Spiritual Growth and Christian Living Resources

Why Potential Doesn't Equal Success

  • Daniel Darling Director, Land Center for Cultural Engagement
  • Updated Jul 07, 2020
Why Potential Doesn't Equal Success

I had a friend who hated to hear the dreaded, "P-word." To him, "potential" meant one thing: You're messing your life up, why won't you get it in line?  

He would say to me, "I'm tired of people saying I have potential and that I can do better. It would be so much easier if I didn't have any potential. There would be no pressure."

My friend, who later exceeded expectations by becoming a dynamic pastor of a large suburban church, hit the nail on the head.

With potential comes enormous pressure. Ask Solomon. Talk about potential; he was swimming in the stuff. His father, David, set up the nation of Israel in such a way that Solomon couldn't possibly fail. Then, the Lord made Solomon the wisest and richest man who ever lived.

Who could fail with that kind of a start?

Well, sadly, Solomon did fail. Sure, he built Israel into a superpower, he grew his wealth, he expanded the kingdom.

But as a spiritual and moral leader, he was an abysmal failure. As a result of his serial adultery, God eventually divided Israel into two kingdoms.

The question people ask is this. "How could someone like Solomon, who was given so much, fail?"

The answer? Potential doesn't equal success.

This is a pattern that's repeated today in Christian homes and schools across the country. Sadly, thousands of evangelical teens are walking away from the faith when they get to college.

How can teens—who have been given so much from their Christian parents, good churches, and godly examples—chuck it all in favor of the temporary pleasures of sin?

The answer? Potential doesn't equal success.

What plagued Solomon—and what plagues Christian young people—is a failure to internalize faith, to make it their own. Instead, they are content to rest on the fervency of their parents or their pastor or their church. But this kind of hand-me-down experience won't survive the rigors of college, the workforce, and marriage.

The key to success in the Christian life is not what you've been given, but what you do with the opportunities God offers you. Solomon had a lot going for him and failed.

Contrast that with Joseph, who grew up in a dysfunctional family, was betrayed by his brothers, sold into slavery, and was falsely accused of rape.

Joseph had very little potential, and yet he succeeded.

Our all-powerful God has blessed each one of us differently. We all possess different gifts, talents, and passions. We all have different backgrounds, family situations, and heritages. These are things you cannot control. These are advantages or disadvantages you did not choose.

What you can control is how you choose to live your life. Will you squander what God has given you, or will you use it for His glory? Will you lament your station in life or will you make the most of every situation?

You can have potential without any success. You can have success without any potential. You can also have potential and success.

Daniel Darling is the author of Teen People of the Bible. Visit him at danieldarling.com.

Originally posted June 2008.

Photo credit: © Getty Images/zenstock