David Jeremiah - Slaying the Giant of Failure
Failure is a part of everyone's life, even if we don't realize it, even if we're not willing to accept it. Back in 1988, the United Technologies Corporation published a little article in the "Wall Street Journal," reminding us of our failures. The article said, "You failed many times. Although you may not remember, you fell down the first time you tried to walk. You almost drowned the first time you tried to swim. Did you hit the ball the first time you swung the bat? Heavy hitters, the ones who hit the most home runs, also strikeout a lot".
R.H. Macy failed seven times before his store in New York caught on. Babe Ruth struck out 1.330 times before he hit 714 home runs. So, the article said don't worry about failure, worry about the chances you miss when you don't even try. Whenever a person determines to try, whenever a person determines to enter life to make a difference, he's gonna make mistakes, he's going to fail. So, the first and most important thing for us to do is to face the reality of failure.
And I want you to look at your Bibles at 2 Corinthians chapter 4 and verse 7 and notice that Paul, writing to the Corinthians, talked about failure in biblical terms. He said, "We have this treasure in earthen vessels". What does that mean? That means the treasure of the gospel, the treasure of the ministry has been given to us, but God gave it to us in earthen vessels, in human bodies. That's what the word "earthen vessels" means. God has entrusted his precious commodity of the gospel to the very fragile earthen vessels called human bodies.
And then Paul goes on in that same context to remind us that in these human bodies, we often fail, we often find ourselves under pressure. He uses some very interesting words to describe it. He says, "We are hard pressed on every side, yet not crushed. We are persecuted, but not forsaken. Struck down, but not destroyed. Always carrying about in the body, the dying of the Lord Jesus". What Paul is saying is that by very fact that we're human, we experience defeat, and discouragement, and sometimes failure in our lives. If we had any other kind of record, we would be inhuman, we would be perfect, we would be God. But by very nature of our humanity, failure is factored in.
And let me tell you something that has been very liberating to me as I've thought about it this week. God is not surprised by our failure. He sort of expects it. I'm not saying he okays it, and I'm certainly not talking here about the failure of sin. But in the Word of God, we are given this impression that God understands who we are. Listen to Psalm 103, verses 13 and 14, "As a father pities his children, so the Lord pities those who fear Him. For He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust".
Isn't that interesting? God Almighty knows who we are. God, when we fail, God doesn't sit up in heaven and say, "Oh, my goodness, look what happened". He knows who we are. He doesn't plan our failures. He doesn't promote our failures, but he understands our failures. Remember, when Jesus was praying in the Garden of Gethsemane and he asked his disciples to pray with him. And he went away to pray, then he came back and they were sleeping. Finally, Jesus, the Son of God, made this very astounding statement. He said, "The spirit is willing, but the flesh, or the body, is weak". The Son of God said that.
How many of you can say, "Amen, is that ever true"? What I want to do, I often don't do. My spirit is willing, but my flesh, my body is weak. And we're reminded in the New Testament that when we have problems, the one to whom we go understands our weaknesses. We don't have a high priest who cannot comprehend our weaknesses. He knows who we are. So, the important thing to understand when we talk about failure is that God understands our failure. He doesn't condone it, but he understands it. And when we come to him, we need to realize that he understands what we're experiencing.
I remember reading a statement by a Scottish preacher by the name of Alexander White, who describes spiritual growth like this. He said, "Spiritual growth are the saints falling down and getting up, falling down and getting up, falling down and getting up all the way to heaven". How many of you say that "Boy, that sounds like me"? Failure. Then we need to face the reason for our failure. Here in 2 Corinthians chapter 4, Paul gives us some reasons why failure is allowed in our life. I want you to read with me verses 17 and 18 at the end of the chapter. "For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal".
Now, if you read this passage and if you look at it carefully, you will see that the great apostle is making some contrasts here. For instance, he's talking about the difference between the temporary and the eternal, the difference between the seen and the unseen, the difference between that which is light, and that which is weighty. And if you look at it carefully, you will understand that here in the end of this passage is a very simple theology behind the reason for God allowing failure into our life. And I wrote it down in four simple statements.
First of all, we fail now so that we might succeed later. The affliction is for now, the glory is for the future. The Bible tells us that if we're gonna reign with the Lord, we'll have to suffer with him, we'll have to go through some things that will make us ready to be available for his glory. So, we fail now, so that we can succeed later.
Then secondly, I wrote down, we fail in the incidental so that we might succeed in the important. He talks about light affliction, and weight of glory. The things that happened to us now in light of eternity, while they may seem like huge failures to us at the moment, may not weigh in very heavily against the weight of glory.
Thirdly, we fail in the temporary so that we might succeed in the eternal. He talks here about that which is for the moment. He talks about the far more and exceeding eternal things. He talks about the things which are seen, and the things which are temporary, and the things which are eternal.
And finally, we fail outwardly, so that we might succeed inwardly. The longer I live, the more I am aware of the fact that God really isn't all that impressed with our outwardness. God cares deeply about our inwardness. We get so wrapped up in what we do, God cares about who we are. And here in this text it says we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. Many times when we feel like we're failing on the outside, what is happening to us is causing us to succeed on the inside.
There's nothing like bumping your head against a problem that's so big, and falling on your face, nothing like that to make you fall on your knees in a different way and say, "Lord God, this is beyond me. I don't know what to do". It is that place to which we come that God desires to bring us when we understand who we are, and we understand our human weakness. Sometimes God allows failure in our lives so that we may grow. Peter Marshall said it this way, "It is better to fail in a cause that will ultimately succeed than to succeed in a cause that will ultimately fail".
So, God's working in our lives. When we fail, we need to ask God to help us learn from that failure how we can become the kind of people he wants us to be. And then finally, in this passage in 2 Corinthians, I want you to know notice the result of failure, facing the result of failure. I love this verse, verse 16. "Therefore, we do not lose heart". We're not gonna give up because we know that even though these things are happening to us, these failures are taking place, even though our outward man is perishing, our inward man is being renewed day by day.
The result of failure often is a reversal of how we look at life. No longer do we evaluate from the outside in, we begin to see things from the inside out. While the outward man is perishing, as we've talked about recently, if you put all of your eggs in that basket, you're fighting a losing battle because the outward man is ultimately going to decay. And if that's all you care about, you're gonna lose. I don't know if it's today, or tomorrow, or next year, but you can't keep it up. But the inward man can be renewed and that's the wonderful message.
Sometimes our failures turn us inward to the life that God really wants to develop when we face the giant of failure. But I want to give you some practical experience and some practical truth to deal with failure as God brings us all through that experience at one time or another, fighting the giant of failure. What do you do when you face failure? How do you deal with it? First of all, you acknowledge your failure. You admit it. Have you ever been around people who are failing and won't admit it? People who are really big time blowing it and they won't even face up to it, and you hear all of their outward dressing to try to cover up the failure.
Well, you know, that's futile. Everybody else knows you're failing, why don't you just accept it and deal with it? Just acknowledge it. Someone has said turning around the impact of failure in your life begins with you. The first reaction will be to protest your innocence, but don't do it. When you know you've genuinely failed, face up to it, acknowledge it, and move forward. If you do not do that, you will spend all of your life trying to cover up in denial what you know is true. Be honest about who you really are.
President Truman was asked once if he had been popular when he was in school. He said, "No, I was never popular. The popular boys were the ones who were good at games and had big fists. I was never like that. Without my glasses, I was blind as a bat. And to tell the truth, I was kind of a sissy. If there was any chance of getting into a fight, I took off. I guess that's why I'm here today". That's a pretty honest statement of who he valued himself to be. But after we acknowledge our failure, the second thing we need to do is accept God's forgiveness. If our failure is sin, the only way to overcome that is to get forgiven.
The Bible tells us in Psalm 103, and verse 10, "He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor punished us according to our iniquities". And all of us should be willing to say, "amen" to that. We come to God with our failures and our sins, and we ask for the sense of forgiveness. A young lady came forward and she just said, "Pastor, I just need so desperately to know that God is forgiving me, that I can feel the sense of forgiveness for my failures". What a wonderful thing it is to be able to turn to someone like that and say, "Let me tell you what I know. God specializes in forgiving the sins and the failures of all of us".
I can promise you on the authority of the Word of God that there is not anything you have done that God cannot forgive if you will come to him with repentance. When you fail, you come to God for forgiveness. You understand that God desires to set you free from the bondage of guilt. And then thirdly, you apply the lessons of failure toward success. What a foolish thing it is to fail and not learn something. If we accept failure as the final and absolute judgment of our potential, then we're gonna fail the rest of our lives. We have to learn to use failure as a resource, as an opportunity and often it can be the door to great success.
John Keats, an English author, once wrote, "Failure is, in a sense, the highway to success, inasmuch as every discovery of what is false leads us earnestly to what is true. And every fresh experience points out some form of error, which we shall afterward carefully avoid". God often allows our failures to become distinctive points of power and ministry in our lives. And then here's really an important thought that I hope you won't forget, learn to accept failure as a fact of life, not as a way of life. We all fail, but does that make us all failures?
Listen to me carefully. Failure is an event, not a person. Failure is something you do, not something you become. We have such an interesting way in our world, when somebody fails in some way, we just say, "Well, he's just a failure," or he's a loser, that's our term. But when we fail, that doesn't make us a failure unless we allow that failure to continue and to be multiplied by other failures so that we pile failure upon failure, then we can allow our individual failure to turn us into failures, but it need not be that way.
So, we accept failure as a fact of life, but not as a way of life. And then we arise from failure and we start again. When you fail, the temptation is to wallow in self-pity, to feel sorry for yourself. Your business fails, relationship fails, you just kind of want to go and enjoy the pity that you get from failure. But let me tell you something, the best thing you can do is make sure that it's right with God, and then get up on your feet and start moving forward again.
One of my favorite stories in the Old Testament, as you know, is the story of Jonah. I love this story, not because of the whale. I mean, that's an important part of it, not because of Jonah's ride in the fish. I like that. But I love the story because of the third chapter, and the first two verses. And I want you to read them aloud with me from the screen. Jonah chapter 3:1 and 2, "Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time, saying, 'Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and preach to it the message that I tell you.'"
That is an incredible and encouraging passage. Jonah had failed miserably. God told him to go this way, Jonah went that way. God said, "Love the Ninevites, preach the gospel to them," Jonah hated them. But God gave him an experience in the whale and when it was all over the Bible says God came to him and said, "Jonah, don't be sitting here thinking about your failure anymore. Arise, rise up out of your failure and go to Nineveh and preach the gospel". And you know what happened? He preached the gospel, and 120.000 people came to Christ, one of the greatest revivals that has ever taken place in the history of the Word of God. His second time around on the heels of monumental failure, God used Jonah to create a whole new opportunity for a culture known as the Ninevites.
When we fail, we have to start over. People will come along and say, "Well, you failed, you can't do that," and that's the enemy talking. That's not God. What happens when we talk about failure is we often think about other people. How easy it is for us to brand other people failures when we really don't have any basis for it at all? I went through the Scripture this week and I found illustrations that just jumped out at me that would help us to see how wrong it is for us to judge others as failures when we don't know what we're talking about. They're well-known stories and you will resonate with them, I'm sure. First of all, there is the story in the New Testament about a failure that you would have judged as a failure. It's the story of the rich man and the beggar.
Now, if you had walked into a room with the rich man and the beggar, what would you have thought? Who's the successful one in this room, is it the rich man? Absolutely. From all outward appearances, he's the one who's succeeding. But if you read Luke 16:25, you read this, and this is the Lord's analysis. He said, "Child, remember during your life, you received your good things, and Lazarus, the beggar, his bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony". The rich man looked like he was successful by everyone else, but he was the failure and it was Lazarus who succeeded. Isn't that interesting? Oftentimes, God turns our values upside down and says, "No, wait a minute, you don't know the whole story".
And then there's the story of the pharisee and a tax collector. The Bible tells us in Luke 18 that two men went up to the temple to pray. One of them was a pharisee. He was dressed in all of his regalia, and he looked for everything that you could imagine as a successful man. And he began to pray and he said, "Oh, Lord God, I thank you that I'm not like other men. I'm not an extortioner. I'm not an adulterer, or I'm not like this tax collector over here". And over here in the corner is the tax collector, and he's praying, and if you'd walked in the temple that day and you said, "Oh, look at these two men," someone said, "Who's the successful one here"?
Why, it's obviously the Pharisee praying with his hands up, exalting himself and acknowledging his greatness. But Jesus had a very different view of that scene. Jesus said, "Speaking of the tax collector, I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other, for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted". These are all just warnings to us that when we're tempted to evaluate life through our own human eyes and say, "This person is a success, that person is a failure," we better be careful about that because we may not have all the information. "Judge not that ye be not judged," says the Scripture. And only God can see through to the reality of someone's heart.
Here's a person in our congregation, for instance, who may live in a rather humble dwelling, but every night he gathers his family around him and he prays with them and encourages them. He lives for God. He turns down promotions. Sometimes it will take him away from his family duties. And he lives in a righteous way. And over on the other side of town is someone the same age with the same kind of family. He's in six figures and recognized in the community. Every part of his life is coming unglued. On the outward we would say, "That man is a success, and this man is a failure". But God views things in a much different way.
If you had been there that day standing there outside the city, watching what had happened, what was going on, you would have said this was the most colossal failure of all time, a man who had had such a great following, who had spoken with such authority, actually done a few miracles along the way, had tried to make people believe that he was the coming Messiah. But now as you stood there looking up at the cross where he hung between two thieves, all you could think of was what a colossal failure this day is for him and for everyone who knew him. Even his closest friends wanted nothing to do with him, except for John who stood there with his mother.
If you didn't know the inside story, you would have said, "That is the feature story in a book on failure". But how many of you know that moment that the world viewed as the greatest failure of all time, ended up being the greatest moment of success in the history of the world? Because every single one of us who know God and understand what it means to be forgiven of our sin, we point back to that moment, that cross, that moment that seemed like failure to everyone who saw it, and we know that the greatest victory that was ever won in the history of all mankind was won that day on Calvary when Jesus hung between two thieves, and between heaven and earth, paying the penalty for your sin and for mine.
We know that and then it is verified for us three days later because after he was put into the grave, he came out of the tomb victorious over death to verify and to prove that what he had said about himself was actual. And that's why we believe in him and why we trust him. We know that what he did on the cross, while it looked like failure to everyone, was success for us who place our faith in him. If you've never done that today, if you've never put your faith in Christ, that's where success really begins.