The Barnabas File
Volume 4 Number 9, 7/30/04
“He….encouraged them all that with purpose of heart they should
continue with the Lord.” Acts 11:23
Failure Is An Event – Not A Person!
I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry! Actually, I did a little bit of both. I had just received a letter from the conference planning committee of our National Fellowship of churches asking if I would teach a seminar at the upcoming national conference. This is how the letter read: You have been suggested by the conference committee to share a workshop at this year’s conference because of your experience in this particular topic. Would you be willing to lead us in a workshop entitled, “Fighting Feelings of Failure!” As I pondered the request, I thought to myself, “Evidently others know more about me than I really wish them to know!” Most speakers are invited to come and share because of their success or expertise in some particular field or proficiency – but from more than 1400 pastors in our Fellowship I was selected to speak because of my success with “failure!”
With fear and trembling, and a slight “Elijah” complex (I am all alone), I accepted, and to my amazement, some seventy-five pastors and Christian workers gathered to hear the workshop. I soon found, that others like myself, had also suffered from times of struggling with feelings of failure. I was not alone. One day Clarence Darrow, educated lawyer from the University of Michigan, and chief counsel for John T. Scopes in the 1925 evolution trial in Tennessee and bitter opponent of William Jennings Bryan, the opposing lawyer, was conversing with a young minister. He rehearsed some of his famous trial victories, talked of his comfortable fortune, and then surprisingly said, “Do you know what my favorite Bible verse it? When the young minister said no, Darrow responded, “My favorite verse is Luke 5:5: But Simon answered and said to Him (Jesus), ‘Master, we have toiled all night and caught nothing.’ In spite of my successes, that verse seems to sum up the way I feel about life!”
Many times in my life and my ministry, I, too, have felt like Peter, “I have toiled all night – all for nothing!” I have felt like Israel when God said to them in Haggai 1:5-6, “You have sown much, and bring in little.” Feelings of failure in our ministries is much more prevalent that we really care to think or admit. But as I thought about this subject, I came to the conclusion that failure is an event, it is not a person! This is best illustrated by the following true story: failed in business – age 22; ran for legislature – age 23; again failed in business – age 24; elected to Legislature – age 25; sweetheart died – age 26; had a nervous breakdown – age 27; defeated for Speaker – age 29; defeated for Elector – age 31; defeated for Congress – age 34; elected for Congress – age 37; defeated for Congress – age 39; defeated for Senate – age 46; defeated for Vice President – age 47; defeated for Senate – age 49; elected President of the United States – age 51! That’s the record of Abraham Lincoln. Failure is an event – not a person! If we can somehow get hold of that truth, and that God is sovereign and knows all things, we can rest in the confidence of our call to ministry, and in the assurance that God is always working all things out for His good, even though we may not see it at the time. Following are some things that I shared that day in that workshop entitled, “Failure Is An Event – Not A Person!”
I. The Fruits Of Failure
F – Fear! (doubt, mistrust, dread, hesitation)
A – Anxiety! (concern, worry)
I – Inadequacy! (deficient, lacking, ineffective)
L – Lifelessness! (spiritless, spiritually disoriented)
U – Unimportance! (not worthwhile, insignificant)
R – Rejection! (reclusiveness)
E – Embarrassment! (demoralized, ashamed, perplexed)
II. Lessons Learned Through Failure
1. All failures are not equal! We must not treat them all the same.
2. Failures teach us what is most important! Failure should be our teacher – not our
3. Failure is a circumstance – not a life sentence! A delay, not a defeat.
4. God sees failure through different eyes! He is teaching, leading, building,
conforming us into the image of His Son.
5. Failure often places us where we must practice what we preach! This is tough.
6. Failings are opportunities to learn how to do things better the next time! We are
in a lifelong spiritual bootcamp.
7. The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing: failure is an event – not
Future thoughts to be considered in this study: Failure Is An Event – Not A Person!
1. Questions to ponder when faced with failure.
2. Examples of failure in Scripture.
3. During times of failure we must remember the greatness of God.
4. During times of failure we must not forget the purpose of our call.
5. Helpful texts for desperate times.
Maynard H. Belt
Michigan Association of Regular Baptist Churches