Someone once defined real failure as:
"...living without knowing what life is all about, feeding on things that do not satisfy, thinking you have everything, only to find out in the end you have nothing that matters."
What you have or have not done with your life to this point matters very little compared to what you decide to do with your life from this point forward. Most of life is preparation. When we think that we are done with our “preparation” and we are ready to get out and rock the world, we are merely playing in the sand, thinking that the castles that we are building at the water’s edge are the serious business for which God has prepared and called us.
One of the major perception problems that we have to overcome in spiritual living or just living is a false understanding of what really constitutes failure.
Karen Mains, using beautiful language of her own choosing, is talking about the effects of restorative grace when she writes:
Nature shouts of this beginning-again-God, this God who can make all our failures regenerative, the One who is God of risings again, who never tires of fresh starts, nativities, renaissances in persons or in culture. God is a God of starting over, of genesis and re- genesis. He composts life's sour fruits, moldering rank and decomposing; He applies the organic matter to our new day chances; He freshens the world with dew; He hydrates withered human hearts with his downpouring spirit.
n With My Whole Heart
The way that we see things in life can either make life a much more enjoyable experience for us and for those around us or it can be our downfall and we can extend our own misery toward those that we love the most.
One of the things that impresses me is that when Abraham Lincoln went off to the Black Hawk War he was a captain and, through no fault of his own, when he returned he was a private. That brought an end to his military career. Then his little shop in a country village "winked out" as he used to say, marking his failure as a businessman. As a lawyer in Springfield, Illinois, he was too impractical, too unpolished, too temperamental to be a success.
Turning to politics he was defeated in his campaign for the legislature, defeated in his first attempt to be nominated for Congress, defeated in his application to be Commissioner of the General Land Office, defeated in the Senatorial election of 1854, defeated in his aspirations for the Vice Presidency in 1856, defeated again in the Senatorial election of 1858.
Then 1861, over 100 years ago, found him in the White House as President of the United States. How did Lincoln interpret this strange succession of failures and frustrations which finally culminated in terrific personal victory? He said, "That the Almighty directly intervenes in human affairs is one of the plainest statements in the Bible. I have had so many evidences of His direction, so many instances when I have been controlled by some other power than my own will that I have no doubt that what this power comes from above."
God knows what is good for us better than we ourselves. Let us not make the mistake of judging God's overall plan for our lives by that portion which happened to be revealed today. God has all eternity in which to bring His plans to fulfillment for our lives. Think not in terms of today, but in terms of eternity. After all, that's where we'll spend most of our life.
-- William Franklin Summerour
There are certain things in life related to failure and the way that we choose to deal with it that reduce or minimize our effectiveness and even stop us in our tracks.
1. The things that we settle for – a sense of futility
There are a great many folks in life who become discouraged and let abundant life come and go just beyond their grasp. Because they are convinced that things will never fall into place for them they learn to accept and expect the worst and with regard to that they are never disappointed.
We settle for that which is acceptable to us while inwardly we yearn for something that really meets the need. I know of folks today who are settling for marriages that may be okay but could be so much better if they worked together to make it that way.
I know of those who go to work unhappy each day of their lives because they are mentally dependent on the stability that their job provides them and they think that they could have it in no other way and so year after miserable year they are riding out the storm waiting for better days that may or may not come.
I know of Christian people who are surviving on the crumbs of other people’s experiences and they go through frequent peaks of elation followed by the valley of despair when God wants his people to live abundant lives. Covey speaks of an abundance mentality rather than a scarcity mentality. They have stopped asking themselves difficult questions because they believe that it makes them less than faithful and when we stop asking questions we cease to discover timeless truth, new to us. We serve a God whose mercies are new every day. Have you found His new mercy?
2. The things that we are satisfied with – a sense of complacency.
Our world can grow so small. There was an old chorus that read:
You can build a wall
Or you can build a bridge
It all depends upon the love you give
And if you build a wall
Your world is small
But a bridge of love
Will conquer all
Complacency is a false sense of security. It is the pride of self-sufficiency. It is the feeling that there are certain people low in our estimation who can offer us nothing worthy of our attention. It is a feeling that I have no need of anything or anyone. And we stop there. We feel that we have arrived and there is so far yet to go.
It happens to people and it happens to churches. We forget that God defies all of our boxes. There is not one that can hold Him. Our “theological certainties” are far too limiting and restricting for Him. I am convinced that when I get to heaven someday, God will show me the truth and there will be at least a few things that I thought that I had figured out that I will have to throw aside as purely my ideas.
In the midst of this great coldness toward God there are some, I rejoice to acknowledge, who will not be content with shallow logic. They will admit the force of the argument, and then turn away with tears to hunt some lonely place and pray, "O God, show me thy glory." They want to taste, to touch with their hearts, to see with their inner eyes the wonder that is God.
I want deliberately to encourage this mighty longing after God. The lack of it has brought us to our present low estate. The stiff and wooden quality about our religious lives is a result of our lack of holy desire. Complacency is a deadly foe of all spiritual growth. Acute desire must be present or there will be no manifestation of Christ to His people. He waits to be wanted. Too bad that with many of us He waits so long, so very long, in vain.
-- From Pursuing the Knowledge of the Holy by A. W. Tozer
How hungry are you today for Him? As you have come to this place today are you prepared to hear him speak to you? Do you long for it? Are you listening. I can say this with confidence today that He longs to communicate with you this morning. I can also say with the same confidence that He is trying – right now – he has something that He wants to say to you. You’ll miss it every Sunday unless you come here looking for it.
Our hearing can be dulled by messages that are of little or no importance – noise so to speak. Elevator music – just something that runs all the time in the background and means nothing. We could stand to be better listeners to God and to the cries of the world around us. Often their cries come as criticisms and condemn them for their lack of “respect” - there is always a message to be heard if we can and are willing to hear.
Our customer defines quality: Sometimes the difference between success and failure in your organization isn't based on what you know. It is simply an issue of the way you listen --and the way you question your customers. Consider this true story about a very successful grocery store in Connecticut. Stu Leonards' grocery store grossed over $100 million last year. The average grocery store makes $300 per square foot. Stu's preparation generates an amazing $3,000 per square foot. The average grocery store stocks 15,000 items; Stu stocks only 700. Stu has profited immensely from the art of listening and asking the right questions. Recently, Stu was walking around his store when he asked a lady how she likes his fresh fish. She responded, "I don't think it's fresh." Stu tells her how the fish is brought in from the Boston pier every morning and that it is the freshest fish money can buy. Again, she comments, "I don't think it's fresh."
Now Stu is frustrated. He calls over Nick, the head of the seafood department, to get the customer's input. Stu asks Nick if their fish is fresh. Nick goes through a major speech about bringing in the fish from the Boston pier every morning. Then, they both look at this lady and ask her: "What do you think of our fresh fish?" She says, "I still don't think that the fish is fresh." Now depending on the time of the day, day of the week, or the kind of person you are, most of us would either think or say something like this to the lady: "Look, bozo, we will put you on the truck, drive you to the Boston pier, and prove to you that we are right and that you are wrong!" Stu Leonard didn't do that; instead, he asked two questions: (1) "What do you mean our fish is not fresh?" She said, "Look at it. It just doesn't look fresh to me. You have that filet sitting on a green cardboard container. You have plastic wrap over the filet -- and it's wrinkled. Finally, you have a price sticker over half of the filet." She said, "I can't even see half of the filet." At this point Stu didn't try to get her back on the truck to Boston. He asked her a second question: (2) "What would fresh fish look like to you?" "I go to Boston all the time," she said. "I like to see the fish on ice." Stu walked across the aisle and laid the fish flat on the ice. Fish sales soared from 15,000 lbs. a week to 30,000 lbs. a week and stayed at that level. Listening and asking the right questions holds tremendous opportunity for all of us. There's one final point here that we all would be well-advised to remember: Quality is always defined by the customer, not by us.
See: Jam 1:19
What is our community telling us today about church ? What are your neighbors telling you today about church?
3. The things that we sanitize – a sense of self-righteousness
This is something that stops us dead in our tracks as we attempt to follow God. The things in our lives that we justify and excuse. When we attempt to sidestep the issue of our own sinfulness and the fact that the way that we act is our responsibility alone then we tie God’s hands. The scripture tells us that “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
To excuse what can really produce good excuses is not Christian charity; it is only fairness. To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you. This is hard. It is perhaps not so hard to forgive a single injury. But to forgive the incessant provocations of daily life -- to keep on forgiving the bossy mother-in-law, the bullying husband, the nagging wife, the selfish daughter, the deceitful son -- how can we do it? Only,
I think, by remembering where we stand, by meaning our words when we say in our prayers each night, "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us." We are offered forgiveness on no other terms. To refuse it means to refuse God's mercy for ourselves. There is no hint of exceptions and God means what He says.
... C. S. Lewis (1898-1963), "On Forgiveness"
Where the heart is willing, it will find a thousand ways;
but where it is unwilling, it will find a thousand excuses.
We will never go any further with God until we acknowledge our guilt and our selfish ways and seek His forgiveness.
The scriptural method of dealing with spiritual failure.
1. Gain a proper perspective on your relationship to sin and your relationship to God. Believe it or not but the way that we see this is crucial. The scripture tells us to “count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” Rom. 6:11 The way that you see yourself counts in every other area of life – why shouldn’t it count in the spiritual realm? What if the owner of your business came to you and said, “I want you to count yourself the new manager of this office or plant.”? That would carry some weight with you. Paul says that you should consider or count yourself dead to sin or free from sin as the scripture describes in the book of Romans. If the person to whom you are accountable makes that declaration – you are free then it is worth something. You have nothing more to worry about from that issue. There is no more dominion.
2. Seek to establish a pattern of life that does not reflect the control of sin. You are in that game as long as you deny sin the opportunity to rule you. (Rom. 6:12) How do we do that? We begin to thoughtfully, consistently mount a defense or a resistance. There are patterns of disobedience in our lives that are identifiable. There are “triggers” that lead us to the brink of disobedience. If we are willing to identify those and break them we can lay down new habit patterns of obedience.
3. We present ourselves or offer ourselves to God as instruments of righteousness. We must give ourselves to the things that are eternally important if we truly want spiritual growth and victory in our lives. I believe that “service” is a growth stimulant.. Spiritual slothfulness leaves us open to temptation and disobedience. Romans 12:11 admonishes us. “Never be lacking in zeal, keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.” I believe that our emphasis when we come to Christ should not be on all the things that we have to stop doing but on the idea that to be a Christian is a call to active service.
When I stand at the judgment seat of Christ
And He shows me His plan for me.
The plan of my life as it might have been
Had He had His way, and I see.
How I blocked Him here, and I checked Him there,
And I would not yield my will --
Will there be grief in my Savior's eyes,
Grief, though He loves me still?
He would have me rich, and I stand there poor,
Stripped of all but His grace,
While memory runs like a hunted thing
Down the paths I cannot retrace.
Then my desolate heart will well-nigh break
With the tears that I cannot shed;
I shall cover my face with my empty hands,
I shall bow my uncrowned head...
Lord of the years that are left to me,
I give them to Thy hand;
Take me and break me, mold me to
The pattern Thou hast planned!
When the frustration of my helplessness seemed greatest, I discovered God's grace was more than sufficient. And after my imprisonment, I could look back and see how God used my powerlessness for his purpose. What he has chosen for my most significant witness was not my triumphs or victories, but my defeat.
Charles Colson (1931- )
The kingdom of God is a kingdom of paradox, where through the ugly defeat of a cross, a holy God is utterly glorified. Victory comes through defeat; healing through brokenness; finding self through losing self.
Charles Colson (1931- )
It is no disgrace to Christianity, it is no disgrace to any great religion, that its counsels of perfection have not made every single person perfect. If, after centuries, a disparity is till found between its ideal and its followers, it only means that the religion still maintains the ideal, and the followers still need it.
n G.K. Chesterton, Leadership, Vol. 10, no. 3.
Many of you saw the movie Chariots of Fire back about ten years ago. It was the true story of Eric Liddell, a man who ran for Scotland, then went on to become a missionary. You may recall that he refused to run on the Sabbath, forfeiting some of the awards he probably would have won in the 1924 Olympics.
Well, there was another scene in that movie that may have appeared like Hollywood fiction, but it was also true. One year before the pivotal event in the movie, Eric Liddell ran in a meet between England, Ireland and Scotland. He ran the 100-, 220-, and 440-yard events.
In the 440, he got off to a bad start. When that gun sounded, there was a lot of shoving to get in front to the inside lane, the advantageous position.
Liddell tangled feet with J. J. Gillies of England and tumbled to the track. He sat there dazed for a moment, not knowing whether he could get up, when the official screamed, "Get up and run!"
He jumped to his feet and took off after the pack, which was now a full twenty yards ahead of him. In a quarter mile, that's a big distance to try to make up. In his unorthodox style of running he took off after the pack. He pulled into fourth place ten yards behind the leader, J. J. Gillies.
With forty yards to go, he pulled into third place, then second. Right at the tape he passed Gillies, stuck his chest out, won the race, and collapsed to the track in total exhaustion. Medical personnel had to assist him off the track that day.
An article appearing the next day in The Scotsman newspaper said, "The circumstances in which Liddell won the race made it a performance bordering on the miraculous. Veterans whose memories take them back thirty-five years and in some cases longer in the history of athletics were unanimous in the opinion that Liddell's win in the quarter mile was the greatest track performance they had ever seen."
There's something glorious about getting up off the track after you've been knocked down and running again. Win or lose, you didn't stay down.
n Craig Brian Larson, "Strong to the Finish," Preaching Today, Tape No. 155.
Some Christians are so afraid of failure that they become reserved, overly cautious, and uninvolved in life. They follow a policy of guarded living, holding back time, talents, and treasure from God's service. Their motto is: To keep from failing -- don't try! On the other hand, those who are willing to make mistakes and risk failure are the ones who ultimately achieve great things. Instead of being filled with fear, they go forward in faith. Problems are challenges. While they may not all be solved, these courageous people would rather live with that reality than have a clean record of no failures and no accomplishments. Benjamin Franklin said one time, "The man who does things makes many mistakes, but he never makes the biggest mistake of all -- doing nothing."