I think its easier to handle failure than it is to deliberately walk away from success. When we fail, we have no choice but to face reality sooner or later and admit that weve fallen short. But when we succeed at something we tend to grow proud, and as much as we may complain about all that such success demands of us, we cling to it desperately. It gives us meaning. It validates our existence. It becomes more than what we do; it defines who we are. So to even contemplate letting go becomes a very personal threat. We view it as an attack and those who dare to suggest it to us, as enemies. But the seasons of our lives must change, and the fact is theres no stopping that change even if we try. So we must hold all things loosely. Not grip them. In other words, see the blessings and success in our lives as gifts on loan from God, not permanent possessions that well keep forever.
It takes real maturity to do something well, as long as we need to do it, and then graciously stop when the time comes and give what weve been doing over to someone else. It takes real maturity to refuse to see that moment as a threat or a failure and instead see it as a part of Gods great plan. It takes real humility and faith to rejoice when God gives what was once ours to another. But it can be done. John the Baptist proves it. When that moment came he was magnificent!
Aenon near Salim (Jn 3:22-30) DBS (Wed-Fri)
v25: The Greek words used here tell us that Johns disciples started this discussion. They intensely questioned a man who was probably a Pharisee or a religious leader from Jerusalem about purification. The word purification might mean they debated over a technical aspect of Jewish ritual washing, but in light of the way Johns disciples reacted to this discussion, the man apparently had observed Jesus ministry and was able to report to them what he had seen. He must have told them about the growing numbers of people who were coming to Jesus and that He was baptizing them, and they may have discovered that Jesus was teaching the meaning of baptism differently than John.
v26: Whatever it was, the mans report seems to have shocked and angered Johns disciples. The crowds coming to be baptized by John may have been dwindling, and this was the moment when they realized that people had begun turning their attention to Jesus instead. After the discussion they went to John and reported to him, Rabbi, He who was with you beyond the Jordan (Jn 1:29-36) to whom you have borne witness, behold this man baptizes, and all are coming to Him (literal). Clearly this was new information to them, and judging from Johns reaction, they saw Jesus as someone competing with them for influence.
v27: Johns response is one of the greatest statements of faith in the Bible. His words are full of humility and prophetic insight into his own calling. He began by saying, A man cannot receive anything unless it is something that has been given to him [from] out of heaven (paraphrase). In other words, he recognized that God was the source of the ministry which had been taking place through him. It was God who was convicting peoples hearts and bringing them to be baptized. The amazing response he and his disciples had been experiencing over the past few years was not the product of human effort. They had been included in a miracle, and John recognized that if he tried to cling to a work that God wanted to bring to an end he would be carrying on without Gods help. He fully understood that no human can force God to bless us or what we do. We can only align ourselves with what God chooses to bless out of heaven. John was not being passive, nor was he unwilling to work harder. He was prophetically aware that a spiritual change was taking place. He knew the Messiah had arrived (Jn 1:30), but he may not have realized until that moment that the arrival of the Messiah meant his own ministry was coming to an end. Yet he accepted that fact with no trace of jealousy or self-promotion. If heaven was now choosing to pour out its blessing on another, then he would gladly submit to the plan of God.
v28: Then John reminded his frustrated disciples, You yourselves are my witnesses that I said I am not the Messiah but that I have been sent [by God] before that One (literal). In other words, The goal of my ministry has never been to promote me. My assignment has always been to prepare the hearts of people to love and honor Someone else, Someone much greater than me (paraphrase).
v29: Then he used an analogy to help them understand the relationship between himself and Jesus. He compared that relationship to a marriage ceremony. At a wedding there is a bride, a groom and best man. His point was to show them how wrong it would be for the best man to want the bride for himself. The bride, by which John meant the people, rightly belonged to the groom, by which he meant the Messiah which he now knew was Jesus. And the proper role for the friend of the bridegroom was to help make the arrangements for a happy wedding. When the best man hears the grooms voice he must stand back and be glad the groom has arrived, for now the wedding can take place. John then explains to his disciples that this is why he felt joy rather than sadness at their report. People turning to the Messiah filled him with joy because it showed that he had played his part well.
v30: John understood that the change taking place in peoples hearts was according to Gods plan. He said, It is necessary [for] that One to increase and [for] me to decrease. This was not a sad moment for him, nor was the transition of Gods blessing to another a sign that they had failed. It was proof that they had succeeded. It was a moment they should celebrate.
Success is doing what God called me to do as long as God calls me to do it. Sometimes His plan requires me to continue far longer than I thought I could, but at other times His plan asks me to let go sooner than I wanted. So to be truly successful is not only to discover His plan for my life, but to recognize when the season for that plan changes. As Ecclesiastes says so beautifully:
There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heavenA time to give birth and a time to die; a time to plant and a time to uproot what is planted (Ecc 3:1-2).
That means that success requires not only achieving something significant but gracefully giving way to others when God indicates that the time has come. And to do that requires that I keep listening to Him for guidance and guarding my heart from developing wrong attitudes.
Rejoicing with John
Why was John the Baptist able to rejoice when crowds of people left him and began to follow Jesus? Make no mistake, that was a painful moment, but he chose to handle it well. And in his explanation to his disciples he told them exactly why he was able to respond the way he did. Lets listen. We need those same attitudes:
1) v27: John knew that no human can force God to bless something. We can only align ourselves with what He has chosen to bless. He was humble and realized that he was totally dependent on God. He knew it was pointless to try to continue if God chose to bring that season to an end. He knew that we are part of Gods plan; Hes not part of ours.
2) vs28-29: John knew that the change that was taking place did not mean he had failed. In fact the response of the people was proof that he had succeeded because his goal had never been to promote himself. His assignment was to prepare the hearts of people to love and honor Someone else, Someone much greater than himself.
In everything we do we should be working for the success of those who will follow us and rejoicing when they do, just as a parent rejoices when their child grows taller, stronger or smarter. They intuitively understand there must be a transition, and because they love that child they rejoice in their success rather than feel jealous of it.
This is not simply a matter between the old and the young because there are numerous seasons in each of our lives. Change is normal and a part of Gods plan, but in His plan the ending of one season always means the beginning of another.
Seasons: We discover our assignment, develop our skill, do it fruitfully, then mentor others to take our place.
3) v30: John stayed spiritually aware. He watched for the next season (Jn 1:31-34), and when Jesus arrived He discerned His true identity. Notice his choice of words, He must increase, but I must decrease. He refused self-pity. He refused to expect thanks and honor for his years of service. He refused to demand loyalty from the people as a reward for his faithfulness. To him it was a matter of life and death. If the result of his labor was that people believed in him, he had failed because if their love and faith were focused on him they would perish. If people believed in Jesus they would have everlasting life (v36).
Lets remember what weve learned: Success requires not only achieving something significant but also gracefully giving way when God says that time has come. Like John, I must remember:
Im part of Gods plan; Hes not part of mine. He decides what Hell bless.
A change of seasons doesnt mean Ive failed. It may be proof Ive completed my assignment.
My goal is never to glorify myself. It is always to help people love and honor Jesus because Hes the Savior, not me.
I need to stay spiritually alert, listening and watching for Gods guidance. I want to be able to recognize when Hes asking me to change and rejoice, not become sad.
Lets read Johns words together once more. Theyre magnificent!
1) Can you think of a time when Gods plan for you changed, but you didnt realize what was happening and instead of rejoicing you grieved? How did you feel at the time? Has your perspective changed? How does it look to you now?
2) Can you discern Gods will for you? Is the season youre in starting, continuing or coming to an end?