while succeeding in His. What we think is failure may not be failure at all. The same is true for success. Our goal should be to please the Lord and leave the results to Him.

"Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord."   1 Corinthians 15: 58


Maria said...

I loved this one, Billy!

Low-Lee said...

O Brother Beely, what a good word - and yet one so hard to internalize! And, as you know, the real temptation is not even to judge success or failure by worldly standards of a huge following or monetary prosperity. It is when we appear, from our perspective, to have achieved what we (perhaps mistakenly) perceive to be God's standard of success - what we expected to be the divine affirmation of our work in His Name. Yet even there, we need the Lord's perspective. John, no doubt, would have been faithful whatever the outcome - but it is unlikely he started out in the role of Elijah with the expectation he would come to an ignominious end in Herod's dungeon. Very encouraging post, Billy, to keep our focus on the object of our activity and let God direct the consequences.

Anonymous said...

It seems that God uses/tries us in both success and apparent failure; in the charismatic/Jesus movement where we went from glory to glory, and in the un-church movement where we move house to house; or in some circumstances from suffering to suffering. I think of Rebecca Petrie who suffers in a bed affliction with no hope except her faith in God. God in His love for us let's us suffer. When the word of the LORD came to Jeremiah he knew it was the LORD when it was cousin comes and buys the field. Was that not how Jesus addressed John? "Tell him the blind see, the poor have the gospel preached to them...". Tell them it is being fulfilled. It is hard to see the glory when our children seem to be taking differing paths, but it is our hope that GOD in his grace and mercy will bring about His purposes for them in His time, not ours. Forgive my ramblings; you prompted somethig w/in me. Thanks for the blog.

Billy Long said...

Thanks for the comments.
What a blessing to have wonderful brothers and sisters in the Lord who have experienced the mountain top and the valley, and who have been faithful to the Lord from the pit to the peak and everywhere in between. Friends who can rejoice with me in my triumphs and who also can have compassion and comfort me in my difficult times.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Billy!
Preaching on Dust this very morning! He is faithful, His Word is True and I am glad He has chosen to give life to this old Dust!
Love you Brother,
Jerry Barnes

Go Forth and Multiply!

Michael said...

Thanks Billy for the timely and encouraging word.

Truth lover said...

S-o-o-o good! The just shall LIVE by believing! King Saul was a interesting example. Believing comes from the heart.

Lonnie said...

I love that we don't have to figure everything out - that it's okay for there to be things we don't understand. That was certainly John's issue. In Jesus' first sermon as he was outlining what his ministry would be, he said he came to open prison doors. Yet here was John, his forerunner and cousin sitting in prison. Why wasn't Jesus opening the door for him? It's a mystery! And it certainly caused John to question whether Jesus really was the Messiah he had proclaimed Him to be. The answer was found in the works Jesus was doing in front of John's disciples - yet He never explained why He didn't get John out of prison. Becoming comfortable with mystery is one of the "keys to success" - because He won't reveal everything to us, and we certainly can't figure everything out. If we can't trust Him when we don't understand Him, we'll shipwreck our faith for sure... GOOD WORD BILLY!

Billy Long said...

Thanks for the comment, Lonnie.