How Failure Enabled Me To Comprehend God’s Definition of Success

faithcoop  •  May 15, 2024

Written by Paul Payne

During the early years of my professional career, I found myself on an exhausting quest for validation. It was a validation based upon, sadly, many things that didn’t really matter – the suits I wore, the car I drove, the vacations I took or the social and professional connections I’d made.

Sure, I was walking in faith as a believer in my role within the field of wealth management. I wasn’t necessarily motivated by money, but instead I longed to be admired and respected. The fact that I landed in this profession after graduating college with a pre-med degree was unlikely. But I became fascinated by the people I met and their unique stories of achieving success in accumulating wealth.

Like many others, I was drawn to successful people. I wanted what they had. I attended seminars and read books that were designed to build my practice assisting affluent families in creating multi-generational wealth. My competitive nature drove me to want more, to never be satisfied with the status quo, but leaving me feeling unfulfilled.

But in the midst of the financial meltdown of 2008, God got my attention. In one weekend, nearly 80-percent of everything I had saved for retirement and funding my children’s education evaporated. It was a stunning turn of events, shattering the very foundations of my validation.

But I also recognized that it was God’s mercy on full display. It altered the core values of how I operated my practice, and provided me with newfound empathy for the fears experienced by my clients during these uncertain times.

A passage that became real to me during this period and continues to resonate today is found in I Peter 4:12-13:

“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.”

All of a sudden, the axis of my calling shifted. I recognized that suffering should be expected, part of the package deal in being a Christian. It became validation that I belonged to him, a badge of honor that trials were being entrusted to me, tailor-made to bring about needed sanctification that could not be achieved apart from the trial.

I no longer struggled with the insecurities of how the world viewed me. I had a new validation based upon the Cross, recognizing it was based on what Jesus had already done, not on my paltry attempts at significance.

I’ve come to realize that success taught me very little. Most of the valuable lessons I’ve learned since then have been forged through failure and disappointment, viewing these events as further evidence that God continues to mold and shape me in ways I would never choose for myself.

Through this process, change has occurred. I am much more hopeful, humble and compassionate than I used to be. I am less judgmental, impatient and self-absorbed than before. My definition of success is completely redefined.

One of the works that impacted me on this quest was “Every Good Endeavor” by the late Rev. Tim Keller. This book helped reframe my perspective on my vocational calling. A passage that stood out to me is where Keller cites, “God is most pleased and we are most fulfilled when our passions and our competence intersect at the highest point.”

I see many people struggling with finding significance in their work. Their well-meaning passions are often misaligned with their God-given abilities. Ask yourself how what you do on a daily basis creates this perfect intersection and what are the underlying motives that drive you in your career.

By God’s grace, I’m thankful for the setbacks I’ve experienced – both personally and professionally – as gifts of his mercy. I am more intentional in creating margin in my life which allows me to use the gift of availability to encourage others. I am comfortable with the fact I am a reclamation project, no longer needing the approval of man to satisfy my inner longings.

As you prayerfully examine how your career calling is bringing about the pleasure of God and fulfilling your passions, don’t fear failure. Embrace it as one of the gifts God gives to his children so that we will look more like Jesus on the other side.

This story is part of a larger blog collection titled The Series of Faithfulness. For a full backstory on the blog series, view our first post here. To read the previous story in the series, see here.