Succeeding at Nothing

Posted on April 5, 2022


By David Ettinger

Wise Words
Every Sunday, the church I attend highlights a quote by a Christian personality. Last Sunday featured this convicting gem by 18th-19th century English missionary William Carey: “I’m not afraid of failure; I’m afraid at succeeding at things that don’t matter.”

I was immediately struck by the quote, my thoughts making a beeline to a particular desire: Being a published author of books. Note I said, “of books.” As a longtime journalist, I wrote more than 300 newspaper articles – which, of course, were all published – and have over 200 published magazine articles.

But books are different. I have 2 published books. By “published,” I don’t mean self-published. These 2 books were published by entities which have actually paid me. I have 4 other full-length books written but not published, but I desire them to be.

The Purpose
Which brings me back to the William Carey quote, which in turn forces me to ask myself: “Why do I want my books published?”

For one thing, like most writers, I want my writings to be read by others. Perfectly natural. There’s also the legitimate goal of being able to help, educate, or please others. Devotionals can often help people who are going through a tough time, therefore, a devotional book is certainly an admirable endeavor.

So are Bible-teaching books. In my case, in 2014 and 2015, Zion’s Fire magazine (of which I am an editor and contributor) posted my 13-part series on the Minor Prophets. The series was popular then, and continues to be as we here at Zion’s Hope still receive requests for the articles.

I collected the 13 articles and sent them to 2 publishers, both of which were interested. However, both said they recently published books on the same topic. Large publisher Baker Books showed particular interest in the project, and securing a publishing deal with them would have been a real feather in my cap!

The same with my 2 full-length biblical novels – one on Mephibosheth, the other on the woman with the issue on blood. Readers of novels would enjoy the fast-paced “reads,” and indeed a couple of other good-sized publishers showed interest. Alas, my name wasn’t “big enough.” Too bad; “scoring” a deal with one of the two publishers would have also been a feather in my cap!

Succeeding at What?
Hmm. “A feather in my cap.” Is that what I write for? To pat myself on the back? To win acclaim? To puff myself up? Though I believe readers would appreciate these 3 works and learn from them (they already enjoy and learn from the Minor Prophet series in magazine form), would that really be enough to satisfy me?

I can’t quite say it would. I know deep down I crave the “prestige” of being a successful book author. Of course I know this isn’t what the Lord wants. He wants his children to exhibit humility and be committed to living for His glory.

But I have this “ego” thing I’ve been trying to keep in check since giving my life to Christ in 1986. And this depends – I foolishly know – on being a successful book publisher. Which brings me again to the Carey quote: “I’m not afraid of failure; I’m afraid at succeeding at things that don’t matter.”

Touching people with the Word of God matters loads and bushels; being a “success” in an earthly endeavor does not. If being a “successful” publisher of books serves only to boost my name, it is no more than “succeeding at things that don’t matter.”

What does matter is “succeeding” at that which brings glory to God, brings believers closer to God, and helps lead unbelievers to faith in the Lord Jesus.

May God help His children forsake “succeeding” at nothing, but to “succeed” only in that which has eternal value!