by Dr. William P. Tuck, author of The Church Under the Cross, The Journey to the Undiscovered Country, Overcoming Sermon Block: The Preacher’s Workshop, The Last Words from the Cross, Holidays, Holy Days and Special Days: Preaching Through the Year and more! His blogsite is: friarsfragment.com
Many people in life have experienced failure. Moses wanted to go into the Promised Land. He had led the Children of Israel for forty years to the Promised Land. God did not permit him to enter that land himself. He caught a vision of it from Mount Pisgah. David longed to build a temple for God. Because of his sin, he was not permitted to do that. But he still has influenced many through his leadership as king in Israel and through his many psalms. Jeremiah wrote about his own sense of failure. He had preached for thirty-eight years that the end was coming for the nation of Israel, but it did not. He experienced only rejection from the people. He felt that he was a failure. But history proved him correct in his prophecy.
Adoniram Judson wanted to go as a missionary to India with the gospel of Christ, but that door was closed and he turned to Burma. Caruso was told by a music teacher that he had no real potential as a singer. He didn’t listen to that word of failure but went on to be one of the greatest singers of all time. Einstein failed physics. Walter Scott tried to write poetry, but was unable to compose very good poems. Later he wrote novels and became one of the outstanding writers of all times. Georgia Harkness wanted to be a missionary but that door was closed. She went on in her education and got a Ph.D. from Boston University and later became the first woman to be a professor in a theological seminary and to be admitted as a member of the American Theological Society. Helen Montgomery was discouraged from translating the New Testament because she was a woman. But she finished her translation and it was widely praised and accepted.
Lloyd Douglas was a minister in California and resigned his church with a sense of failure as pastor. At the urging of his brother in law, who reminded him that he had always wanted to write a novel, he began to write. His first novel was the famous Magnificent Obsession. Edison wanted to be a newspaperman, but he spilled acid on the papers and was fired. Later when he was working in his lab and had failed eleven hundred times with various experiments, somebody asked Edison: “Doesn’t that mean that you have failed?” “No,” he responded. “It just means I know eleven hundred things that don’t work!” Charlotte Elliot was ill and suffered greatly but wrote over one hundred hymns.
Many persons have failed in their original goals. Few reach everything they aim for the first time. R. H. Macy failed seven times before his store caught on in New York City. Whistler, the artist, wanted to be a soldier but failed his chemistry exams at West Point. John Creasy, an English novelist, received seven hundred fifty-three rejection slips before the first of his five hundred and sixty-four novels was published. Babe Ruth struck out thirteen hundred and thirty times. But he also hit seven hundred and fourteen home runs.
Charles Kettering of General Motors, one of this century’s great creative minds, once wrote these words about the value of learning to fail:
An inventor is simply a person who doesn’t take his education too seriously. You see, from the time a person is six years old until he graduates from college he has to take three or four examinations a year. If he flunks once, he is out. But an inventor is almost always failing. He tries and fails maybe a thousand times. If he succeeds once then he’s in. These two things are diametrically opposite. We often say that the biggest job we have is to teach a newly hired employee how to fail intelligently. We have to train him to experiment over and over and to keep on trying and failing until he learns what will work.
From your failures you can learn what doesn’t work and you can take another approach. There is more growth in risking something great and failing than succeeding at something easy or insignificant without cost or risks.
A Radical Idea
We may fail in one area of life sometimes. That failure, however, does not have to become final. We can learn from our losses and be better persons because of these experiences.
Wayne Dyer has challenged us to consider what he describes as a “radical idea.”
“There is no such thing as failure! Failing is a judgment that we humans place on a given action. Rather than judgment, substitute this attitude: You cannot fail, you can only produce results! Then the most important question to ask yourself it, ‘What do you do with the results you produce?’”
Whether it is learning to play the piano or guitar or taking up golf or mastering the computer or baking a cake, we may not do well at first. Do we look at the results of our efforts and then ask, “Where do I go from here? What have I learned to help me move further along?” Each ‘failure’ provides a learning opportunity to move us toward achieving better results next time.
In one of Paul’s Epistles he writes that John Mark had deserted him. He and Barnabas had a falling out over John Mark. Paul felt that Mark had failed him when he needed him. We don’t know why Mark deserted Paul. Was he homesick or afraid? We don’t know. Barnabas continued to work with Mark. Later Mark became one of the great saints in the early church and the author of one of the gospels. Paul changed his mind about him and requested in one of his last letters, “Bring John Mark with you, because he is a great comfort to me.”
Mark’s failure was not final. Like Mark and many others, we can learn from our failures to become stronger and better persons. “The value of a man,” (or woman) Paul Tournier writes, “is not to be measured so much by his successes as by the way he bears his undeserved failures, that nothing is more dangerous for a man than unlimited success.”