I know many who long to make a mark in their field. I know writers who long to get that first contract and publish that first great novel. I know musicians who yearn to get noticed and get signed and get recorded. I know speakers who are convinced they could make their mark if only they could be invited to that first conference, deliver that first keynote, inspire that first audience. I know and admire many such people and often find myself rooting for them.
Yet even as I cheer them on from the sidelines of their lives, even as I attempt to encourage them as much as I’m able, there is one prayer I encourage them to pray amidst all their longing: “God, give me only as much success as I can handle.”
It has long been my observation that most people can handle failure better than success. If failure tends to spur innovation, success tends to breed stagnation. If failure tends to occasion humility, success tends to engender pride. If failure tends to stimulate dependence, success tends to generate self-reliance. I have seen people who seemed to be making great strides in godliness, great advances in upright and holy living, until they achieved success and gained acclaim. It was then that their progress seemed to screech to a near halt or even to reverse itself. When they gained the thing they had longed for, they lost the progress they had labored for. I have seen far more people ruined by success than by failure.
The reason is simple enough: Their success outpaced their sanctification. The level of their accomplishments rose faster than the growth of their character. Their vocational achievements came at the cost of spiritual achievements. They gained more success than they could handle and it led to great harm.
The God who opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble loves it when we pray and ask him for his blessings. He honors it when we pray with submissive hearts. He admires it when we pray with an awareness of our weaknesses, an awareness of our temptations, and then plead for his strength and deliverance. Old Agur begged God to give him neither poverty nor riches, but only as much he needed, for he knew that with full pockets and a full belly he would be tempted to deny the Lord’s past providence and with empty pockets and an empty belly he would be tempted to doubt the Lord’s future provision. While he would claim credit for any abundance, he would censure God for any lack. Knowing his weaknesses, he asked God to give him no more than he could handle.
Those who pray for no more than they can handle will find joy and comfort in even modest achievements, for they will know and trust that God has given them what is for their best and withheld from them what would be to their harm. Their calling is not to resent the lowly one talent or two that God has assigned to them, not to bury that little bit in the ground while grumbling about not having more, but to be faithful with it and to steward it well. They can do this with gladness and confidence, trusting that God has given them what he, in his providence, has determined is needful and best. He has withheld from them no good thing.
But, of course, it would be wrong for them to rest on their little laurels, assuming that they can be of no greater use to the Lord and to his purposes. Even as they humbly accept what the Lord has assigned to them, it must be their joy to continue to grow in godliness, to continue to pursue holiness, to continue to trust that as they grow in grace, they may be preparing their character to handle more success and with it more opportunities to good to others and bring glory to God. For to pray, “God, give me only as much success as I can handle” is to accept the challenge to become ready to handle more.