You yourselves know, dear brothers and sisters, that our visit to you was not a failure. You know how badly we had been treated at Philippi just before we came to you and how much we suffered there. Yet our God gave us the courage to declare his Good News to you boldly, in spite of great opposition. So you can see we were not preaching with any deceit or impure motives or trickery.1 Thessalonians 2:1-3
What can I learn from Paul’s defense of his time in Thessalonica? It appears that someone actively spoke out against Paul and his ministry. It might have sounded like some of the things I hear today. “That is never going to work!” “No one is going to buy that story!” “He just wants your money! Don’t get sucked into that bunch of baloney!” “Follow Jesus? Right. He died, you know.” “Paul is turning people away from God to worship a man.” “He speaks about another king, threatening our allegiance to Caesar.” “He is a revolutionary, intent on causing harm and then escaping when things get difficult.”
But Paul affirms the visit wasn’t a failure. He goes on to say this:
We loved you so much that we shared with you not only God’s Good News but our own lives, too. Don’t you remember, dear brothers and sisters, how hard we worked among you? Night and day we toiled to earn a living so that we would not be a burden to any of you as we preached God’s Good News to you. You yourselves are our witnesses—and so is God—that we were devout and honest and faultless toward all of you believers. And you know that we treated each of you as a father treats his own children. We pleaded with you, encouraged you, and urged you to live your lives in a way that God would consider worthy. For he called you to share in his Kingdom and glory. Therefore, we never stop thanking God that when you received his message from us, you didn’t think of our words as mere human ideas. You accepted what we said as the very word of God—which, of course, it is. And this word continues to work in you who believe.1 Thessalonians 2:8-12
Paul measured success by the simple fact that the Good News was preached and it changed those who believed. It wasn’t the amount of time he spent there, the number of people who believed or the praise he received from others.
How do you define success? If you experience opposition about something, did you fail? If others don’t support what you do, is it failure? If motive comes into question, does that mean you should change course?
Or is success more accurately defined by obedience? Obedience to walking with the Holy Spirit every day, allowing Him to direct your steps in spite of what others might say or do, leaving the results to God.
What is your inner critic saying? Are you falling prey to criticism, doubting that your life has purpose or significance? Step away a second. Have you been obedient to the Holy Spirit? Are you reflecting God’s character to the world around you? Are you furthering His loving purposes? Then you have been successful even when you can’t see the results of your obedience.
Now, go and change your corner of the world with confidence!