Growing up in Miamisburg, OH everybody wanted to be good at baseball. Miamisburg was never great at any sports really, but they always managed to put together a great baseball team. From the earliest of ages onward many of the city’s families would gather at a small ballpark by the river, called “Rice Field,” for all day little league baseball outings. For years I tried to be like all my friends who made the league’s all star team, but for all the effort I put into making the team-I never did. When I got into Middle School I wanted so badly to make the city’s one select baseball team for kids in my grade. I went to hitting classes, I tried to pitch as fundamentally as possible, I fielded for hours at a time, but I got cut from the team. This was the only time in my life that I have ever been cut from anything! I’ll never forget the night I got cut; I cried by myself in my bed absolutely heartbroken. I never played baseball again, and I felt like a failure.
Getting cut from your middle school baseball team is a small failure in the grand scheme of things. As we get older, we fail time and time again, and over and over. We fail with our tempers, we fail with our actions, we fail in our relationships, sometimes, sadly marriages fail, sometimes we fail in our jobs, at times we fail economically, and often times we fail in our walks with the Lord. Failure is a reality of living in a broken and sinful world. Failure is inevitable for fallible and broken people who will not be glorified until the time Christ returns (Phil. 3:19-21). We often have an easier time coming to grips with this reality when we aren’t the one’s who directly caused the failure; things like bad health that isn’t a direct result of our diets or lack of exercise, or being laid off on account of somebody else’s financial mistake rather than our own. But, we have a more difficult time coming to grips with and learning from failure when we are the ones who directly cause it. So, for this Throwback Thursday post, I want to address what I’ve learned from my biggest failures and what we all can learn from failure.
What I’ve Learned From My Biggest Failures
- One of the biggest things I’ve learned from my personal failures has been that I am limited in my abilities, and that’s OK! The reason why being cut from my baseball team was so difficult for me as a kid was because I had a pride problem. My problem was that I was always comparing myself to others, and I was never OK with not being better than others at things. I did not have an understanding of humility, and I couldn’t yet grasp that God equips people uniquely, so that they can come to know Him and then use their gifts to glorify Him. I needed the grace of God to become a reality in my life before I could live in a way that extended grace to other people and myself. What the Gospel does for a person is it shows them that their eternal inheritance is secure in heaven on the basis of God’s grace and mercy, and as His children what truly matters is that whatever gifts God has given us would be used to His glory and Honor. So, when we begin living within the reality of the Gospel we realize we are limited in our abilities and we are OK with it. Romans 12:3 then says, “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another.” Jesus changes our hearts and makes us OK with not being great at everything.
2. Our personal failings help us to see our sinful nature more and more, and that’s a good thing. Romans 3:23 says “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” Elsewhere in Scripture we are told, “For none are righteous; no not one!” Even elsewhere still, we are told, “For all are like sheep and have wandered and gone astray.” I’ve made a number of mistakes in my life, and I didn’t always handle them properly in the immediacy of my sin, but I now know that God teaches us through our failures, so that we understand we truly are wretches who need His undeserved amazing grace, because without it we are utterly lost! Next week, we will celebrate the conversion of John Newton who wrote the wonderful words to the hymn, “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now I’m found. I was blind but now I see.” Until you see and understand you are a sinner you will always have a blind spot not allowing you to take proper notice of your pride, greed, rebelliousness, and your disobedience to God. It is when I have failed the most that I have understood my sin most, and in turn have been immersed in God’s grace most.
3. My own personal failures have softened my heart, and caused me to see the importance of forgiveness and reconciliation. When we fail in our walk with the Lord that is when we need to trust and believe in His everlasting, and unfailing love more than ever. I have learned that in the immediacy of personal failure the worst thing I can do is make a “to-do” list to make things better. Yes, this might fix the problem for a bit of time, but if you don’t deal with yourself internally then you are bound to make the same mistake once again. 1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” When we sin we must realize we have broken God’s commands, and therefore, first and foremost we have sinned against God. So, we must confess our sins to Him rather than try and run away from them. We must actually believe that God will forgive us our sins, and that He will clean us from our sinful ways. Once we have come to grips with this reality then, and only then, can we truly ask those we have offended for forgiveness, and properly begin a process of reconciliation.
4. I’ve learned that when I have fallen to the ground I must go to the Lord to lift me back up. A sad reality is that sometimes we fail, we sin, but we don’t deal with it; possibly because we don’t even see what we’ve done. But, the Lord has graciously provided warnings for us in His Word that push us to examine ourselves to make sure we are truly dealing with our sin and not ignoring it. Hebrews 10:26 says, “For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice of sins.” This doesn’t mean God can’t forgive those of us who have sinned, but it means that those who live presumptuously in regards to sin have not actually accepted Christ’s atoning sacrifice on the cross, and therefore his blood does not cover their sins. We must not live in this way! When we fall because of our shortcomings, failures, sins, we must seek the Lord to even show us the way back onto our feet. He is the one who puts us on the path of righteousness, and when we are knocked off course He is the one who brings us back. We must learn to see God’s discipline in this process as a good thing; much like the discipline of a weightlifter pays off over time the discipline we receive from God makes us better Christians (notice I said discipline, not punishment– there’s a difference). Hebrews 12:7, “It is for discipline that you have to endure, God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline?”
5. What we sometimes see as a tragic disaster is actually the Lord’s provision of salvation. Nobody enjoys God’s correction in the midst of it, but we must learn to see His correction as a good thing. Often times, when we fail spiritually we see the results as awful, tragic, and even disastrous. What sometimes we see as judgment from God could actually be salvation from God. Think about Jonah and the fish. You may be tempted to read the story of Jonah and think the big nasty fish swallowing him whole, and keeping Him trapped for a few days was a bad thing to happen to Jonah, but actually it’s the best thing that could have happened to Him. The fish plucked him from the depths of the unknown sea, and provided a place for Him to seek the Lord in the midst of his predicament, and this led to Jonah exclaiming “The Lord is my salvation!” Sometimes we need to be in the midst of something difficult, so that we can seek the Lord and come to the same conclusion Jonah came to at the end of Jonah chapter 2.
6. Some of the best sermons you will ever hear come in the midst of your failures. Failures provide teaching opportunities for you and me to learn from. Proverbs 26:11 says, “Like a dog that returns to his vomit is a fool who repeats his folly.” The unwise, foolish person is one who doesn’t pay attention to what God is telling them in the midst of pain, suffering, punishment, or discipline. When you sin, and you refuse to listen to the voice of God then you will repeat that same sin over, and over, and over until you will submit yourself to the truth of God’s Word. Then, God will empower you by His Holy Spirit and enable you to trust Him as you fight the battle against sin, so that in the future you can fight the good fight and not “return to (your) vomit and repeat (your) folly.” When you say “yes” to God’s purposes then you and me can say “no” to our own foolish ones. Many people have a fall or a fail, and they do the worst thing possible; they run from God! The best thing for us to do is actually to humbly listen to Him and allow Him to speak to us in the midst of our circumstances. Is this painful? Absolutely. Is it worth it? So worth it!
7. God’s love for you allows you to move on from your failures for the sake of serving Him in your present. One of the worst things about a sinful past, or many failures behind you, is that Satan tempts us to despair by using our pasts against us. Before meeting Christ, the apostle Paul was a terribly sinful man. He was self-righteous, and he was arrogant, and he hated Jesus even to the point of overseeing the deaths of his followers! But hear what this man said after being radically converted to faith in Jesus, “Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do; forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” By all means, when there is opportunity always deal with your sin, confess it, be reconciled to God, and be reconciled to others. But, do not let your past keep you from living out your calling in the present. Paul forgot what was behind him and he worked hard to move forward by the grace of God, so he pressed on toward the goal… The goal is Jesus; the goal is not anything or anyone else. This has been one of the most difficult things for me to learn personally, but as I’ve grown up I’ve come to understand it more and more.
8. I’d be remiss not to mention how Psalm 73:26 has helped me in the midst of my shortcomings. “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” If Romans 8 is true that there is now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus then when we fail we do not despair, but we find our strength in and through God. Yes, we fail, and yes we faint, but God is all we have and all we cling to, and our God never fails.
9. The love God has for us is His steadfast covenant love, so when we fail we need to know that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ- NOTHING! Lamentations 3:23 tells us that God’s mercies are new every morning. When we fail we should not beat ourselves up, but we should say “Christ is all I need.” If Christ is truly all you need then you can wake up each day knowing He provides the mercy you need to serve Him each day.
As I think about what I’ve learned from failure and share it with you I hope you are encouraged to look to Christ to make sense of your shortcomings, sins, missing the mark, failure, etc. My hope is that the Gospel will bring the proper perspective to our sinful pasts so that we can all move forward unhindered in our callings to glorify God. If you don’t want to take my thoughts on what I’ve learned from failure then consider some of these quotes from great Christians below:
- John Stott: “And seldom if ever do I leave the pulpit without a sense of partial failure, a mood of penitence, a cry to God for forgiveness, and a resolve to look to Him for grace to do better in the future.”
- A.W. Pink: “What is God’s remedy for dejection at apparent failure in our labors? This- the assurance that God’s purpose cannot fail, that God’s plans cannot miscarry, that God’s will must be done. Our labors are not intended to bring about that which God has not decreed.”
- William Temple: “One who faces his own failures is steadily advancing on the pilgrim’s way.”
- Henry Drummond: “Our efforts after Christian growth seem only a succession of failures, and, instead of rising into the beauty of holiness, our life is a daily heart-break and humiliation.”
- Martin Lloyd-Jones: “To dwell on the past simply causes failure in the present. While you are sitting down and bemoaning the past and regretting all the things you have not done, you are crippling yourself and preventing yourself from working in the present. Is that Christianity? Of course it is not.”