“As for them, whether they hear or whether they refuse—for they are a rebellious house—yet they will know that a prophet has been among them.” – Ezekiel 2:5
The world is success-oriented. We’ve heard this a million times, from our relationships with people, our jobs, our material possessions, everything we experience in our outer lives. Romantic comedies in cinema—responsible for perpetuating vast swathes of sentimental half-truths in modern culture—tell us that we’re nothing without a ‘soulmate’, while received “wisdom” tells us that the accumulation of the material, the carnal, is a proper yardstick for success in life.
Notice a pattern? It’s an entirely binary approach to determining success. You win, or you lose. You have, or you have not. You gain ground, or you lose ground. Living like this is anathema to the Spirit of God, because He isn’t interested in a win-loss record. In the Kingdom, we aren’t losers as long as we remain faithful to Him, as long as we aspire to great things in Him. He’d prefer that, in the world’s terms, we fail big if we have to…as long as we remain true to Him.
One of the greatest examples of this in scripture is the story of the prophet Ezekiel. Ezekiel was tasked by the Father with the delivery of His Word to a fallen Israel—the prophecy that Jerusalem itself would fall unless they turned from their path of idolatry, a prophecy that was almost certain to fall upon deaf ears.
To properly appreciate the task laid upon Ezekiel and what was truly at stake in his mission, we must understand the context. Israel was a fractured nation at that time, split into two neighboring but conflicted states. The northern state of Israel had expelled the line of David three centuries or so earlier, resulting in the southern state of Judah, and had itself fallen to the Assyrian empire around a hundred years before Ezekiel’s time, ten of the twelve tribes of Israel becoming lost. In his own lifetime, Ezekiel had seen Judah and its capital of Jerusalem become vassals to the Babylonian empire, rebel against them, and be subdued, resulting in the forced exile of ten thousand, including himself, to Babylon itself. Ezekiel had seen for himself the idolatry of his peers, and had grown up with the fall of the people of Israel as a matter of historical, political and spiritual fact.
He was told to tell those peers that the final bastion of this final remnant of the people of Israel, Jerusalem itself, would fall unless they turned from their idolatrous ways. In effect, he was promising the end of his own people. What’s more, he was told that he would remain unable to speak any word other that the Lord’s Word until the message was delivered. He would remain dumb until he succeeded in his mission.
As the world sees these things, the stakes could not have been higher for the man. Yet Ezekiel rose to the challenge. He delivered God’s Word to the people of Israel… and they did not listen to Him. Babylon took Jerusalem, and burned it to the ground. The last of the people of Israel were once again in exile and in bondage.
In the eyes of the world, Ezekiel had failed. And yet this isn’t how God sees these things. He didn’t measure Ezekiel’s success in terms of a win or a loss, even on that grand historical scale. Ezekiel delivered His message. He was faithful and steadfast, over years, in the face of a rebellious nation, a hard people who opposed him at every turn. He was attacked, vilified and ultimately, those to whom he delivered God’s message paid the price for ignoring His Word.
And yet Ezekiel was given his voice back. And after that, God gave him a new Word, a Word of hope, and he spoke about the restoration of the state and people of Israel.
It is vital that we follow Ezekiel’s example, and display a patience and faithfulness to God’s purpose. Take stock of those areas of your life where the world tells you that you have succeeded, or that you have failed, and consider—have you remained faithful to the Spirit in these areas? That’s the true yardstick of success in God’s eyes. Take heart in times of hardship, ignore the jibes of those rooted in the outer life, and turn inward to God. That’s true greatness to Him.