Last week’s sermon focused on Isaiah 49, verses 1 to 7 and in particular verse 4.
But my work seems so useless! I have spent my strength for nothing and to no purpose!
As part of that sermon, we looked at the warning that Jesus gave the disciples on the night of the betrayal, that on this night ALL of them would desert him. Which they did after the was arrested, in spite of Peter’s assertion that while everyone else might desert Jesus, he would be faithful. And we watched Peter fail.
I reminded you that Jesus expected them to fail and wasn’t judging them for their weakness. In fact, he knew it was a lesson that they needed to learn. I ended that sermon asking the following 2 questions, that I would like to address this morning:
How do you handle failure? What do you do in the face of fear?
The first thing I would like to remind all of us is that we don’t grow through our successes: we learn from our mistakes and failures. Think of Peter, and his many mistakes and opportunities to learn:
- This is the disciple that gets out of the boat and starts sinking when he takes his eyes off Jesus and looks at the storm
- The one that rebuked Jesus for talking about his crucifixion and death
- Was told «Get behind me Satan» by Jesus
- Promised that he would never desert Jesus and yet denied him 3 times
- Even doubted when he saw the empty tomb!
Failure… and yet this was the rock on which Christ chose to build the church! Because he got back up and learnt from those mistakes.
John Maxwell wrote a book a good few years ago now titled «Failing Forward: how to make the most of your mistakes». If you haven’t read it, I would encourage you to scrounge a copy and take time to learn how to make better mistakes! Sorry – how to make the most of the mistakes you’ve made.
I would start with looking at 2 aspects of the mistakes and failures in our lives:
- How do you view your failure?
- How do you respond to your failure?
How do you view your failure?
There are 2 ways we can look at our mistakes and our failures.
We can react like Adam and Eve: It was the serpent’s fault, it was the woman you gave me who caused this, and play the blame game. Maybe it was your staff’s fault, the secretary, the economy, the supplier that failed to deliver on time. Many times, we try to hide or conceal our failures, living our lives covering up or becoming prisoners of pretense. It’s hard to learn from something that you are hiding from!
Or we can look at it like David: «I have sinned», with true repentance in his heart.
The second part of looking at and viewing your failure, is whether you can look at it as actions and decisions and not circumstances or part of who you are. When David says «I have sinned», he talking about his actions and his decisions – he doesn’t say «I am a failure, my life is a disaster». He takes responsibility for his his actions, but doesn’t automatically assume that this is his entire life. He doesn’t take this on as a complete way of being: believing that therefore he can succeed at nothing!
How do you talk about your failure and yourself?
- I just can’t keep going
- I’m ready to quit, walk away and not look back
- Why are people always doing this to me?
- Why does God allow this to happen to me?
- I’m just such a failure, idiot, etc.
- I’m so stressed, I just can’t handle this.
- There’s just not enough time, there’s no way I could get this done.
- How could I be so stupid? Look at the mess I made!
If you heard someone else talk about you the way you talk about yourself, you would probably stand up for yourself! But we often talk toxicly without even realizing what we’re doing. When you beat yourself up, a blunder or a moment becomes a hurricane of failure!
How you handle setbacks in life will shape you: will you focus on the failure or on the change that you need to make? Will you allow it to define who you are, or choose to become someone that will overcome? Like I mentioned last week, most of the so-called heroes in the Bible were ordinary people who accomplished extra-ordinary things! They were humans who overcame their weaknesses and mistakes and went on to learn to do greater things.
It’s one thing to identify the behavior, actions, attitudes that are wrong and another thing entirely to self-deprecate ourselves. It’s not the same to say «I’m an idiot that just ruined my career», as saying «That was a really poor choice of words and I could have done better». Life is much more than just an event or a series of events: no one is a total failure and no one falls all the time.
This season, this moment does not have to be final: if you throw in the towel, it’s final. But a ball game isn’t over until the last man is out!
I’d like us all to try a little experiment this morning, to show you the power of your words.
How do you respond to failure or mistakes?
If you have viewed your failure as «it was inevitable», or «there was nothing I could do» or «it was someone else’s fault», there’s a strong possibility that you could allow anger, bitterness or resentment to grow inside, and be destined to repeat the same mistake again. If we live on the defensive, like King Saul in 1st Samuel, justifying ourselves and our actions, it’s hard to learn the lessons.
In particular, when we look at King Saul, we find someone who never takes responsibility for his mistakes – I didn’t keep the animals alive, the people did. I only did it because the people pressured me to do it. And more so, his «repentance», if you can call it that, seems to have no interest in the cause (or why he really did it) and therefore no cure for it! One of the beauties of poor decision making is that if you can identify the cause of your weakness, you can make better decisions in the future.
«A mistake repeated more than once is a decision.»
«Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.»
Or you can choose to learn from this, growing wiser and making better decisions in the future. We can look at why we failed and when we failed. We may have to follow back a chain of events to get to that first decision that set us up on the wrong path. The decision we put off when we should have made a choice.
But when we admit our failures, we conquer pride. There’s possibilities of change.
We read in Isaiah 9, verse 2 earlier:
«ºThe people who walked in darkness have seen a a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness on them light has shined.»
Now, it’s true that the process of learning, picking yourself up, dusting yourself off and getting back into the game may be painful. I never promised that it wouldn’t hurt a little! But I’m saying it will be worth it! The kid on the bike may have grazed his knees, those of you who are still working out and getting fit as part of your 2017 resolutions are still feeling the pain in your muscles as you train!
Hebrews 12, verses 11 to 13 remind us:
«All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness. Therefore, strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble, and make straight the paths for your feet…»
Become more like Christ will stretch you – and stretching will take you outside of your comfort zone. It’s going to be uncomfortable and sometimes even painful. God uses everything in our lives to transform us into the people He means for us to be – mistakes and failures should be responded to as learning experiences, rather than being considered character traits. It’s not who you are – it’s what you did or what happened to you.
There is always a third way – avoidance
Some people will do anything not to fail, even doing nothing. The person who does nothing will certainly not fail… they risk nothing. But there is no gain, no lesson, no wisdom to be gained in sitting on the sidelines! They become just like the servant in Matthew 25 that hid his talents in the ground, well at least I’ll still have them!
They say that the only thing worse than a quitter is the man that is afraid to begin! Achieving low aims, low goals, can be a greater failure than aiming for a higher target, and missing! You will always miss 100% of the shots what you fail to take!
Have you ever heard anyone say: «I achieved everything I have because I am a perfectionist.»? Probably not! That’s because it’s not until you are free to fail that you are free to succeed and do greater things!
I want to close this morning with the analogy of an acorn. When an acorn looks at itself and the possibilities that life offers, it may see itself just as an acorn, or it may dream of one day becoming an oak tree. So you take that acorn, and you throw it in the ground, maybe you put a little dirt over it. It’s not very nice to have dirt thrown on you!
That acorn may choose that it’s not willing to change, and it’s not willing to let go of being an acorn. But in order to become an oak tree, that acorn needs to die! It has to die to its littleness and smallness and embrace the idea that God gave it the divine possibility of becoming a great oak. But becoming a great oak means letting go of what it is right now. Being willing to let God transform it into something completely new and different.
You can either choose to hold onto and embrace who you are today and your ideas of what you are, or you can embrace the vision that God has of who he would have you be, letting go of what you are today, risking failure in order to learn, moving outside of your comfort zone, and taking a chance of becoming that strong oak that God envisions you being.