Spirit of Grace Ministries
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Spirit of Grace Ministries
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Why God Lets Us Fail / How to Succeed

Failure and Success

by Dennis Pollock

It would be funny, if it weren’t so pathetic, to see how some parents, schools and youth organizations try so desperately to save children from even the slightest hint of failure. Instead of giving medals or ribbons to the winners at sports competitions, some organizations give “participation” trophies to every child who shows up. The winning team’s trophies look no different from everybody else’s – for fear that feelings might be hurt and self-esteem crushed. Schools have experimented with pass/fail systems, so that the mediocre students won’t feel so bad when the smarter kids get an A while they only manage a C. In spite of their good intentions these schools have never really taken off, due to their sheer impracticality. If the sharp students can get a passing grade by coasting, and putting out almost no effort, why should they do anything more?

The term “helicopter parent” made it into the dictionaries a few years ago, representing those parents who “hover” over their children, terrified of them suffering even the slightest failure or suffering from that monstrous syndrome of low self-esteem. In the minds of these misguided souls, whatever you have to do to prevent your child from failure or hurt feelings, by all means do it. Bully his teacher, do his homework for him, tell him that he excelled masterfully on the sports field, when in reality he was pitiful – whatever it takes do it, and by no means let little Johnny fail in anything!

What this amounts to is a philosophy that failure is something that we must shield our children from at all cost. Children should be brought up to believe that they are the prettiest, the smartest, and the most athletic individuals in the neighborhood, for whom failure is not even remotely possible. The problem with this is that this blatant deception will always be revealed for what it is. Reality has a way of crashing down on our heads and reminding us that we are not and have never been “all that.” Most of us, by definition, are going to be pretty close to average in most things, and in some cases we may be well below average. This does not make us bad or hopeless or helpless. By the grace of God we can find a way to have a good life, loving relationships, and make enough money to keep us well fed, warm in the winter, and cool in the summer. But all of us will have occasional failures. And we discover that God seems perfectly all right with that.

God as a Parent

The Bible tells us that in Christ our Creator becomes our Heavenly Father. We are His children, and He parents us all of our lives. He encourages us, counsels us, loves us, talks with us, and yes, He also disciplines us. Psalms tells us, “As a father pities his children, so the LORD pities those who fear him” (Psalm 103:13). And in Proverbs we read, “For whom the LORD loves He corrects, just as a father the son in whom he delights” (Proverbs 3:12). And as we read the Scriptures and observe how God acts and interacts with His children, one of the things that stands out is that God never seems too worried about His children failing. He never seems overly concerned about our low self-esteem. Indeed there are a number of situations where He appears to feel that failure is not only permissible, but in fact very much necessary – so necessary that He makes absolutely certain that we experience it in all its hideous fullness.

There are at least five different scenarios where failure actually needs to occur. In these situations it would be the worst thing in the world if we did not fail. Our character would be stunted and our spiritual growth brought to a halt, should we fall into these categories and somehow succeed. There may be more than five, but allow me to present five different cases where failure is pretty much a must, in the eyes of God.

Premature efforts at ministry and grasping too soon for our spiritual inheritance need to fail. The classic example of this is the prodigal son. This young man was not wrong in what he desired – after all it was truly “his inheritance” for which he asked. But he asked way too soon. He was too immature, too self-centered, and simply too young to be able to handle all that money. It is significant that his father gave it to him anyway – knowing he would lose it all in wild and foolish living. Sometimes we may feel a calling on our lives, and start out with the best of intentions, but our timing is way off, and we fall on our faces. We may have been one hundred percent correct in what we felt the Lord would have us to do, but we did not take into account the fact that all fruit must have a season of ripening. You are doing yourself no favor to pull an apple off the branch when it is still unripened. Its taste will be bitter, and no one will want it. Let that apple sit on the branch for a couple more months. In its time it will turn beautiful and its fruit will be sweet.

At the age of forty Moses “supposed that his brothers would understand that God would deliver them by his hand,” and killed an Egyptian. Already he was seeing himself as God’s liberator, and he was not wrong. He was indeed called and chosen to liberate the people of Israel, but at that time he was about forty years too early. Moses wasn’t anywhere near ready for the job, and he would have to flee to Midian and spend the next forty years watching sheep in the desert, until God’s ripening process would work in his life to produce a vessel fit for service.

Heading off in the wrong direction calls for failure. After the Israelites yielded to fear and began talking of returning to Egypt, God told them they would wander in the wilderness for forty years, until their entire generation had died off. The ten spies who had brought back a terrifying report of the giants and sparked this rebellion suddenly died. This seemed to move the Israelites to change their minds, and they told Moses they were now ready to go forward and conquer their promised land.  But now it was too late, and Moses told them, “Now why do you transgress the command of the LORD? For this will not succeed… the LORD will not be with you” (Numbers 14:41-43). These stiff-necked rebels still would not listen and went into Canaan, vainly attempting to make up for their foolishness and cowardice. But their efforts were in vain, and the Amalekites attacked them and quickly drove them back.

God is not obliged to empower us and give us success when our mission is moving in precisely the wrong direction. He will not support us in our disobedience or bless us in our foolishness. He will surely allow us to fail miserably, that we might learn to listen carefully for His voice, and wisely hold back from moving into those areas He has not authorized.

Lazy dogLackadaisical, half-efforts need to fail. It may not sound very spiritual, but the truth is that manyministry endeavors fail due to simple laziness. Find a church or ministry that is thriving and you’ll almost surely find some people, usually near the top, who work really, really hard. Proverbs tells us: “He who has a slack hand becomes poor, but the hand of the diligent makes rich” (Proverbs 10:4). God has never found it necessary to try to prop up ministries and various endeavors of His children, when those children work half-heartedly, and are world-class time wasters. Loving Jesus and praying for God’s blessings are wonderful, but in anything you do for Christ, you’re going to have to really work at it, if you want great success. The Bible says, “And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men” (Colossians 3:23).

Prayerless efforts cry out for failure. When we fail to pray consistently for any efforts we make to further Christ’s kingdom, we have purchased a ticket to the land of Failure! Prayer in the name of Jesus is God’s entryway to grace and divine favor. The pattern of fruitful ministry has always been that of Elijah, of whom the Bible declares: “And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth produced its fruit” (James 5:18). This is the heavenly cycle: prayer leads to rain and rain brings forth fruit. The rain of heaven, the outpoured Holy Spirit upon us and all our efforts is what brings about success. Prayer opens the door, prayer strikes the winning blow, prayer breaks through obstacles, overcomes resistance, smashes iron gates, and sends hindering demons running for cover. When we pray regularly, consistently, and fervently, things will happen, God will move, and our labors will be blessed.

But what a terrible indictment it is against us when we do not pray! Our prayerlessness is a declaration that we are sufficient, our strength is enough, our brilliance will carry the day, and our insights are all that is required to do the work. A prayerless work, a prayerless ministry, a prayerless family, or a prayerless life are all an insult to the Spirit of Grace, who loves to distribute grace to humble, praying, believers, but stiffly resists the prayerless, the proud, and the self-sufficient.

Christless attempts to minister to others or build the church are prime candidates for failure. Jeremiah gives a perfect contrast between those who work in their own strength and those who lean on the strength of God. He first declares a curse on those who go about their work in precisely the wrong way:

“Cursed is the man who trusts in man
And makes flesh his strength,
Whose heart departs from the LORD.
 For he shall be like a shrub in the desert,
And shall not see when good comes..” (Jeremiah 17:5-6)

Then he speaks a blessing on those who spend their lives and their energy fully leaning on the Lord:

“Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD,
And whose hope is the LORD.
 For he shall be like a tree planted by the waters,
Which spreads out its roots by the river…
And will not be anxious in the year of drought,
Nor will cease from yielding fruit.” (Jeremiah 17:7-8)

From a New Testament perspective we understand that this trust in not simply in a generic God, but in God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ. God-dependents and Christ-dependents will thrive and be fruitful throughout their lives. Those who merely have good intentions and make strenuous efforts, but fail to continually lean upon Jesus, are asking for spiritual failure – and they will get it! In the business world you may succeed wonderfully apart from Christ, but in the realm of ministry, the statement of Jesus always applies: “Without Me you can do nothing.” You may look like you are doing something, and others may tell you that you are doing a lot, but in the eyes of God you are, in fact, doing nothing. Apart from Christ all is failure, all is cursed, all is in meaningless, all is in vain.

Keys to Success

If you fit into any of these five categories, you really and truly need to fail. For you to succeed while breaking the most fundamental laws of God’s kingdom would be extremely unhealthy for you, and would lead you further and further into deception and delusion. But the good news is that if you do the very reverse of these things, you can’t hardly help but succeed.

If you patiently wait for God’s timing, and make sure that when you do begin, you are going His direction, you are off to a great start. And if you work tirelessly, pray continually, and always look to Jesus, making Him the center of your life and ministry, success and fruitfulness are almost sure to come your way. With Jesus Christ as your Source of strength and fruitfulness, the grace of God will flow in your life. Perhaps it will come slowly at first, but in time that small stream of grace will increase and become a rushing river of the favor of God on you and all to which you put your hands. You will truly become that tree planted by the divine waters, and many will be blessed through you. Your life will call out to the heavens for success in the work of your hands, and God will make sure that you have it!

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