It is possible to discourage yourself for no valid reason. There is an aspect of human behaviour which can create the conditions for a sense of failure or defeat originating, not in reality, but in our construction of reality.
Think for a moment about how you define success in your work. Maybe it includes career progression, greater responsibility or more reward. Perhaps, if you are a people person, it will include a large portion of good relationships and healthy team activity. For all of us, we want to be valued and respected.
Suppose that these views of success are now classified as signs of God’s blessing and equated with his favour. Additionally, you may see achieving what you want to achieve as indication of spiritual breakthrough or victory. If you know yourself to be a serious believer who commits work to the Lord and prays about all aspects of work, you may find yourself connecting spiritual progress with work progress. So now, success, breakthrough, victory and spirituality have become entwined and your heart’s desire is to see things go well and the way you want.
Then comes a brush with reality. You experience a set back or a demotion. Your project does not go the way you want it and your career path becomes very rocky.
There is a tendency to question, to doubt, to feel that something has been lost; confusion about your faith or your progress replaces the hunger and thirst that you had before.
But here is the flaw: it is precisely because victory had been defined wrongly that you now feel defeated. It is because of an inaccurate view of success that you feel a failure. It is your approach to breakthroughs that has led to a sense of blockage.
Suppose you look back with honesty at your role and realise that you have tried to be faithful to the Lord and act honourably. Suppose you reflect on the fact that given what you knew, you trusted God and prayed for wisdom. Things not turning out the way you want may not be an indication of failure but a fact of life even though it is painful as each setback feels like a body blow.
As stone after stone hit the body of Stephen, his energy, his clarity and eventually, his life was drained from him. This horrific end was not something he would have wished. It didn’t look like success or progress – just disaster. But he had told the truth, he had been true to himself and his faith and he would not be compromised.
The problem, which you and I create for ourselves, is to take ourselves hostage to a wrong view of victory, then consider certain outcomes to be defeat. Supposing success and victory have to do with how you handle what happens, how you act and react rather than whether things turn out the way you wish. Maybe then you will be able to walk with an appropriate sense of purpose and success even though it may be extremely painful.
There is usually someone who notices how you handle these challenges, has seen the difference in your soul and realises that there is something powerful in your life. I don’t know who it may be in your office, or team, or group but it is a different and authentic type of victory that they are observing.
In Stephen’s case it was Saul of Tarsus who was watching.
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