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Navigating the Stumbling Blocks to Success

Everyone wants to succeed, and life holds so many areas in which we try. But often we don’t understand the keys to success—or the core problems that get in the way!

Brimming with self-confidence, the young minister boldly strode up to the pulpit to deliver his first sermon. But as soon as he looked out at the congregation, a wave of panic swept over him. His thoughts froze in mid-sentence, rendering him fearful of even opening his mouth. He eventually managed to stumble through a few sentences, but the sermon he felt so assured would awe the audience dissolved into a disaster. Red-faced, he hurriedly exited the stage.

After he slid into his seat, an elderly lady leaned over and offered him a bit of sage advice: “Young man, if you had gone up the way you went down, then you could have gone down the way you went up.”

Was the young man humiliated or humbled? (There is a big difference between the two!) It depends on how well he took her advice and whether he learned the right things from the experience.

One would hope the wise counsel did not fall on deaf ears and that he succeeded in something far more important than impressing people—becoming more humble. Being a better man is far more important than being an awesome speaker.

Learning the big lessons

I suspect we can all see a little bit of ourselves in his story. Like all of us, he desperately wanted to succeed, but also like all of us, he felt the sting of shame that comes from failure.

Success sometimes seems so elusive and the bitter pill of failure tastes a lot worse when we realize that we have been our own worst enemies in achieving it.

There are a lot of stumbling blocks we have to navigate on the road to success. Among the most dangerous is pride.

While this old story goes back to at least the 1840s, its lesson is timeless. It reminds me of an even older saying that goes back around 3,000 years: “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.”

This adage is one of many such bits of wisdom that King Solomon collected for his son in the biblical book we know today as Proverbs. You read that one in chapter 16, verse 18. Here’s another gem we find later: “A man’s pride will bring him low, but the humble in spirit will retain honor” (Proverbs 29:23).

Solomon wrote and collected hundreds of such “success proverbs” because, like any good dad, he was trying to help his boy achieve his full potential. So he coached his son on subjects such as anger, correction, counsel, envy, honesty, kindness, laziness, leadership, lying, controlling the tongue, self-control, tact and wisdom. All of these—and the proverbs associated with them—are worth closely examining to understand how they affect our character and our odds of success.

Had the story of the young minister and the elderly lady been around in his time, Solomon may have included it in his collection too.

One’s success depends on learning the big lessons about life.

Stepping-stones to success

Big lessons are the focus of the lead articles in this issue. So many entire books have been written on how to succeed—in careers, marriages, finances or life itself—that initially we questioned whether it was a little too ambitious for us to tackle such a huge subject with only a couple of short articles.

Then again, we’re not claiming to cover everything there is to say about success. We’re just trying to provide stepping-stones to get you started on that path.

If these articles help just one person understand three of the biggest lessons about ensuring success—and the biggest factor that will kill it—then we will consider this issue, well, a success.

If we can kindle an interest in exploring more of God’s values and His principles of success, that will be even better.

Clyde Kilough


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Discern Article Series

Christ Versus Christianity
Walk as He Walked
Christianity in Progress
Wonders of God's Creation