Bible, Teaching
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How to be a successful failure

The prophet Ezekiel in by Michelangelo (1475-1564) Sistine Chapel: Wikipedia

The prophet Ezekiel by Michelangelo (1475-1564) — Sistine Chapel: Wikipedia

From man’s perspective, the prophet Ezekiel was an absolute failure. God sent the prophet to call Israel to repentance.

But everybody hated him.

Nobody listened to him.

Nobody repented.

It all started in chapter 2, when God commissioned Ezekiel. The Lord told the prophet, He was sending him to a rebellious people (v 3).  And if Ezekiel had any expectation the people would respond, God told him:

“Whether they listen or not — for they are a rebellious people — they will know a prophet has been among them” (v 5 NASV).

This sounded like a fun ministry time. God knew in advance Israel would not listen, but He needed a man still willing to go. When God judged Israel, no one would be able to say God never warned them.

God needed a man secure enough in his relationship with God to minister without external signs of success. I have read similar stories of missionaries who worked for decades to only see four or five people come to Christ and two of them backslid. But they continued ministering day after day because they desired God’s glory and not man’s.

It would be easy from reading this article to look at large churches, successful ministries and best-selling books as indication these men and women are succeeding because they preach what people want to hear. Though this can happen, it is not always true. Jesus attracted massive crowds during His day — in some instances well in excess of 5,000 people (Mathew 14:21; 15:38).

What we are talking about is not the result of ministry, but what motivates it.

Are we motivated to seek man’s approval or God’s?

From God’s perspective Ezekiel was successful, but from man’s he was a failure.

Success sometimes comes later

During his life, Ezekiel saw no success. But sometimes that comes later, after a person has died. Ezekiel’s prophecies were eventually included in Scripture and since 1815, it is estimated over 5 billion Bibles have been printed.

Over the centuries, hundreds of millions of people have read Ezekiel’s prophetic words and many challenged and edified by what the prophet wrote.

When Dr. William Leslie, a missionary from Canada, died in 1938, he left this life believing his ministry was a failure. For the last 17 years of his ministry he worked among a tribal group in the Democratic Republic of Congo. However, everything turned sour when he had a falling out with a tribal leader, who forced Leslie to leave the area.

He returned home in 1929 dejected and discouraged, and with the word “failure” stamped on his forehead.

But that all changed in 2010, when representatives of the Tom Cox World Ministry and Mission Aviation Fellowship went to the area along the banks of the Kwilu River where Leslie had ministered.

They decided to visit the Yansi tribe across the river. It was a tribe Leslie had only visited once a year. They had not been the major thrust of the missionary’s ministry — they were an after thought.

However, when the team visited the tribe they were stunned by what they found. There was a church in every village. One village even had a church building that could seat a thousand people. Each church had a choir. They were writing their own gospel tunes and even holding choir competitions between the villages.

The seeds that Leslie had planted decades early were now bearing fruit.


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