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THE FAILURE OF SUCCESS
by Philip Owen

          Success has ruined far more lives than failure. Everyone wants to be successful. No one sets as his life’s ambition to be a noteworthy failure. Yet the reality is that there is far more danger inherent in success than in failure. Failure tends to bring us to our knees, to promote humility, to provoke us to seek the Lord. Success, however, inclines to promote self-confidence, followed swiftly on its heels by pride and self-righteousness. Before long, we find ourselves taking credit for something that was actually the fruit of God’s grace. And we should not assume that the pitfalls occur only in the sphere of secular success. Success in the spiritual realm may be equally dangerous. Did someone come to know the Lord following a witnessing opportunity you had? Did you find yourself contentedly commending your ability to explain the gospel? Did someone thank you for the music special you performed? Did you find yourself reveling in your musical ability and wishing for another opportunity to display your talents? Did a brother or sister in Christ thank the Lord for a great answer to prayer, and did you discover yourself quietly gloating over how effective you were as a prayer warrior? Consider the lesson of King Uzziah of Judah.

            The chronicler tells us that Uzziah became king when he was only sixteen years old. He quickly became successful in every sense of the word. “He did right in the sight of the Lord” (II Chron. 26:4a); “he continued to seek God in the days of Zechariah [the high priest]” (v. 5a). “He went out and warred against the Philistines” (v. 6a) and in quick succession took several of their key cities: Gath, Jabneh, and Ashdod. “God helped him,” the chronicler tells us (v. 7a), so that he waged victorious military campaigns against, not only the Philistines, but also the Arabians and the Meunites. And whether because he defeated them or they wished to avoid war, “the Ammonites also gave tribute to Uzziah” (v. 8a) so that “his fame extended to the border of Egypt, for he became very strong” (v. 8b). He fortified his capitol, Jerusalem, as never before, and he presided over “an elite army of 307,500, who could wage war with great power” (v. 13b). The inspired history of this part of Uzziah’s life concludes: “Hence his fame spread afar, for he was marvelously helped until he was strong” (v. 15b).

            Did you notice those four words: “he was marvelously helped”? Apparently, Uzziah missed them because his brief biography continues with these words: “But when he became strong, his heart was so proud that he acted corruptly, and he was unfaithful to the Lord his God” (v. 16a). Just how did that pride manifest itself? Did Uzziah build a gigantic monument to himself? Did he commit great immoral sins? On the contrary, he attempted to worship God on his own terms: “for he entered the temple of the Lord to burn incense on the altar of incense” (v. 16b), an act of worship that God required be performed only by consecrated priests (v. 18). But Uzziah had become so enamored of what he considered to be his accomplishments that he deceived himself into thinking that he was good enough to determine the appropriate way to worship God. When he became ”enraged” with Azariah and fully eighty other priests because they bravely condemned his arrogant sin, immediately “leprosy broke out on his forehead” (v. 19b). His epitaph? “King Uzziah was a leper to the day of his death; and he lived in a separate house, being a leper, for he was cut off from the house of the Lord” (v. 21a).

            Of course, these words are not a harangue against success of any kind. Clearly, it was the Lord who caused Uzziah’s success in the first place. The Lord Himself exhorted Joshua to be faithful to the law, telling him, if you do “then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success” (Josh. 1:8b). But it is a reminder that genuine success results from God’s kind will and gracious activities on our behalf. The moment we take credit for what God has done in and through us, the moment we start thinking that we have achieved the success ourselves or even that we merit what God has graciously chosen to accomplish through us, we have succumbed to the sin of pride and are in danger of losing God’s blessing. Usurping the glory that belongs to God alone—even just in our own minds—is a grievous sin. May we not have to fall on our faces in abject failure in order to walk humbly, thankfully, and, yes, successfully with our Lord.

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