Our church meets on Sunday evenings and rents space from a more traditional church. We fit in their youth room. This *motivational* poster was proudly hidden away on the inside of the bathroom door where it could be contemplated more by girls than boys.1 The corners were pierced with many holes revealing a long history of hanging on many walls. I might expect to see it hanging at my chiropractor’s office next to a mish mash of platitudes of peace. But posted there in the children’s area of a church, it is especially disturbing.
First, the picture contradicts the printed message. All that is apparent is that the outstretched arm is about to succeed in dunking the basketball and thus scoring two points and bringing his (it looks like a manly arm) team closer to victory. I cannot see effort. For all I know, the guy is standing on a ladder, or the rim is at shoulder level.
Effort and success are related. But the one is not the measure of the other.
Effort often leads to success. More importantly, lack of effort almost never leads to success (except by blind luck). If anything, it should be said that success is the measure of effort. Though this too is not entirely accurate, it is much more true to life. We can know much about someone’s effort by observing his success.
A for effort… Great. But no report cards are issued this way. If an A is given for effort , it is usually accompanied by a D or C for success. Good try. But not good enough. Try harder next time.
There are lots of reasons effort and success don’t correlate.
- The task could simply be too big.
- I could be ill prepared.
- I could be naturally too limited.
- I could be applying my efforts inefficiently.
- I could be fighting against God.
To succeed, by definition and by etymology, means to come after (compare to the word succession). Success is the outcome of effort. But effort alone does not guarantee success. It must be combined with prudence (or wisdom).
Consider Joshua 1:7-8 (ESV).
Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go.
This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.
The Hebrew word translated success in both passages (as well as the Greek word used to translate the Hebrew word in the LXX) means primarily to have or gain prudence, insight, or wisdom. By metonymy2 it means to have success or to prosper.
It is prudence that ensures:
- I have selected an appropriate task.
- I am adequately prepared before expending the effort.
- It is not a task that exceeds my limitations. 3
- I am not spinning my wheels without getting anywhere.
- I am not kicking and screaming against providence.
Joshua is reminded that prudence comes from obeying and contemplating God’s message.
Maybe this would be a more appropriate message for the inside of a church bathroom:
Work hard so your Master will say to you,
“Well done, good and faithful servant… Enter into the joy of your master.” (Mt. 25:21 ESV)
A for effort... Try more prudently next time.
1. This is simply a statement about biology. Girls sit down more frequently in a bathroom and face the opposite wall/door than do boys.↩
2. Metonymy is a literary devise that substitutes the effect for the cause. ↩
3. My failure to jump to the moon has nothing to do with lack of effort, though I have not expended any because prudence tells me it is a leap too far.↩