Over the past few years, Linda and I have enjoyed listening to the “How I Built This” podcast. Each episode contains an extended interview (usually about 45 minutes) with an entrepreneur who launched a successful company. We’ve enjoyed hearing Sara Blakely tell the story of how she started Spanks, Howard Shultz on how he launched Starbucks, Seth Goldman on how he created Honest Tea, and many others.
What I enjoy most about the podcast is hearing the backstory of these companies. Almost without exception, the founders went through a great struggle to get things started. Every successful company had its share of dark days and tough times. I’m inspired by the creativity, resilience and persistence of the entrepreneurs; each one had to keep bouncing back after being repeatedly knocked down.
I also enjoy the show’s host, Guy Raz. He comes across as genuine and gracious. He’s asks hard questions in a winsome, respectful way.
At the end of each show, Guy Raz always asks the same question of the person he’s interviewing: “How much of your success is due to your skill and hard work and how much is due to luck?”
Most entrepreneurs answer by attributing their success to a blend of both. They acknowledge putting in long hours and pressing on in spite of setbacks. But they also admit to benefitting from lucky breaks or fortuitous circumstances—meeting the right co-founder, launching at the right cultural moment, finding an angel investor to provide seed money.
I’ve always hoped I would hear an entrepreneur give a different answer. I’m looking for the answer that Isaiah, the Old Testament prophet, would give.
In Isaiah 26:12, Isaiah writes of a day when Israel will enjoy peace and prosperity. Having been beaten down for so long, they will finally be safe and secure (26:1). Their population will increase; their borders will expand (26:15).
If Guy Raz were interviewing Isaiah about this incredible turn around for the nation of Israel, he might close by asking his famous question: “Isaiah, how much of this peace and prosperity is due to Israel’s political skill and national grit, and how much is due to luck?”
I know how Isaiah would answer. He wrote it down for us. “Lord, you have established peace for us. All that we have accomplished you have done for us” (26:12 NIV).
I’m struck by Isaiah’s words. On one hand he acknowledges incredible accomplishments on Israel’s part (“All that we have accomplished”). But Isaiah has no illusions of grandeur or national glory. He attributes all these accomplishments to God’s work (“you have done for us”). Any peace and prosperity enjoyed by Israel was God’s doing. He allows them to play a part, but He remains the only hero of the story.
Here is an important reminder for all of us engaged in ministry for Christ. No amount of our own efforts will win the day. Isaiah makes this truth explicit a bit later when he says, “We have accomplished no deliverance in the earth and the inhabitants of the world have not fallen” (26:18). Simply put, by our own efforts, we cannot bring about the deep, lasting changes we long to see in our broken world. Only God can.
Yet the comforting implication in Isaiah’s answer is that God chooses to work through weak, flawed people like us. As he accomplishes His purposes, he graciously allows us to be involved. We do our work, trusting His greater work.
At Heritage, we are engaged in vitally important kingdom work. We are training spiritual leaders for Canada and the nations of the world. We desire to see churches transformed; we long to see people reconciled to God and one another. This is a monumental task and we have no illusions we can pull it off. Only God can. But, in his grace, He is allowing us to be part of His work.
So, we join Isaiah and respond to Guy Raz’s question by saying, “All that we have accomplished you have done for us.”