Fireman called out by an elderly lady to retrieve her cat (stuck in a tree – where else?) arrived with impressive haste and carefully rescued the animal. The lady was so grateful she invited the hero firemen in for tea. Driving off later with fond farewells and waving of arms, they ran over the cat and killed it. Total failure!
Failure – a word that most people dread. We want to be successful. Yet Henry Ford forgot to put a reverse gear into his first car that proved to be a flop. We want to be liked and admired. Andy Murray gained a few more fans with his epic match against Roger Federer in the Wimbledon final a week ago – but ultimately failed to lift the gold trophy. Sometimes parts of our lives are trapped in failure and most of us are aware of personal failings. Sometimes they are moral failures. Sometimes they are failures in relationships. Sometimes they are failures to achieve something. Whatever it is – failure labels us as unsuccessful, and no good.
The experience is very common because disappointment and failure are part of what it means to live in a sinful world. We all fail – some perhaps more than others. Not every one is going to find success – particularly when up against the judgmental standards of the prevailing culture. Let’s listen to the story of Joseph Kelly that helps set the scene:-
The dried leaves from a bouquet of flowers blow away in the biting wind. One black vase after another inscribed with “In loving memory” – decorate the polished headstones. A plot of bare earth lies at the end of the path. A fresh grave dug for Joseph Kelly, 20 and unemployed. The records say that he committed suicide while the balance of his mind was disturbed; but ask his family and friends, the people who knew and loved him, and they’ll tell you another story. They’ll mention how a strapping six-footer who loved a pint and a joke was driven to his death by life on the dole. Murdered by the feeling of failure that comes when you are young and strong and keen to work – but there are no jobs.
Every day for six months, Joe trekked around the factories, the works and building sites around his hometown. Every night, he came back, still out of work. Perhaps his skinhead haircut was to blame; so he wore a woolly hat to hide it; but they still turned him away. Gradually the humiliation of the dole dragged him down. He got sick of having his parents buy him clothes; sick of seeing his round in the pub bought by the fortunate lads who did have work.
So one night he came home and deliberately took his mother’s sleeping pills. He was found dead in bed the next day. Now he lies with 10,000 others in the cemetery; four rows east, eight rows south, section ‘F’. The only vacancy he ever found.
There is nothing quite as final as calling someone a failure. So many promises, so many dreams, so much hope fading before this young man’s eyes. But your failures do not define YOU! If status and money are a basis for judging success or failure (as they so often are these days) – it is obvious that Jesus Christ was a failure! His earthly ministry had ended. His crucifixion and death looked like the exact opposite of success. Yet it was at this moment that He was winning the most important victory in the history of the world. Therefore, dealing with failure lies at the heart of the Gospel. Christ was prepared to die for us and in the providence of God His apparent “failure” proved to be the greatest blessing.
Sometimes the Church is criticized for inviting people to feel guilty as a way of dealing with their sense of failure. But the reason for this is that the Church has an answer to guilt and shame. The gathered church has nothing to do with attendance or church membership, but is comprised of those who have actually made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ – through repentance, confession, humility -placing everything at the foot of the cross. Doing this, restores us and stops us thinking we are forever failing to meet society’s or anyone’s expectations for: “The God who said, ‘Out of darkness the light shall shine!’ is the same God who made his light shine in our hearts, to bring us the knowledge of God’s glory shining in the face of Christ.” (2 Cor.4:6).
Remember we are made in the image and likeness of God. We are children of God. We’re acceptable to God no matter what. He loves us as we are. Jesus spoke of God as Abba, Father. He also spoke of the Holy Spirit as our Advocate pleading on our behalf, telling disciples that they should not fear failure. He used parables to show the eternal value of being in the Kingdom of heaven. We have this spiritual treasure in clay pots to show that supreme power belongs to God…we are often troubled, but not crushed. (2 Cor.4:7-8).
There are very few people who feel entirely satisfied with life, who or what they are. Such dissatisfaction often expresses itself as failure. What people count as success & failure though is often not God’s assessment. Failure does not have to be a defeat. Peter claimed that he would die for Jesus, yet he denied the Lord three times (John 13:37-38, 18:25-27) and as the cock crowed he recognized his failure and cried bitterly. Nevertheless, God used him mightily in establishing the early church – for he was the rock upon which the church was built.
Peter’s story is important to us, because we all find ourselves in the place of failure from time to time. When we do, it is a comfort to know that our heavenly Father is a God of boundless love, unending mercy, and absolute forgiveness. Paul tells us it’s about Living by Faith: “For this reason we never become discouraged…this small and temporary trouble we suffer will bring us a tremendous and eternal glory.” (2 Cor.4:16,17).
So when the things we try to do in our lives don’t turn out the way we thought they would, don’t hide from God, but run to God, so He can give you the strength to overcome your problem. If you never went through difficulty, how would you know that God is a Deliverer? If you never made a mistake, how would you know that God is forgiving? If you were never broken, then how would you know that God can make you whole?
In times of loneliness, stress, depression, fear and hopelessness, whatever it is that says we’re a failure, we need to turn to God more than ever. The Bible says that we plan our course, but the Lord directs our steps. If we will just put our faith in Jesus Christ, He will direct our steps and turn our failures into success through spiritual growth giving us new direction in life: “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will lift you up… for faith is being fully persuaded that God has the power to do what he has promised.” (Js.4:10; Rom.4:21).
Psalm 85 is a prayer for revival. If you’re dealing with failure and need personal revival in your spiritual life, say these verses positively and later in prayer ask God to give you a fresh touch of His love.
Lord, look upon your world with grace
as you did in the days of old;
when you restored the fortunes of your people,
when you forgave their iniquities
and pardoned all their sins.
Restore us again, O God of salvation
and remove your indignation towards us.
Revive us again, so that your people may rejoice in you.
Show us your steadfast love, O Lord, and grant us your salvation.
Let us hear what God the Lord will say,
for he will speak peace to his people,
to his faithful, to those who turn to him in their hearts.
Surely his salvation is at hand for those who fear him,
that his glory may dwell in the world.
Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet;
righteousness and peace will kiss each other.
Faithfulness will spring up from the ground,
and righteousness will look down from the sky.
The Lord will give what is good,
righteousness will go before him
and will make a path for his steps.
Let it be so.