Forward in Faith #31
Faith in Failure
•The great Italian tenor, Enrico Caruso, was told by his teacher that his voice sounded like the wind whistling through the window.
•When the British statesman, Benjamin Disraeli, attempted to speak in Parliament for the first time, members hissed him into silence and laughed when he said, “Though I sit down now, the time will come when you will hear me.”
•Henry Ford forgot to put a reverse gear in his first car.
•In 1902, the poetry editor of The Atlantic Monthly sent a sheaf of poems back to a 28–year-old poet with this curt note: “Our magazine has no room for your vigorous verse.” The poet was Robert Frost.
•In 1905, the University of Bern turned down a Ph.D. dissertation as being irrelevant and fanciful. Its author was Albert Einstein.
•The rhetoric teacher at Harrow School in England wrote this on sixteen-year-old Winston Churchill’s report card: “A conspicuous lack of success.”
•Thomas Edison once spent $2,000,000 on an invention that proved to be a flop.
And G.F. Handel was considered a failure rejected and near poverty in his 50s though he had been composing since 12. Then he wrote Messiah 260 pages in just 24 days and taught the world to sing of the wonders of our Savior “And He Shall Reign Forever and Ever
Failure comes in many forms.
Financial failure, vocational failure, marital failure, moral failure, spiritual failure, the classifications are as numerous as the names on the list.
Dealing with feelings of failure is one of the things I struggle with as much as anything else.
We talk about the successes but there isn’t a person on this list in Hebrews 11 that didn’t know failure. We know Abraham was deceptive ways, Jacob’s deception, Moses’ anger fueled killing of an Egyptian slave master, Joseph’s bravado that got him in trouble with his brothers, Rahab’s past, Gideon’s weak faith, but none on the list perhaps matches up with the strongest man on the list, Samson.
I have a friend who is a musician but also used to be a member of the Power Team doing feats of strength. He would blow up Hot Water Bottles till they exploded once doing 5 in under 3 minutes on the show That’s Incredible. He would bend steel in his teeth, tear phone books, break 10 foot ice towers, and had the world record for breaking 4’ 9” of concrete with his head! But he was nothing compared to Samson from Judges chapters 13-16. Samson did things like tearing up a lion with his bare hands. He killed 30 Philistines single-handedly. Then he slew 1000 more with a donkey’s jawbone. He tore the huge iron gates off the city of Gaza and carried them away. He broke chords and ropes tied around his arms to restrain him and then brought down a huge building all by himself.
Maybe you ask, “where’s the failure part Pastor?”
Well let me tell you his story for a few minutes and then help us all think about failure and faith in the midst of it. I won’t be long. Most of you know or have heard of Samson and Delilah and how he told his secret and cut his hair and lost his strength and was captured. But that wasn’t the beginning of his failings and it wasn’t the END of his faith.
You can read his whole story in the book of Judges chapters 13-16 but let me tell you a little. Israel had been under the control of the Philistines for 40 years because of their disobedience to God. A man named Zorah and his wife were childless. But Jesus, the Angel of the Lord appears to them in Judges 13 and promises them a son. And in verse 3-5 it says "you are going to conceive and have a son. Now see to it that you drink no wine or other fermented drink and that you do not eat anything unclean, because you will conceive and give birth to a son. No razor may be used on his head, because the boy is to be a Nazirite, set apart to God from birth, and he will begin the deliverance of Israel from the hands of the Philistines."
Now a Nazarite or Nazirite was a person chosen or consecrated to God. Usually it was for a short period of time but it could, as in this case, be for life. It was a commitment of discipline and order that they might focus on the service of God. Verse 7 of chapter 13 says this vow would be until the day of his death. In addition to not drinking or cutting their hair, they were never to come near a dead body. If they did, they had to offer a sacrifice.
V24 says "the woman gave birth to a boy and named him Samson (= “like the sun”) he grew and the Lord blessed him, and the Spirit of the LORD began to stir him …
Pretty cool thing huh? Chosen by God, given to a couple who couldn’t have children, and dedicated to God.
Well in chapter 14 he is an adult … Israel is under the rule of the Philistines and our young hero decides he wants to marry. Not a good Israelite girl, but a pagan, Philistine girl.
We begin to see part of his failings. He is a man who wants immediate gratification. He is the guy that stands at the microwave saying “come on, come on” … Is in the fast food drive thru saying “what’s taking you so long”.
So he sees a pretty girl and he wants to marry her. It didn’t matter to him if she worshiped idols or was an enemy of God. You should read that story quite interesting, but in the process he killed a lion that attacked him. Some time later, he comes back through and finds the dead lion’s carcass. After being probably eaten by scavengers, bees had built a hive in it’s body. Samson reached in and ate the honey.
No big deal? Remember he was a Nazrite. Touching a dead carcass was considered the worst offence. And so what did he do, verse 9 says he didn’t tell anyone. What he should have done was seen the priest and made it right. But Samson, was on the way to marry his pagan fiancé, what did he care about a little illicit honey. Her father, though gave her to be married to one of his groomsman. And God used the anger of Samson to slay many of the Philistines.
For 20 years God used Samson to lead Israel against the Philistines.
Then one day he went down to Gaza, the Philistine Capital. Not as a military action. He just went down there. In addition to having a problem with immediate gratification, he also had a problem thinking he was invincible and could do anything, anywhere, anytime. The simple but sad story, is that he went to Gaza and saw a prostitute there and spent time with her. They tried to lock him in the city but he ripped off the gates and left.
Lamentations 4:7,8 describes the priests when they had sinned and we see a picture of us in failure and Samson in his failure
Lam 4:7,8 he was “… brighter than snow and whiter than milk … But now they are blacker than soot …”
Perhaps Samson went there to scout out a plan, but he was distracted and let his eye take him away. Samson failed again, and God gave him the strength to get away, but he returned again, and was burned again.
And Judges 16:4 says- some time later, he fell in love with a woman … whose name was Delilah. The rulers of the Philistines went to her and said “see if you can lure him into showing you the secret of his great strength and how we can overpower him so that we may tie him up and subdue him.”
You probably know this part of his story
Matthew Henry writes The burnt child dreads the fire; yet Samson, that has more than the strength of a man in him, comes short of the wisdom of a child,
How many times have women gotten him in trouble? At least two others … but here we go again. The Philistines offered her the equivalent of $8000.00 in today’s money for silver from EACH of these rulers. Samson LOVED riddles and toying with people so he does what he always did. He toys with them. He tells her to tie him with “fresh thongs” or “bow strings”. But that didn’t work of course. He tells her to tie him with new ropes and of course that didn’t work. “Weave my hair in 7 braids, into the fabric on a loom”, oh he was just playing wasn’t he? Then she says “how can you say you love me but won’t tell me the truth”
Now this wasn’t just impetuousness of one night. Look at 16:16 it says she prodded him day after day until he was tired to death. Then in verse 17 he tells her his commitment 'No razor has ever been used on my head … I have been a Nazirite set apart to God since birth. If my head were shaved, my strength would leave me, and I would become as weak as any other man.”
She knew it was different this time. Verse 18 says she knew that he had “told her everything” … the literal says he “declared to her all his heart”
The saddest thing about this is that the trap was set, he KNEW they were going to be waiting for him because they had done it 3 other times! He had fallen in love for her to the point that he betrayed the Lord. By the way, God had never said he would have great strength. He just said he should be consecrated to the Lord and no razor on his head.
So, given over to her instead of the Lord, as he slept on her lap, she had his hair cut. And verse 19 says “And his strength left him”
They men came to get him and then reads one of the saddest verses in scripture
17:20 Then she called, “Samson, The Philistines are upon you!” He awoke from his sleep and throught, “I’ll go out as before and shake myself free.” But he did not know that the Lord had left him”
And look at the results of his failure, his sin, he was seized, gouged out his eyes, and taken to Gaza. Binding him with bronze shackles, they set him to grinding in a prison
He was put to work by his enemy as nothing more than oxen.
What a scene Israel’s greatest Hero, God’s Judge for the people for more than 20 years, now nothing more than a blind ox in Gaza. This one who had gotten in so much trouble with his eyes now no longer had eyes.
But as long as it is today, there is always the opportunity of Repentance and as long as there is the opportunity for Repentance, there is the promise of restoration.
We have to read between the lines here.
You remember Peter denied the Lord 3 times and then it says “he went out and wept bitterly” … we understand from the change in his life after that he had repented
So here when it says “but his hair on his head began to grow” we understand that Repentance has taken place in the brokenness on the grinding floor in Gaza.
That grinding floor became HOLY GROUND. The grain floor became a place of a grain offering.
So the Philistines gathered to give glory to themselves and their false gods and to make sport of Samson. Everyone who was important was there. There were even 3000 people on the roof watching. They brought Samson in to laugh at him. And Samson found his way to the support pillars. He asked the Lord for one last mission in the battle against these evil ones. He asked for a suicide mission, if you will. He asked to defend God’s glory.
V28 "O Sovereign Lord, remember me. O God, please strengthen me just once more, and let me with one blow get revenge on the Philistines for my two eyes.”
And Samson brought the house down … literally and brought down all of these Enemies of Israel and Enemies of God
And it says in verse 30 - "… thus he killed many more when he died than while he lived"
Faith in Failure
They all died that day
But the Philistines died condemned and sentenced to hell and Samson died forgiven and included among the faithful
Hebrews 11:32 – What more shall I say? I do not have time to tell you about Gideon, Barak, Samson, …
which brings us to our topic
Faith in Failure
Warren Wiersbe calls Samson “The Light that flickered”
He said “He fought the Lord’s battles by day and disobeyed his commands by night.”
If we look at this man and we look at his failures which we might consider to be EPIC FAILURES … So, if there is faith to be had in failure … I have some questions and that I want to answer as one who deals with the frustrations of failure
I’ll ask and answer quickly come with me
1. Why Did God Put Up with His Sin And Use Him Anyway?
Isn’t anyone else thinking that or asking that?
- It wasn’t about Samson … It was about God
The only explanation we can conclude is God’s Love Saturated Grace.
- God was glorifying himself through Samson
- God was setting his people Free Through Samson
The common denominator for most of Samson’s actions were HIMSELF
But God was about his OWN NAME
We look at a guy like Samson and say “God can’t use him”
- If God cannot use Samson he cannot use me and he cannot use you
If God’s grace ran out or the score totaled out too high, then it wasn’t grace but works. i.e. God wasn’t using Samson until he went too far.
But God is about Grace not works
Samson’s faith was in the gracious choice of God to choose him and use him
Have you sinned? Have you sinned since he chose you? ME TOO. We are just like Samson.
But Hebrews 11:32 says he was a man of faith and Proverbs 25:16 says - though a righteous man falls seven times, he rises again
When we fall we have to get back up with every intention of walking in faith and obedience
When we look at the life of Samson we see it all finished and we look with a judging and accusing heart. We also have a scale and perhaps we think Samson is worse than we are and so we think “why would God use him!” We see his final act and think “what a waste”
- God sees YOUR whole story, complete, and he chose you anyway. He will use you anyway.
You can look at Samson and say “And Yet You Loved HIM” and you can look in the mirror and “And yet he loved me, just the way I am”
We are talking about the Eyes of Grace and the Purposes of God
I am not excusing sin … but I am glorifying God
I am also telling you to stop looking at your faults, stop dwelling on the past, and have faith in God.
Receive his mercy and Grace and Follow him
That’s how there can be faith in failure
But as I look at the end of this story I ask another question …
2. What Did Samson Believe About God As Evidenced By His Final Acts
Samson in essence takes his own life. And some I believe would make some false conclusions about this. Was he desperate? Was he confused. Was this suicide? Like Jael last week, this too was an act of war, not suicide. A “suicide mission” as they are called is not suicide it is a selfless act for a greater good.
So, what did Samson Believe, what was his faith in God?
- He Believed God could forgive him – oh that is an important thing to believe about God. You must believe he CAN forgive you in order to allow him to forgive you
- He Believed God could still use him – many a fallen saint takes themselves out of service because they don’t believe God can still use them … but get up
- He believed God could Bring him through this trial of his own doing – we think “it’s my stew I better eat it”. “It’s my mess I better clean it up” – that’s a lie from Hell … come to Jesus and he will bring you through
- He Believed God was in charge of the end / outcome – he prayed that the Lord would give him the strength to finish things and do something that he could NEVER do alone. He was strong but he had never been that strong – bring it to the author AND the FINISHER of our faith. If he wanted him to die fine, if he wanted him to live through it fine, God is in charge
- He believed that God’s glory was greater than his life – he asked for the privilege of dying to defend the glory of God. They did this themselves they tricked him they imprisoned him and they had created a god named Dagon, half man half fish and then they worshipped their created god and gave him credit for their wicked acts. And Samson wanted to bring down their folly to bring glory to God
- He believed he would see God’s Face – in Obedience we always see God’s face. In death the righteous will see God’s face. In John 11:25-26 Jesus said I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.
This final mission for Samson was about the Glory and Reputation of God.
You know as I move to close there is another question that I have. You see Samson missed something when he revealed his secret. His secret was NOT his hair. His secret was his consecration to God. The hair was just part of the obedience of consecration. The hair was a statement of faith. His strength was in his dedication to God. His hair was but an outward testimony of his inner commitment. When he gave up his secret he gave up his commitment to God and thus lost God’s blessing and strength.
So, that brings the final question
3. Is There Hope in Failure?
In a word, YES
- 17:22 says But the hair on his head began to grow again after it had been shaved
As his faith in himself died, his faith in God was renewed and forgiveness began to do its work.
Faith has its place in failure too. That is faith in the Forgiveness and Mercy of God
Micah 7:18-19 Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea
On that grinding floor, Samson had a Revival Meeting. The dust under his feet was no doubt soaked with the tears of forgiveness and shined like gold dust from the mine of the prayers of confession
We don’t deal with sin by simple remorse and sorrow, but by a Prayer of Confession.
1 John 1:9 If we confess our sins he is faithful
And what was Samson’s last prayer? I think we can learn and borrow from it.
In verse 28 it had
- three petitions we can pray as we come back to Christ in Repentance …
- 1.”Remember Me” – God has not forgotten but is disciplining us. When we sin it is as if he has forgotten but it is just that he has turned his face. This prayer – “remember me” is a prayer of repentance and returning. It is asking for God’s favor again. It is asking for a renewal of relationship a mending of brokenness.
And he petitioned God …
- 2.”Strengthen me”- failure and sin wear us out, it saps our strength doesn’t it?
Psalm 32:3-7 - When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. 4 For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer. 5 Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD”— and you forgave the guilt of my sin. 6Therefore let everyone who is godly pray to you while you may be found; surely when the mighty waters rise, they will not reach him. 7 You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance.
Oh if you are returning today, worn out by the effects of a life turned aside, he will strengthen you if you will but ask him. It is amazing how much stronger we feel just from the moment of turning back. The turn of the head, the move of the heart lifts us … “Strengthen me Lord”
And finally he petitions
- 3.“Let Me” – What is he saying, this preacher and warrior, this hand of God, now an oxen for the pagans says “USE ME Lord” … “Lord Use Me Again” have you ever prayed that prayer?
Psalm 51:12 – Restore to me the joy of my salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me. Then I will teach transgressors your ways …
“Restore me Lord”
“Use Me Lord”
That petition is faith in the forgiveness of God. It is faith in a God who sees what I can be
“Use Me Again Lord”
Samson could have stayed in the mire of failure, but he said “Pick me Lord”
But one who is faithful in failure realizes that my faith cannot be in my ability but in the availability of God’s Forgiveness and Restoration while it is still today
If you hear his voice today, don’t harden your heart, come to him while it is still today.
Thomas Edison said - Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up
No matter how far you think you are faith and repentance will close the gap
Don’t Give Up
Turn to Him
Return to Him
Have faith in God