the secret to stop feeling like a failure – #TellHisStory

April 4, 2016 | 33 comments

I always wanted the A. Anything less felt like failing.

But back during freshman year of university, I unfolded my mid-term grade report, smoothing it out on my desk.

That day, I found this fat D+ on the grid of my mid-term report. I was nearly failing math, and I took it personal. I felt a single letter wrap its whole self around my identity, and I became the D+.

Sometimes you can make the grade. And sometimes, the grade can make you.


We grow up, but still feel 18 on the inside.

We trade mid-term reports for the soft middle of middle-age. And we still go around looking for proof that we’re making the grade.

We know better. We are the Jesus people. And we know that our worth isn’t defined by magazine covers and report cards and the approval that the culture is hawking.

We don’t want what they’re selling.

But we are buying anyway.

How easy it is to believe what we don’t really believe: that our value lies somewhere out in the lists of Who’s Who.

Even among Christians — despite what we know in the depths of ourselves – there is great enthusiasm for being noticed, perhaps at the expense of the quiet acquisition of virtue.

We risk making rankings a religion.

Chuck Colson said it like this in 1984: “The church is in almost as much trouble as the culture, for the church has bought into the same value system: fame, success, materialism, and celebrity. We watch the leading churches and the leading Christians for our cues.”

Decades earlier, A.W. Tozer wrote: “Promoting self under the guise of promoting Christ is currently so common as to excite little notice.”

Go back further, to a dinner table where Jesus of Nazareth broke bread with His closest friends. The clock was ticking toward Jesus’ betrayal and death, but a dispute arose among the disciples “as to which of them was considered to be the greatest.”

It’s part of our human condition: We want to be known. We want to be great.

And God is whispering it to our love-hungry hearts: You already are. You are known. You are loved. You are approved.

Look how much.

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God is extending this invitation to all of us.

An invitation to focus on the inward life, hid with Christ in God.

Yes, the pixels flash and the gloss glares with a tired old message: Be more, climb higher, get bigger in this life.

There’s a better way. There’s the way of Apelles.

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I found Apelles in Scripture, while writing a book about approval and identity. It was the happiest accident, when Apelles met me in my living room.

Find Apelles at the tail end of Romans, but don’t blink, or your might miss him. His name is plopped, unpretentiously, in the middle of a list of names. He’s neither first nor last.

Apelles is us — dwelling in the ordinary middle.

At the end of Romans, Paul closes his remarks with a long list of greetings to friends. Paul writes this of Apelles: “Greet Apelles, tested and approved in Christ.”

That’s it. No other mention of Apelles in all of Scripture.

Paul goes on and on about a whole lot of other folks, about how they were good and faithful servants.

But Apelles? He’s not the star of the list. At most, he’s Honorable Mention. He merits only five words: “Tested and approved in Christ.”

But I drew in my breath when I read those words.

Because they may be the most important words of all. Those are the life-changing words: tested and approved in Christ.

What if we could live like that? What if we could live like Apelles? And what if, long after they bury our bodies, they remember this most — that we were tested and approved in Christ?


That morning, my fingers flew across the computer keys, as I tapped words that made their way into the final pages of a book:

“This is all Apelles will ever be known for, that he was ‘approved in Christ.’ And in the end, it may be all that really matters.

He was not Apelles the Great. He was not Apelles the Hero. No mention of Apelles the Popular, Apelles the Witty, Apelles the Man of the Year, Apelles the Valedictorian.

He was Apelles the Approved.

I wonder often about Apelles’s earthly life.

He may have been the nobody in the back row. Or he might have a been a big somebody who preached about Jesus among crowds in Rome. Apelles may have fought the same battle we’ve been fighting. He may have, at times, been jealous or envious, or wished for a greater mention by key Christian leaders like Paul. Maybe he felt unloved by his parents. He may have fought approval until his last breath. …

I won’t know on this side of life. But on the other side of forever, when I come into glory, I want a lunch date with Apelles.

Maybe he will tell me that he lived out his days satisfied what Christ’s love and approval were enough. I am sure that Apelles will tell me that, in the end, he had the only stamp of approval that really mattered.

What if we became the Apelles Generation?

What if we became the generation that forewent the lists and tiresome rankings? What if we would patiently acquire virtue, not seeking human accolades but waiting in anticipation of the “divine accolade”?

What if we remembered that the only approval that really matters? Is God’s.

What if our own epitaphs read like that of Apelles:

“[insert your name here], tested and approved in Christ.”

Not the approval of our peers or the ones at the cool kids’ tables.

But the approval of Christ.

We could break from the patterns of the world. We could stop making a religion out of rankings. We could refuse to put our worth in the bank of our accomplishments. We could live like Apelles, invested wholly in Christ.

Apelles, in Latin, means artist. He was the artist approved in Christ. And in Greek, the name means “excluded and separated.”

Could we willingly be excluded? Could we, artists and writers and mothers and fathers and preachers and teachers and ordinary, everyday pilgrims — could we willingly lay down our lives for a life separated with Christ — a life hid in Christ with God?

And there, we would find the only approval that matters. 

And we would know it with certainty:

that it’s the approval we always had.

The Prayer of the Apelles Generation

Lord, we ask you: Make us the Apelles Generation.

Make us about the cause of Christ.

Break any resume, platform, microphone, report card, accomplishment or act of service, if it does not bring You alone glory.

Strip us of any desire in our crowded hearts to be applauded. Don’t let us get paralyzed by popularity. Make each of us a modern-day Apelles, content with being approved in Christ alone.

Make us servants. Make us holy.

Don’t allow us to overlook the overlooked. Give us aprons and basins.

Because we don’t want to get to heaven and find out that for everything we ever said or wrote or preached, that we missed out on the chance of serving You. Of kneeling beside. Of washing the feet of a King.

Of being known foremost as a window to Christ — tested and approved in You.




Hey Tell His Story crew! It is a joy to gather here every week with you. The linkup goes live each Tuesday at 4 p.m. (CT). If you would use the badge on your blog, found here, that would be great! And if you would visit at least one other blogger in the link-up and encourage them with a comment, that would be beautiful! Be sure to check the sidebar later. I’ll be featuring one of you over there! Our featured writer this week is Tammy Mashburn. She shares about a recent day that didn’t go as planned… and how she found grace in the middle of it all. Find Tammy here. To be considered as our featured writer, be sure to use our badge or a link to my blog from your post. 🙂 xo Jennifer


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by | April 4, 2016 | 33 comments


  1. Trudy Den Hoed

    “Tested and approved in Christ.” Thank you for this reminder, Jennifer. I so easily forget. I love the prayer, too. The photo of your daughter with the lamb is adorable! such a beautiful picture of how Christ holds us so lovingly. 🙂 Blessings and hugs to you!

  2. Nancy Ruegg

    I agree with Trudy, below: we so easily forget what’s really important and need frequent reminders. This post reached deep into my heart, stamping APPROVED over my own perceived failures, shortcomings, and what-ifs. Thank you, Jennifer, for lovingly yet firmly proclaiming the truth: the only approval that really matters is God’s.

  3. karen

    I would LOVE for this to be my epitaph! Thanks for drawing my attention to him!

  4. Deborah Will

    I had to keep reminding myself He is the only approval I need today. Yes, I subbed my worst subject 8th grade math. I didn’t want to but the phone kept ringing and they were desperate. i did it and spent my whole conference trying to work all the problems the kids would so I could help. Teacher was on emergency leave with a pregnancy unexpected bp problems and didn’t have a cheat sheet. I laughed when I opened this to see your blog this evening after a rough day.

  5. Lynden Blossom

    I happened to see this post on FB today, came here – and Really needed to hear these words about ‘testing,’ as I am going through some Very Hard times and am Quite Alone in them. I was thinking today along the lines of several points you made! Thank You – ;-}

  6. Leah

    Dear Jennifer,
    Thank you so much for your Apelles calling! Your written words are a balm on a very raw, dis-spirited heart.
    Praying for you that your own Apelles walk in obediance will be part of the Glory returning to The Brides.

  7. Ally | The Speckled Goat

    Love this!! The lies that we’re fed by the world (that we’re not good enough, pretty enough, thin enough) are nothing but that- lies. Our identity is in Him alone!

  8. Carly

    Great reminder. It’s so easy to feel we have to live up to certain standards but we are already “tested and approved in Christ” and it is his approval that really matters.

  9. Brenda

    Amen. His is the only approval I need. I come from a family of dysfunction, and it took me many a year to recognize that His approval wasn’t just nice Sunday School talk. It does actually apply to me too, praise the Lord. 🙂 Thanks for sharing this, Jennifer. (p.s. — Math is my difficult subject too. 🙂 ) ((sweet blessings))

  10. Karrilee Aggett

    Oh friend… you know I love this and I love the timing of this. We are (if you can even believer it!) nearing our first year anniversary in planting Dad’s House church. We are growing and at the stage where we are talking structure and staff and vision casting for what is to come and oh my yes – This! This is what we want and who we are –or at least who we aim to be! xoxo

  11. Anita

    You have given me a lot to think about, Jennifer. I recently did a Life Planning event, and part of the exercise was to write my eulogy–what would I want different people say about me at my funeral. I started my list off with God–what do I want God to say about me at the end of my life? I decided that I wanted him to say that I had been a faithful servant…which made me realize that all too often I want to give the orders. If I am a faithful servant, I’ll be listening for his voice and learning the unforced rhythms of his grace andextending that same grace to those around me (even the jerk at work–of course, I can’t call him a jerk and claim God loves him in the same breath, can I?).

  12. Mary

    How just like God to give you Apelles just when you needed him. I pray we all find our Apelles and embrace the approval of who we are, once and for all. I just spent a week in Nicaragua serving alongside some amazing people, many of whom were Nicaraguans. I know I walked away with a heart full of being blessed more by them than they probably were blessed by me. For one week, I saw God at work every minute of everyday and it was beautiful. Thank you for your reflections and reminders to all of us of how deeply we are loved.

  13. PleasingtothePotter

    “Approved by Christ”… wow I cannot think of anything better than that Jennifer! I want everything I do to be approved by Him as He receives the glory. Thank you for the beautiful prayer as I remind myself to check my motivation in everything I do. In the end; I want to be approved by my Savior. Thank you for sharing such a thought provoking post! God bless.

  14. Kristi Woods

    Love those 5 words. And Apelles? I’m certain these eyes have skipped right across his name, but how nice to soak it all in this time. Thank you, Jennifer. May we all find ourselves approved in Christ.

  15. Christine Duncan

    Okay, the prayer… I’m writing that down for my week… and month… okay probably the year, lol. And you’ve possibly been in my head as He’s been teaching me about what matters to a servant’s heart… so much to reread. Thank you, Jennifer!!!

  16. Tara Ulrich

    I need to go check out Apelles. And the prayer….so good! Being called to word and service ministry, this post spoke straight to my heart. Love!

  17. Katie Reid

    What a prayer! Thank you Jennifer. I have a just a handful of chapters left to read in “Love Idol” and my, oh my, what you say resonates deep. So glad you wrote it!

  18. Being Woven

    Oh, thank you, thank you. Apelles…tested and approved in Christ. The prayer is so powerful for me, Jennifer. I will be copying it and keeping it near. May the Lord continue to reign in your heart, sweet girl.

  19. Bethany McIlrath

    Buying Love Idol as soon as I finish one of the other books I’m reading. It’s been on my list too long and this post just begs me to read more!! Thanks Jennifer for this prayer and this message. So relevent, so true, so life-changing. Blessings!

  20. Bev @ Walking Well With God

    Oh how I want to be an Apelles. I want to be tested and approved in Christ…that’s the clincher…in Christ. Only in His blood shed for me…for God seeing me through Jesus blood – that is how I can ever possibly be approved. As for living out my salvation…someday I hope to hear, “Well done good and faithful servant.” Thank you for your always-uplifting words!

  21. Susan

    Old enough to be your mom, but count me IN…the Apelles Generation. Yes, Lord!

  22. Michele Morin

    The prayer of my heart — Yes, to be the Apelles girl who writes and parents and teaches and loves the unlovely for an audience of One.

  23. Elizabeth Giertz

    Oh, wow, Jennifer! This is so me, sadly… It’s a tough inclination to overcome. And as a blogger it is a hard line to toe without going over into self-promotion. Always my prayer to promote Christ and not me. To point others toward His Word and not my own. I’d love to sit for coffee with Apelles!

  24. Alisa Nicaud

    Amen, Amen & Amen!! Such powerful words and insights, Jennifer. I can really relate to this post. I am a performance driven, goal oriented person, so the lure of winning and being the best is strong in me. I loved this statement, “And God is whispering it to our love-hungry hearts: You already are. You are known. You are loved. You are approved.” Isn’t that really what we are wanting to hear anyway? Thank you for sharing this today. God is speaking so clearly to me through your words.

  25. June

    Oh Jennifer, our kids so desperately need to know this Truth. And if we can live our lives believing this Truth, we can be such a witness to them, as you are to all of us. Thank you for these words today, my friend.

  26. Rebecca

    Oh, how my heart needed to hear this; how all hearts need to heart this. How is it that we can know what we’re supposed to focus on as Christian’s and still get wrapped up in this world. Your illustrations were spot on, friend. I cannot tell you how important I believe these words are for me, for us, for young and old. Thank you for sharing your heart. Keep walking toward Him…it’s all that matters.

  27. Meg Bucher

    Comparison can be a silippery slope, can’t it? I have to re-group every so often to remind myself why I do the things I do …why I set the goals I set …it’s all for God’s glory. It’s all about telling His story. The story of Jesus. This post was a beautiful reminder to embrace the identity God gave us specifically to accomplish something particular. Awesome.
    Happy Wednesday!

  28. Sue Donaldson

    This was the best yet, Jennifer! Or maybe I just needed your best yet the most (yet.) I will pray the Apelles prayer and pray and pray it til it becomes my default to know I’m loved and tested and approved and not looking elsewhere but at Jesus. I have taught eph 1 our id in Christ for years but obviously still need it. Thank you for great post (and yes, I like getting A’s mostly.)

  29. Sue Donaldson

    PS Just this morning I asked God for the gift of self-forgetfulness – sort of like the gift of repentance.

  30. Lyli Dunbar

    Love you, Jennifer. Yes, Lord. — aprons and basins — Amen 🙂

  31. Dolly @

    Yes! I prayed with you, Jennifer…I remember reading this in your book, Love Idol…always a great reminder…Thank you 🙂 your words dovetailed well with Heb 11:5-6 which I read today

  32. Sheila Seiler Lagrand

    I picked up Love Idol again last month.

    And it was exactly the thing to point me back on track. For this very reason.

    Maybe “Enough” should be my word of the lifetime.



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