The secret to success I am about to unfold is probably not what you thought it would be, but it’s better than anything you could have imagined. If you’re intrigued, read on.
It’s a brand new year.
While any day is a good day to move your life forward in a positive way, the beginning of a new year presents us with a special psychological moment to make a fresh start. That’s why it’s such a great opportunity for motivational speakers, resolution-makers and all those people who are so good at telling us what we aren’t but should be.
The problem is, most of it is hype and never works.
Can I offer a very counter-intuitive suggestion? In simpler language, an answer that at first doesn’t make sense. Here goes…
The secret to success is this. Start by admitting you’re a failure. It’s not very ego-inflating, but it’s the truth.
This past year, I have felt my own failures very often and very keenly. I’ve tried to write about some of them, hopefully without deteriorating into just talking about myself, which helps nobody. I have looked at the testings and struggles I’ve faced and often judged my own responses negatively. I’ve looked at friends going through worse things and felt they seemed to respond better than me.
So it seems I’m a failure. You positive thinkers and sympathetic friends, please listen for a moment before you either throw me overboard or try to comfort me.
The fact that I am a failure is actually very liberating. It sets me free from the delusion that I can break myself out of prison. And in the process (and this is the important part) it reminds me of the greater truth that God himself can do in me what I cannot in my own strength ever do.
The devil came to Martin Luther in a dream with a long list of all his current failings as a believer. In the dream, Luther saw a hand writing these words across the list: “The blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, cleanses me from all sin.”
So before we trot out the saying that we’re saints, not sinners, and all that is behind us, let’s acknowledge this one fact. Only one successful human being has ever walked the face of this earth, and we know his name.
Recent non-Christian historians, I read last week, have pegged Luther as perhaps the single most influential person in modern history, yet even Luther knew that in himself he was a failure. That’s why he coined the phrase simul iustus et peccator -- at the same time justified and a sinner.
He didn’t argue over his failure with the devil, but chose instead to stand on the fact that he was now identified with the one man whom the devil (to his terror) knew was and is an everlasting and unbeatable success.
I want my life to move forward this year. I want to make a difference for God. I want to do everything he calls me to do. I want to be successful, but…
I know that I can never in myself be a success. All I can do is allow him to give me a share in his success.
And that alone is what gives him the glory.
I have no righteousness, but he has allowed me to share in his. I have no status with God, but he has allowed me to share in his. I am a child of God, yet only through him.
So at the beginning of this new year, with all its possibilities and challenges, I choose to cast myself as a man without merit or success in myself, as in fact a glorious failure, on the mercy and grace of the man who alone can give success, in the hope that my life can make a real and tangible difference to his kingdom in 2017.