Christian Living

How I Measure Success

Author Alan Shlemon Published on 09/10/2013

Alan’s monthly letter for September 2013

Dear Friend,

“How do you stay positive when change seems impossible?” My wife’s question caught me off guard. I had just returned from working in Beirut, Lebanon, training Egyptian Christians in theology and apologetics. Although my training and overall trip went great, I shared with her a story that troubled me.

I felt significant opposition when I taught on abortion. Although Egyptian Christians are pro-life, it’s difficult for them to oppose abortion in the instance of rape for two reasons. One, women who are raped are often blamed for the incident. They are harassed and, in extreme cases, murdered for shaming their family. Two, adoption is not allowed in Egypt because Islam forbids it.

This results in a dilemma. If a woman is raped and gets pregnant, she can have an abortion, but this means killing her unborn child. Or she can decide to carry the child to term, but she risks losing her life—and the life of her unborn child. Plus, she can’t place her child for adoption. Both she and her child will be ostracized for life.

The solution is to either change Egyptian law to allow adoption or change Egyptian mentality to nurture raped women. Neither option is plausible. This left my wife wondering how I remain positive. Let me tell you what I told her.

The key is to know how to measure success. I don’t determine success on results, but on faithfulness. Here’s what I mean.

If I were to measure my success merely on results (minds changed, souls saved, abortion made illegal, etc.), then I would become discouraged. Certainly, I can identify individual “victories” where I’ve changed minds on abortion, convinced people that God exists, or led people to Christ. But overall I’ve “failed” more times than I’ve succeeded to achieve those kinds of results.

Perhaps you would say the same about yourself. Does that make us failures? Not at all. We’re not evaluated on the results: convicting hearts, changing minds, or saving souls. That’s God’s job.

Our measure of success is different. We’re to be faithful ambassadors for Christ. We should strive to be effective communicators of the truth. That’s how I measure success. Did I articulate God’s message in a clear and winsome way? Was I honest, persuasive, and gracious? If so, then I succeeded. Since my role is different than God’s, how I measure success is different, too.

When I was teaching the Egyptians about abortion, I explained to them that abortion—even in the case of rape—was not justified. Although it was difficult for them to accept this, it was not because the pro-life view was morally mistaken. The problem was Egyptian culture. They don’t allow adoption and don’t care for women who are raped.

My solution? Change the culture. Even as the words came out of my mouth, I was laughing in my mind. Yeah, sure...change 1400 years of Islamic culture. Who am I kidding? Did it sound like an impossible task? Yes. But it didn’t make the imperative to be salt and light any less urgent.

I told them I, too, face insurmountable odds back in the United States. For example, I’m committed to end the injustice of abortion. That’s an institution that’s been legally entrenched in U.S. law for over 40 years. It’s a right many Americans expect. Who am I to think I’ll change the culture on this issue? If I only focused on the result, I’d get discouraged. Instead, I focus on being faithful, which is all God asks of me. I leave the results up to Him.

Whether my Egyptian students make adoption legal or whether I make abortion illegal isn’t how success is measured. Certainly, it would be good news if either occurred. Ambassadors of Christ, however, are measured by their faithfulness to do their part, no matter the odds, no matter the outcome.

That’s why I’m grateful for you. Even though in previous newsletters I’ve pointed you to many examples where exciting results have taken place, you know that we’re achieving more success in the thousands of ambassadors we’re training to be effective communicators of God’s message. And God will use their faithfulness.

Being salt and light,

Alan Shlemon