When “Success” is Elusive

Whether due to our American culture or simply the carnal flesh, most of us are hungry for success.

Not always in the forms of fame or wealth, sometime we just want a sense of growth or progression. (Or a small assurance that we’re not irretrievably screwing up our children? Anyone?)

A young, courageous man taught me a lesson on this topic recently: 

David, the shepherd, went valiantly into battle against Goliath. He went in the name of the Lord Almighty and killed the giant (1 Samuel 17: 45, 51). King Saul responded by appointing David as a commander in his army (1 Samuel 18:5). The same verse highlights David’s unfettered success in “[w]hatever Saul asked [him] to do.” As the troops returned from battle, the streets were lined with women singing David’s praises:

Saul has killed his thousands, and David his ten thousands.
— 1 Samuel 18:7 NLT

Saul’s jealousy of David flashed hot. A spear flew. And then:

…Saul banned [David] from his presence and appointed him commander over only a thousand men…
— 1 Samuel 18:13 NLT

A demotion. No longer was David the soothing remedy to the king’s angst with his lyre. Now leader to “only” a thousand. The scope of his role has changed. Have you experienced the same?

  • Your children leave the nest (for kindergarten or college!), taking with them their day-to-day need for your assistance.
  • You lose your job in a company reorganization or retire from your life’s work.
  • Your tenure on a committee or board ends.
  • You relocate and find your “necessity” in the lives of others reduced.
  • You begin a new venture (business or ministry) yet don’t experience the explosive growth you’d envisioned.

You’re left with less than you’d hoped for.

It’s the last half of 1 Samuel 18:13 that instructs:


He was faithful. 

The passage doesn’t tell us whether David’s feelings were hurt by this reduction in his status. The young man, who’d previously spent his days with smelly sheep, may not have been injured by it because he’d never aspired to becoming a commander, let alone king. But his example to us still stands: David remained faithful to the task he’d been given. He didn’t sit back and lament the insult of being demoted.He didn’t clamber to regain it or find status elsewhere. He simply, and humbly, took care of that with which he was charged.

So, friends, what can we learn from this young man? In what situation are you hoping for “more”? What does “being faithful” look like?

  • Whether our children need us for fewer hours in the day, or seemingly not at all, let’s respond with the same earnestness and love we always have… not resenting their maturing.
  • If company dynamics leave you with fewer employees or less-demanding tasks, serve with humility and do them well, as unto the Lord (Colossians 3:23). In retirement (vocational or ministerial), accept your new purview and apply the same diligence your  previous labor required.
  • Faithfulness in the face of loss in social standing — resulting from a move or any other life change — must prompt us to seek the Lord as our first friend and to embrace those whose path crosses ours with love. Yes, even those we deem less “lovely.” Especially them. 
  • When our enthusiasm over the new tasks, small businesses, and start-up ministries deflates when the markers of “success” are absent — be they dollars, clients, followers, contracts or gigs — let’s return to our sense of calling…our “why” for beginning them. And then let’s be reinvigorated by the words of Jesus: “The master said, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in handling this small amount, so now I will give you many more responsibilities. Let’s celebrate together!'” (Matthew 25:23 NLT).

Not all of us will experience success as the world defines it. As we grow and mature, perhaps we’ll want less of that kind of success. And it’s His to give (and take away, according to Job 1:21). Let’s be heartened by the knowledge that we serve El Roi, the God who Sees (Genesis 16:13).

Be faithful to the task. Whatever — and however small — it might be.

Please share!