Let God Be the Judge of Success and Failure [ARTICLE – Andrew Hurst]

Isaiah 49:4 – Then I said, I have laboured in vain, I have spent my strength for nought, and in vain:

Born in Ireland in 1843, CY O’Connor was hired in 1891 as the inaugural Engineer-in-Chief of the state of Western Australia.  Originally his responsibilities were primarily railroads, but, with the discovery of gold in 1893 in Kalgoorlie, Western Australia, came the need to provide water to the arid, outback town.  CY O’Connor designed a catchment in the Darling Ranges along with a pipeline and 8 pump houses to supply water to Kalgoorlie.  The idea was visionary.  Never before had a pipeline pumped water over such a distance (530 km / 370 mi)!  Although he had support from the then Premier of Western Australia, Lord John Forrest, O’Connor had to deal with widespread criticism and ridicule from members of the Western Australian Parliament as well as the local newspapers.  Their concerns ranged from the scale of the project to the £2½ million it was going to cost, which required a loan from London.

By 1902, critics claimed he was lining his own pockets at the expense of taxpayers.  They said he was a charlatan who did not know what he was doing.  The Sunday Times was particularly vicious towards Mr O’Connor.  These attacks, and the silence of the minister and the government, wounded him greatly.

O’Connor’s confidence in his scheme was vindicated on March 8, 1902, by a successful preliminary pumping test of the first 10 km (6 mi) over the most difficult part of the route.  That evening, one small leak was discovered near the pumping station at Chidlow’s Well.  O’Connor arranged to accompany the engineer in charge of construction to the site on Monday.  That morning, he prepared for his customary early ride along the beach but his usual companion, his youngest daughter, was unwell.  In solitude he rode alone along the beach, but, with the thoughts of the leak and an inability to face this latest setback plaguing his mind, he rode his horse into the sea, put his revolver to his head, pulled the trigger and ended his life. Tragically, the many voices crying “Failure!” had landed their final blow.

Though not an exact match, the story of Isaiah’s life has many similarities with that of CY O’Connor.  Isaiah was a public figure.  He was a driven man.  He had received his fair share of criticism, ridicule, and setbacks.  He had been a voice crying in the ears of Israel regarding their sin, God’s impending judgment, and the need for the people to repent.  Maybe in his schooling days and in his zeal he had harboured visions of a national revival, of great things being done through his ministry, but after years of preaching, with little noticeable results, he pens these thoughts in Isaiah 49:4, “Then I said, I have laboured in vain, I have spent my strength for nought, and in vain.”

As he looked back over the years of his life, there was a temptation to brand his ministry as a failure, “I have laboured in vain!”  There might have been the temptation to walk away.  Do something else.  Escape the public eye.  But Isaiah teaches us something that CY O’Connor does not—God is the judge of success and failure.  The rest of the verse continues with “…yet surely my judgment is with the LORD, and my work with my God.”  Though he could have listened to the thousands of voices without or the single voice within ready to pass down the verdict of failure, he acknowledged that God is the judge of success and failure.

We are now more than two thousand years removed from Isaiah and more than a hundred years removed from CY O’Connor, yet we stand were they stood.  We also face the constant judgement of our labours either by the many external voices or that one, solitary, internal voice.  New church plants are measuring their progress by the history of their sending church.  Foreign missionaries are measuring their advancements by their monthly prayer letters.  Pastors, new and old, keep checking their church’s membership for validation of their labours.  That pathway leads to the revolver.  Sure, maybe not in suicide, though sometimes it does, but many put the revolver to their pastorate, or their missionary field, or their church plant.  “I have laboured in vain!” is their cry.  But learn from Isaiah: “yet surely my judgement is with the LORD.”  The judgement of success or failure is often passed down too quickly.  In the following verse, Isaiah gives us even greater encouragement in our labours: “Though Israel be not gathered, yet shall I be glorious in the eyes of the LORD, and my God shall be my strength.”  Though Israel be not gathered, though the results are not seen, though the people do not repent, yet I will be glorious in the sight of God.  God will be my strength, not my results.


By Pastor Andrew Hurst

Bible Baptist Church

Mount Helena, WA


Want Posts Emailed To You?

Subscribe to get our latest content by email.

Plus, you'll get a FREE E-Book, too!

Powered by ConvertKit
  1. That was an encouragement to me brother! Thank you

  2. A well-written article, Bro. Hurst. However, now I am forced to do my own research to find out if the water line made it through to Kalgoorlie! But thanks, anyway 🙂

    R.B. Yeager
    Heartland BBC Faculty

  3. Thank you! That was a great encouragement!

Leave a Reply


Encouraging content for ministry leaders provided by the Heartland/Pacific Coast Alumni Association!

Read More>>

Latest Comments

A Note On Comments…

The CONNECT seeks to provide encouraging content, including in the comments section (monitored). We reserve the right to refuse comments that do not meet our criteria.