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How to Fail until You Succeed


Jeff Bezos launched Amazon in 1995 as a website that sold books. Fast forward twenty years: the company that now sells virtually everything announced that its shares have soared 75.7 percent this year. By contrast, Walmart shares are down thirty percent so far. Its investors have lost $83 billion this year.


Not every startup becomes Amazon, of course. In fact, ninety percent of business startups fail. But successful entrepreneurs are undeterred. They view failure as only a step from success.


Writing for the Brookings Institution, Isfandyar Khan quotes the Silicon Valley mantra, "fail fast, fail often." He likens setting up a company in the U.S. to going on a speed-dating event: "You keep skipping from one to another until there is a match." According to Khan, this entrepreneurial impulse gives American innovators a decided advantage over their European counterparts, who face much harsher consequences for business failure. 


How can you and I develop a Silicon Valley mindset?


First, trust God to give you the people and resources you need to fulfill his purpose.


In 2 Samuel 21, Israel went to war with the Philistines. David went with the army, perhaps because his earlier decision to stay home from combat led to his sin with Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11:1). On the battlefield, he was targeted by a Philistine who was "one of the descendants of the giants" (v. 16). We think immediately of David's victory over Goliath.


This time, however, an Israelite "came to his aid and attacked the Philistine and killed him" (v. 17). Later, David's brother "struck down" another Philistine warrior "of great stature" (vs. 20, 21). Even King David didn't have to slay all the giants himself. 


Nor do we. As members of the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:27), we need each other. According to the Book of Revelation, there are no solos in heaven. We are coals in a fire—the closer we stay to each other, the more brightly we burn. Our culture applauds the self-made person. But in God's eyes, there's no such thing. (Tweet this)


Second, define success as God does.


Eric Metaxas is speaking tomorrow night at Dallas Baptist University. Afterwards, he and I will share a conversation on cultural issues. (To make your reservation, email or call 214-333-5152.) In his latest book, 7 Women and the Secret of Their Greatness, Eric makes this observation: "Each era has the fatal hubris to believe that it has once and for all climbed to the top of the mountain and can see everything as it is, from the highest and most objective vantage point possible. But to assert that ours is the only blinkerless view of things is to blither."


God takes the long view. As a friend once told me, we see the parade through a knothole in the fence—our Lord directs it from the grandstand. Our culture celebrates the overnight success. But in God's eyes, there's no such thing.


Winston Churchill believed that "success is never final, failure is never fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts." I agree, so long as "failure" is not the failure to find and fulfill God's eternal purpose for our brief time on earth. 


Submit this day to the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 5:18), and know that you will have all you need to do all you are called to do. Success is obedience. And the results of obedience last forever.



Publication date: October 19, 2015


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