The Shadow Side of Success

February 27, 2015 — 1 Comment

Success tends to be a spiritually precarious place to be.

“My greatest failures in life often came on the heels of my greatest successes,” a friend recently shared.

Even the Apostle Peter’s greatest moment of revelation—“You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”—was followed just a few verses later by his greatest rebuke—“Get behind me, Satan.”—after he thought he knew best the way Jesus should accomplish His mission.


We long for success, but if we don’t handle it well, we will be wishing we never experienced it in the first place. How do we keep our success from leading to our downfall?

A first step might be to understand the shadow side of success, those attitudes which often accompany success:

  1. Arrogance
    The moment that we begin to think that our gifts, our wisdom, or our expertise are the reasons for our success is the moment that the decline begins. Leadership expert and author Jim Collins calls it “hubris born of success.” Pride is the root upon which all other vices grow.
  2. Expectation
    Every investor knows that “past results are no guarantee of future results.” Yet if we experience success, we tend to expect that every indicator will forever be up and to the right, and we’re crushed when exponential growth doesn’t always follow our best effort. Organizations rise, and organizations fall; leaders rise, and leaders fall. Our only expectation should be that God will be present and faithful, whatever the circumstance.
  3. Complacency
    Thinking “we have arrived” can lead to complacency. Yet there is always more to be done—projects to begin and improve, relationships to build and deepen, goals to set and strive toward. It’s not that we become obsessed by doing more or that we don’t stop to celebrate achievements; it’s simply a recognition that there is always room for improvement in our pursuit of excellence. There is always room for more fully love God and love our neighbors.
  4. Insularity
    Success tends to bring greater isolation, propping some up on a precarious pedestal. When we cut ourselves off from others, we often miss opportunities to hear wise messages of caution, experience, and vision. We need to seek out connections with others, especially those who challenge us with different viewpoints and perspectives. Criticism may be hard to hear, but it’s crucial to our health.

In 2 Samuel, we see the shadow side of success in the story of King David. On the heels of his military victories, he stays behind to gaze upon Bathsheba. And later, despite the fact that there are no current threats to the nation of Israel, King David orders a census to count the number of men who could serve in his army.  This was not in preparation for battle but to be impressed by his own greatness. Ultimately, David’s hubris and unwillingness to listen to Joab’s warning results in a devastating plague.

When we forget the source of our success, there are always consequences—though, much less devastating than the ones King David experienced.

As followers of Christ, we aren’t called to success but to faithfulness. Faith leader J.R. Briggs writes this in his book, Fail: “Many of us long for the equation to a fruitful ministry. Fortunately, there is none to be found. Some will try to offer it—and may be ‘successful’ in the eyes of others—but it won’t last. Faithfulness is needed.”

Or, as King David put it in Psalm 20:7, “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.”

Being known as faithful is a far higher compliment than being known as successful.

Top 3 Blogs of 2014

January 7, 2015 — Leave a comment

More than actually writing this blog, I enjoy reading your encouraging or challenging comments. Thank you so much for clicking, reading, and commenting as we learn together.

I thought I’d take a moment to look back at the highlights from this blog in 2014. Based upon your responses and the number of page views, here are the three posts that you seemed to care about most over the last year. I hope you enjoy them a second time around – and please let me know if there’s ever a subject you you think I should write about this year.

1a#1: The Day My Photo Went Viral—and Why It Wasn’t Awesome

On a quiet Monday evening, I shared a picture of two of my children holding hands on the front step of our house. Little did I know that with a click of the “post” button, something strange was about to happen. Read more »


2a#2: Watch Your Language

Increasingly, when I’ve been asked to share HOPE’s mission statement, it catches in my throat. Somehow, it has become harder and harder to choke out two small but incredibly significant words: “the poor.” Read more »



#3: Disarming the Ugly American

I love the heart of compassion behind short-term trips, and I’ve personally been profoundly impacted by these experiences. But I’m also deeply convinced that we can do better. Read more »



Thanks again for being a part of this blog…and I look forward to continuing to learn together in 2015 !

True Wealth

January 2, 2015 — 1 Comment

Dave Larson has walked with me from the very beginning of my work in international development. As a coach and a friend, he helped me navigate my first job in Cambodia and negotiate with armed police when I was driving down the wrong side of the road in Rwanda.

After reading the post on why we eliminated the words “the poor” from our HOPE mission statement, Dave wrote to me with this story. Thought it was too good not to share:

By Dave Larson

Recently, I met an extremely rich man—one of the wealthiest that I’ve ever encountered.

Manny is a taxi driver in the Philippines. He earns about $8/day.

Wait, rich? Extremely rich?


I learned about Manny’s wealth—and the source of it—while in his taxi during an hours-long Manila traffic jam.

I asked “How can you spend 14 hours a day in this, with the heat, humidity, pollution, stress?”

“It’s ok,” he smiled broadly. “I treasure my family. I’d do anything for them.”

Manny is relationally rich, with a loving family that he cherishes and that adores him in return.

Manny also told me about his vibrant relationship with Jesus. He’s spiritually wealthy—reconciled to God through Christ, and, through Christ to others. Manny has discovered Life through Death. Following 2 Corinthians 5:15, he’s died to himself and now lives for Christ.

But most striking and unusual to me—given what is, by many standards, a modest income—Manny is wealthy because he’s content.

“I earn about 350 pesos a day. It’s enough for my family’s needs, and we’re happy,” he reported with pride and dignity. “Would we like more? Of course, but we don’t need more; we have plenty. We’re satisfied.”

Like the Apostle Paul, writing in Philippians 4:11–12, Manny has “learned to be content whatever the circumstances.” He has “learned the secret of being content in any and every situation.”

So…what is this “secret”? Paul doesn’t go into great depth explaining it, but he says in verse 13, “I can do all this through Him who gives me strength.”

“All this.” That jumps out at me, partly because I often hear it translated as “all things,” without reference to the preceding verses. In the past, I’ve totally missed the meaning here, thinking that, “I can do all things” means I can do more, get more. But looking at verse 13 in context, I see that when Paul says he can do “all this,” he’s actually talking is about being content, empowered by Christ.

Manny is wealthy because he doesn’t take verse 13 in isolation, as I have at times. Instead, this low-income taxi driver has recognized that the verse is all about contentment—with less materially, and more spiritually and relationally.

Today, I’m writing about Manny from a hospital bed, awaiting a possible heart surgery. Things look clearer when you’re staring at an IV drip, waiting for doctors to try to fix an “achy breaky heart.”

Especially at times like this, the things that really matter rise to the surface. Like Manny, I have a loving family around me, and I would do anything for them. Like Manny, I have purpose in Christ. Honestly, though, unlike Manny, I have yet to fully get “the secret,” to completely grasp contentment.

But inspired by a rich apostle and a wealthy Filipino taxi driver, perhaps someday I’ll also more fully discover the secret to True Wealth, finding full contentment in what God has given me, whatever the circumstances.

This Year, Write Your Book

December 31, 2014 — 2 Comments

If you’ve ever considered writing a book, I think 2015 should be the year you do it.

English classes were never my thing (with the notable exception of a cheery 9th grade poem composed in iambic pentameter which began, “There was a girl close to my heart, our love had just begun. I did not know we soon would part, her life was almost done…”). With a decided bent towards finance and business, I’m an unlikely advocate for authoring.

It all started when I was hiking with Donald Miller in California and complaining about how few churches understood microfinance. “Write a book about it,” Donald suggested, perhaps partially as a real suggestion and partially to stop me from ruining the view with my griping. Since photographer Jeremy Cowart was hiking with us, offhandedly Don included, “you should include Jeremy’s pictures.”

Shortly after that conversation, I was flying over Afghanistan in a Russian helicopter, and began scribbling jumbled notes on the backs of business cards. Those scribbles and the incredible friendship of Phil Smith (coauthor) and Jeremy Cowart (we did indeed include his pictures!) resulted in The Poor Will Be Glad.Beyond this book, it instilled a strong interest in writing which resulted in seven books over the past five years, with hopefully more to come (currently working on 40/40 Vision, a book about midlife with Greg Lafferty and IVP).

These books have significantly expanded our outreach, but even more importantly, they have allowed me to delve deeply into subjects which fascinate me.

If this is the year that you decide to begin the book that you’ve always wanted to write, here are a few tips you might want to consider:

  1. Prepare for inspiration. Inspiration rarely strikes me, and so when it does, I want to capture it immediately before it’s gone. Right when I have a thought about a book or chapter, I try to jot it down in a notebook beside my bed or voice memos when I’m driving. Even though I probably use less than 10% of what I write down, I’ve found it immensely helpful in my creative process to compile lists that I can refer to as I write.
  2. Consider partnering instead of writing solo. Recently a friend asked, “Peter, when are you going to write YOUR book?” She’d noticed that I’ve never done a book alone, and am always a coauthor instead of an author. Truthfully, I hope that I never have to write alone! Personally, I’ve found that through collaboration, the end product is better and the process far more enjoyable. Partnering with Phil, Anna, Chris, Chloe, my son, and Greg has resulted in an infinitely better book every single time.
  3. Solicit a core group of reviewers. When your manuscript is complete, it can be overwhelming to ask people review the entire book. Instead, gather a group of trusted friends that feel the freedom to offer candid feedback, and ask each person to review one or two chapters. (It normally works best to also send the intro and the outline to each person to provide the context.)
  4. Don’t think you’re done when the manuscript is complete. Typically, I end up spending 2-3 times the amount of time promoting a message as I did creating it.
  5. Create a launch team. In the writing process, whenever anyone expresses a strong interest in your project, ask if they’d be willing to join your launch team. This team is critical to a successful launch and allows you to have people “in” from the very beginning. (Shameless plug… if you’re interested in a conversation about how to find meaning in midlife and want to help us launch 40/40 Vision, send me an email!)
  6. Find a literary agent. Agents typically take 15% of any royalties and become key partners in the project. They negotiate with publishers and do things that an author simply can’t.  Find a list of potential agents here. (I’ve been so grateful for my work with Andrew Wolgemuth and Greg Daniel.)
  7. Find your place and time. You need to make space and time to write – and I don’t think it really matters when and where. Just shut down email and all distractions, and begin putting words on the page. Personally, I find planes and trains to be where I do the vast majority of my writing.
  8. Consider self-publishing through CreateSpace. If you have difficulty finding an agent and a publisher, self-publishing is a great option. Writing Watching Seeds Grow, a simple book on entrepreneurship for parents and children with my son, and publishing through CreateSpace was a very positive experience for my family. It’s a much faster process and you don’t need to worry about order fulfillment or a massive upfront investment.

I’m deeply grateful for my friends and family who have supported my own writing journey, and wish you every possible success as you bravely tell your own important stories. It’s time to write!