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Failing Forward

• Kris Beckert

The fear of failure affects so many of us. So deep is this fear that it has the capacity to keep us from saying yes the adventures into which God invites us. Failure is not a thing to be avoided, but rather a thing from which we can learn and grow. In this message, guest speaker Kris Beckert shares with us a word of encouragement regarding the transformation that can be found within experiences of failure.

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This weekend Kris invites us to think about the “F” word… Failure. She begins by sharing a story about hiking experience she had in Colorado. A friend brought Kris along a particularly arduous hike in order that Kris might be able to see big horn sheep. As the hike went along, she never saw big horn sheep. Instead, she saw a mountain lion! After that day, every future hike carried with it a fear of encountering a mountain lion.

Failure is much like that mountain lion. Every time we step out on our path of faith, we carry with us a fear of encountering the mountain lion of failure. When we confront failure we usually have one of two reactions. Either we run from it, avoiding it at all costs. Or we freeze, and we allow it to define us. The biggest thing that failure does it threatens to end the path entirely. Kris asks the question, “Have you ever avoided something because you were afraid to fail?”

Statistics in psychology teach us that we are not alone in this practice of avoidance. Most of us experience a fear of failure. The fear of failure is our culture’s unforgivable sin. Statistics in Forbes Magazine reveal that 41% of millennials biggest fear of being an entrepreneur is failure. Psychology today discusses the fear of failure a “childhood epidemic”, in that many children won’t engage in an activity in which they might fail. They remain in the tasks that they know they can do well, where failure will not strike them.

But what if there’s another side of failure that’s different than how the world perceives it? And that’s the place of transformation. The crisis of failure can destroy you OR it can totally transform your journey. Author and Pastor J.R. Briggs says it this way, “Failure will define us, refine us, or redefine us. But it will never leave us the same.”

And so, what makes the difference? How can our failures not be seen as negatives, but the thing that God’s uses to advance God’s kingdom? Jesus offers us a third way of responding to failure. Rather than just freezing or running from failure, Jesus offers it as a brand new opportunity to fail forward into the next step of the journey that God has for us.  Jesus redraws failure in our lives!

As we look to the lives of the disciples of Jesus we see a plethora of examples of failures. The disciples of Jesus are the ones who “didn’t make the cut”, and when they start following Jesus they fail on multiple occasions. The disciple Peter is often understood as a failure. He’s the one who denied Jesus three times! His story even begins with a failure.

In Luke 5 we read a story of Peter’s failure. After fishing all night, Peter and his buddies return home nearly empty handed. It was a failure of a fishing trip. But Jesus instructs Peter to go back out on the water and fish again. And this time, this time their nets are full of fish! And when Peter saw the nets full of fish he exclaimed, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” (Luke 5:8). To which Jesus responded, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” (Luke 5:10)

What happens in this story? When we look at it through the lens of failure as Jesus redefines it, we see something different. We start out on our journey with an idea of success in mind. But then failure occurs and it impacts us so thoroughly. So much so that failure turns from a verb, “I have failed” into a noun, “I am a failure”. We internalize our encounters with failure and thereby they come to define us as people. And this process of internalizing actually shuts down our brain waves! We cannot see past the failure in front of us and our path becomes a dead end.

But then we see that in Luke 5, Jesus speaks life into Peter. Jesus always redraws dead ends! When we encounter failure, the gospel speaks a different identity into our lives and the gospel means that the end is not the end!  Jesus casts out the fear within Peter first and then invites Peter to take the next steps forward. While it is true our failures have consequences, through the gospel these failures are no longer dead ends but rather they become part of the path.

Jesus is nudging a lot of us to keep moving forward, to dare to take the next steps. But many of us allow fear to keep us from saying yes to following Jesus. But Jesus continues to nudge us along, inviting us to surrender our fear. With Jesus, our failure becomes the thing that can transform us. It is often said, “failure is an awful thing to waste.” Why? Because failure provides the perfect atmosphere for us to grow.

In 1991 the University of Arizona created a 21 million dollar failure, otherwise known as the Biosphere 2. 8 scientists, along with plant life and animal life, lived in this biosphere to experiment with the possibility of life on another planet. It was a giant failure but what they did learn was something significant about the trees.

The scientists could not understand why all of the trees in Biosphere 2 were falling over. After all, the conditions were perfect. So why, then, did the trees fall? They discovered that trees need exposure to stress in order to grow deep roots. Stress + Trauma + Wind is what causes trees roots to sink deeper and thus grow taller. This is the promise of our journey with Jesus. We need stress in order to grow, to transform, to become strong. Now, God does not bring the trauma in our lives, but God does use it to transform us. Failure leads to persistence.

As the story of Peter goes on we see that failure has transformed him. So too it is with us! Our failures do not define us, but God can use them for the next steps of our journey! In John 15:5 Jesus says, “Apart from me you can do nothing.”  Furthermore, with Jesus we can do much more than anything we can ask or imagine.

Jesus takes our failures as an opportunity to strengthen our faith, to teach us that this failure is not the end of the road. What Jesus ultimate teaches us about failure is that it is actually the path of success. In the Sermon on the Mount we are taught that the way to success is not at all the way the world understands it. Instead, success is found in the poor in spirit, success is in the meek, broken-hearted, peace-makers. In Mark 9:35 we catch yet another example of success according to Jesus when he says to his disciples, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” According to Jesus success looks very different than the way the world understands it.

How, then, are we to understand success? What exactly are we called to aim for? What does it mean to have a successful life in the eyes of Jesus? In the parable of the talents in Matthew 25 we see what, exactly, we are to aim for. Faithfulness. In the Kingdom of God, faithfulness is the measure of success. Sometimes we discount ourselves form the adventure because we think we’ve failed too many times. BUT, Jesus can use our failures for success! Playing off the old TV show, MacGyver, Kris encourages us to be Spiritual MacGyvers. What if we dare to be faithful with even the littlest things? What if we take what we have and decide to be faithful with it? What we need to pursue in life is not success, but faithfulness. Being faithful will look different than the worlds successful. But we serve a savior who rules from the bottom to bring forth the Kingdom.

What failure or fear of failure keeps you stuck? What would happen if you allowed Jesus to redraw your failure?

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Topics: Discipleship, Kingdom of God, Transformation

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Focus Scripture:

  • Matthew 25:21

    His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

  • John 15:5

    I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.

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