Failure is the best thing that can happen to you this week.

Failure is the best thing that can happen to you this week.
Photo by Markus Spiske / Unsplash

Let's talk about a topic that resonates with all of us: failure.

Everyone hates to fail, but for some people, failing presents such a significant psychological threat their motivation to avoid failure exceeds their motivation to succeed.

This fear of failure causes them to unconsciously sabotage their chances of success, in a variety of ways.

I looked up quiz if you have the fear of failure.

See if you resonate with any of them:

  1. Do you constantly worry about what other people think of you?
  2. Do you worry about your ability to pursue the future you desire?
  3. Do you worry that people will lose interest in you?
  4. Are you constantly thinking about how smart or capable you are?
  5. Do you tend to tell people beforehand that you don’t expect to succeed in order to lower their expectations?
  6. Do you often get last-minute headaches, stomach aches, or other physical symptoms that prevent you from completing your preparation?
  7. Do you often get distracted by tasks that prevent you from completing your preparation which, in hindsight, were not as urgent as they seemed at the time?
  8. You tend to procrastinate and "run out of time" to complete your preparation adequately?

Are you afraid of failure?

  • You might stay single because you are afraid of being rejected.
  • You may never share the story of Jesus with your neighbors because you’re afraid of what they might think of you.
  • You might never speak up in the office about an injustice happening behind the scenes because your job supersedes your morals.

Before we address this fear of failure head-on, I want to move us into the story of Abraham to remind you that the Bible is not full of perfection and unobtainable faith, but rather is a book full of people who are just like you and I.

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People in the Bible fail. People in the Bible fail often.

Introduction to guy named Abram

Abraham is one of the key figures if not the key figure of the Old Testament. His name is cited over and over again in the Old and New Testaments and is set forth as an example of a man who walked with God.

More importantly, Abraham is set forth as an example of faith, but that was not an automatic achievement for him.

Here is where God's relationship with human's stand 12 chapters into the Bible: It hasn’t been good.

  • Adam and Eve were created to be in covenant with God, but they rebelled. Their offspring didn’t do much better. Cain murdered his brother in a fit of jealousy.
  • As humanity multiplied, we read how every inclination and intention of man’s heart was toward evil. God wipes out creation with a flood, but saves one family- Noah’s. Even after the flood, humanity continues its rebellion against God.
  • The people get together to build a city out of pride and self-glorification. God interrupts their plans by confusing their language. It seems as if humanity is going to continue down a path of rebellion against God.

But something happens in Chapter 12 of Genesis.

The story of Genesis shifts from God working on a large-scale level with the people in the world, to God’s actions within a specific family. We encounter a man named Abram (later to be Abraham). Here God gives Abram a promise. God promises Abraham,

1. He will become a great nation,

2. His offspring will possess the land of Canaan (the Promised Land), and

3. He will be blessed and through him all the nations of the earth will be blessed.

What does Abram do with this promise from God? He believes it.

The Bible records this as his greatest action.

Believing God.

But trusting God was not an easy thing. For one thing, Abram didn’t have any children of his own. His name, Abram (meaning exalted father) was a painful reminder of what he lacked.

At one point in the story, God brings Abram outside and shows him the stars and tells him that his offspring will be as numerous. Not only that, but God eventually changes Abram’s name to Abraham - essentially changing his identity from “exalted Father” to “Father of many”.

Photo by Greg Rakozy / Unsplash

‌Still Abraham had to wait a long time for the promised child to be born.

And in that waiting period, Abraham took a lot of risks, experienced a lot of failure, was taught patience, and persevered despite all odds stacked against him.

Why?

Well, for the same reason you shouldn’t fear failure and should be taking risks for the glory of God and the benefit of those around you.

Here is the bottom line

You never please God by playing it safe.

Follow me on the logic of this. If you don’t take any risks in life, you don’t need any faith. And if you don’t have any faith, then at that point you are being unfaithful.

Let me say it a different way: if you are not risking anything for the glory of God and the benefit of others around you, then you do not depend on faith you simply depend on yourself and that is the definition of unfaithfulness.

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God made you to make a difference, not just to live for yourself. 

And this is not a self-help sermon to make you feel better about yourself, it’s actually the opposite. You need to be so far out of your limits that it’s only because of God that you are able to achieve what you are reaching for.

So I hope you are seeing why the fear of failure is something we need to address head on and we are going to use Abraham’s story to pull out 4 truths that will help you harness failure in your own life rather than being paralyzed by it.‌‌

Abraham failed in many ways because he is human.

Truth #1

And guess what, you’re human as well.

The failure rate of human beings is 100%.

We are all qualified to join the loser group.

Have you considered that you are considered a superstar if you hit 7/10 when you’re up to bat in the MLB, or you shoot 70% when you’re at the free throw line in the NBA. Meaning, even the best athletes, who have trained their entire life doing this ONE thing, swing the bat and miss, or shoot the ball and don’t even hit the rim.

Why? Because they are human. They fail.

Let me show you something at the very beginning of Abraham’s story that gives us as readers a foretaste of what’s to come in his story.

Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and pin you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” - Genesis 12:1-3

That’s a big demand and a big reward.

God needs Abram to leave everything behind. Leave the country where he’s from, the people in his family, everything that he could possibly depend on outside of God and then God will give him this reward/blessing.

So, let’s see how how Abram does on his end, verse 4,

So Abram went, as the Lord had told him, and Lot went with him.

The failure is subtle.

The author doesn’t make a big point in pointing it out to you, but this is a foreshadowing of the tightrope of Abraham’s faithfulness to God.

This is how Abraham is introduced to us as readers.

Looking at the life of Abraham, he had plenty of failures. Twice Abraham out of fear of his own life lied about his relationship with his wife. He told people that she was his sister. The result was that other men attempted to take Sarah as a wife. Gentlemen, do that at lunch today and let me know if it could be considered a failure or not.

Abraham failed in many ways because he is human and so are you. There is no avoiding failure if you’re doing something worthwhile.

Luckily, Abraham failed often but didn’t quit pursuing God, which leads us to the second truth,

For Abraham, no failure was final until he gave up.

Truth #2

I said earlier that the fear of failure is actually more detrimental in your life and walk with God than failure itself.

Here is why.

Failure is not terminal. It will not kill you. In fact, failure is a one-time occurrence. You fail at something and you move on in life. But the fear of failure lives on in your mind indefinitely if you allow it. You relive the fear of failure every day, every hour, every moment and it only wins when you give up.

Let’s revisit Abraham’s story.

The time Abraham gave up bred some of the most detrimental consequences in his life. God had promised this already old man that he would given him offspring that numbered the stars in the sky and after waiting for God’s promise to be fulfilled, Sarah suggested to Abraham that he have a child through Sarah’s servant Hagar.

Maybe because of tiredness or thinking that they could fulfill God's plan, Abraham listened to his wife’s suggestion and had a child with Hagar which snowballs into disaster.

Abraham and Sarah grew tired of their failure to conceive a child and they grew tired of waiting on God’s timing. They gave up on waiting and took matters in their own hands.

Luckily, by the grace of God, the story doesn’t end there.

One of my favorite verses

Proverb 24:16a, “for though the righteous fall seven times, they rise again”

This verse reminds me of a couple things:

  1. even good people fail
  2. even good people fail often
  3. what makes a person good (righteous) is not the number of failures but the number of rising ups.

Abraham will be counted as righteous by God in Ch. 15, and yet he has a track sheet of failures. Abraham did not allow his failures to be final and neither did God. Abraham got back up and this resilience needs to be adopted.

Let me tell you about another guy.

  • Age 7: His family was forced out of their home. He had to work to support them.
  • 9: His mother died.
  • 23: Failed in business.
  • 24: Ran for state legislature – lost.
  • 24: Also lost his job – wanted to go to law school but couldn’t get in.
  • 25: Borrowed some money from a friend to begin a business and by the end of the year he was bankrupt. He spent the next 17 years of his life paying off this debt.
  • 27: Was engaged to be married, sweetheart died and his heart was broken.
  • 28: Had a total nervous breakdown and was in bed for six months.
  • 30: Sought to become speaker of the state legislature – defeated.
  • 32: Sought to become elector – defeated.
  • 35: Ran for Congress – lost.
  • 40: Ran for re-election to Congress – lost.
  • 41: Sought the job of land officer in his home state – rejected.
  • 46: Ran for Senate of the United States – lost.
  • 48: Sought the Vice-Presidential nomination at his party’s national convention – got less than 100 votes.
  • 50: Ran for U.S. Senate again – again he lost.
  • 52: Elected president of the United States.

That man is Abraham Lincoln and had the critical role in human history for unifying the Union and fighting for the liberation of all human’s, regardless of the color of their skin.

[Abraham Lincoln, head-and-shoulders portrait, facing front]. Photograph by photographer Alexander Gardner, [photograph taken 1863; printed later and c1900]. From the Presidential File Collection. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division.

https://www.loc.gov/item/96522529/
Photo by Library of Congress / Unsplash

This is a unique list for one of Lincoln’s greatest qualities: his humanness.

“My greatest concern is not whether you have failed, but whether you are content with your failures.” - Abraham Lincoln

You don’t know what the future has in store for you.

All those past failures could just be the prologue for what God has in store for your life.

Failure is not the worst thing that can happen to you. Both of these Abraham’s failed numerous times, but they did not allow that failure to be final.

Which leads us to #3, what can God do with our failure?

Abraham's failure was his path to success.

Truth #3

Failure is not the roadblock to success, instead failure is the doorway to success.

Nobody succeeds unless they encounter some level of failure along the way.

Why was Abraham willing to sacrifice his promised son Isaac when asked by God (Ch. 22)? Because Abraham finally learned, from past failures, that not trusting in God (despite how crazy it might seem) will always leave your worst off.

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All of Abraham’s failures to trust God culminated in the ultimate moment of trust that opened the door for God’s blessing.

I am privileged to have an intern for our youth every summer and one of the first things I tell interns coming in is to fail fast, fail often, fail cheap (I emphasize that last one for them).

I will not be upset at you for failing at something, but I will be upset at failing the same thing over and over again, because you’re not learning from it. Fail fast, fail often, fail cheap; just don’t be afraid to fail.

Because there are many benefits to failing, let me list off a couple for you right now:

  • Failure teaches us what doesn’t work: when I attempted to change my oil and drained my transmission instead. I won’t do that again.
  • Failure allows us to redefine our priorities: sometimes “no” is God’s answer to your prayers. Arlo is also learning that “no” is an answer.
  • Failure promotes humility: Do you remember seeing the movie Titanic in theaters? It was an epic tragedy that still engages us today, even though the sinking of the Titanic occurred over 100 years ago. I bet you haven’t heard of the Olympic, which was the sister ship to the Titanic. Unlike the Titanic, the Olympic had a long career, spanning 24 years from 1911 to 1935. I can’t be sure why the Olympic had a longer career than its sister ship, but perhaps it had something to do with humility. Indeed, prior to the launch of the Titanic, an employee of the White Star Line remarked, “Not even God himself could sink this ship.” The Olympic had a different history. On one of her early voyages, the Olympic collided with another ship, tearing two large holes in her hull. Because of this early failure, the captain and crew of the Olympic had no illusions of infallibility, which may have allowed the Olympic to carry people across the Atlantic for over 20 years. Recent research on humility and leadership found that a failure early in the leader’s career was associated with higher levels of humility, as well as better leadership ability. There is something about an early failure that allows the leader to view the self as fallible, which improves teachability, willingness to see the self accurately, and appreciation of others’ strengths.
  • Failure forces us to rely on God: it’s normally not until my biggest failures that I recognize my dependence on God.

No matter how many times Abraham failed, God was faithful.

Truth #4

One of the greatest promises in the Bible is God promising Abraham that he would have a son, and that son would go on to be a nation, and that nation would go on to be the blessing for all humanity.

No matter how many times Abraham got it wrong, failed God, let down his end of the deal, God was faithful to his end of the deal.

Abraham and Sarah would have Isaac, the nation of Israel would be born from his line, and Jesus’ story traces all the way back.

The great lesson to be learned from Abram’s failure here is summed up well by the Apostle Paul: “if we are faithless, he remains faithful—for he cannot deny himself” (2 Tim. 2:13).

Abram did not deserve to have this story end on a good note.

  • He didn’t deserve to have redemption from his nephew Lot’s debacle.
  • He did not deserve to have his wife after denying her twice.
  • He didn’t deserve to have a child of his own after abusing his servant to obtain an offspring.
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Likewise, we must remember that our walk with God is not dependent upon our own faithfulness. God is continuously faithful to us.
Romans 8:28, And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

This is not a promise for everyone. If you are running in the opposite direction of God, I can guarantee God is not going to work things out for you in your current direction.

He didn’t for Abraham, he didn’t for the prophet Jonah, and he won’t for you.

But think about this, if you love God and are pursuing his wisdom and direction in your life, and you fail some venture (starting a business, sharing your faith, etc.), God promises to work it out for good.

God promises to remain faithful to you. This is not a guarantee of success, but a promise that all things he will work out for good.

Let's land this plane ✈️

My goal today was to help you find a place in God’s story that is not a posture of fear, specifically fear of failing.

Fear of failing keeps you from taking risks, and if you’re not taking risks then you don’t need faith, and if you are not depending on faith then you are faithless.

If you take away anything today from Abraham’s story let it be that Abraham was a man of many failures, but he worshiped a God of faithfulness and so do you.

Philippines 4:13, I can do all this through Christ who gives me strength.

My faith is not in my own power, my faith is in Christ’s power inside of me. And when I know what I am being called to do (like we see later in Abraham’s story), I’m not going to do it in my power, but in God’s power. And that makes me unafraid.

Because God gives me the power to do it. ‌‌

Isaiah 41:10, So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.‌‌

You can go to the bank on that one, friends.

God cannot lie.

I dare you to dream great dreams for God this week.

  • What do you want to see happen in your life this year?
  • Who do you want to share the message of Jesus with?
  • How far far out of your comfort zone are you willing to go for Jesus?
  • When will fear stop hindering you from the plans God has in your life?‌‌

What would you attempt for God if you knew you couldn’t fail? Let that thought expand your mind and your heart this week, because God says I will give you the strength. ‌‌

2 Timothy 1:7, For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.‌‌

What I want to say to you. As someone who loves you, as your minister who prays for you all the time: God is not done with you.

I don’t care what you have been through, or how many times you have failed, God is not done with you.

You cannot let fear hold you back. Do all things with faith, do all things with love and no matter how it turns out, you have already succeeded.