I’ve heard it said, “Failure isn’t final unless you let it be.” I doubt there is a better teacher than failure because those are lessons you never forget. I know that if I’m not failing occasionally I’m not living close enough to the edge.
I could pick out a lot of anecdotal stories from my life and ministry to illustrate that accepting and learning from failure is incredibly important in getting to fruitfulness. I can’t say I enjoy it but I’ve learned to value the experience. I’m no longer crippled emotionally by it. Often I think, well, I’ve just identified one more way that doesn’t work and I’m that much closer to the solution.
A good example is what happens when you personally share your faith. In the parable of the seed-sower three of the places the seed landed didn’t yield the right result. If the sower represents you and me and the seed represents the gospel, we know we have to sow broadly and sow often if we are going to see the seed multiply and grow in good soil. It reminds me of my conversations with a friend named Steve. Over the course of seven years I shared my life and my faith with Steve. One day he said to me, If you don’t quit talking to me about Jesus I don’t want to meet any more. A wave of rejection and panic swept over me but I tried to look as if it didn’t upset me. I breathed a quick prayer and thought, whatever I say next is critical to this relationship.
God gave me a great idea. I said, Okay, I’ll never share Christ with you again if you will do one thing for me.
What is that, he said.
I continued, “I think you don’t believe in Jesus because you’ve never given Him a chance. I challenge you to meet with me for three weeks in a row where for an hour you consider what He had to say. And then if you can look me in the eye and say you don’t believe I’ll honor your request. Deal?
Deal! Steve replied with more enthusiasm than I imagined.
You can imagine the rest of the story. It wasn’t long before Steve accepted Christ, not in my presence, but that doesn’t matter.
I often remember that story and not just when I’m sharing my faith. Some of the things in our ministry that look the most bleak–that look like an end–may just be the beginning of something new. Perhaps what we’ve just learned is that we can’t do things the way we used to do them, or the way we prefer to do them, we must do something different.
A new skill set may be required. You may need to recruit a coach. You will certainly want to seek the help of those around you to see your world from their perspective. Sometimes you need a counselor in your life and you certainly need prayer.
Prayer can’t be an afterthought. It can’t be the last resort. It must be the first option. Many times in ministry the breakthrough has come when I am still, quiet, and abiding in Christ. There is something critically important about humbling yourself before God and letting Him provide the answer. Often I don’t find the solution in the fire of best practices or the hot wind of public opinion or the earthquake of financial shakiness. Like Elijah, the Old Testament prophet, I find God’s answers in the quietness of being alone with God. It doesn’t always come in a revelation. Sometimes it is just the assurance that He will provide that gets you through the day. And it is the next day or next week you find the beginning of a solution that is heaven sent.
One thing about failure, it is a common denominator. We all fail and the best leaders fail more than others because they learn to use it for their advantage. What is it right now in your life or ministry that looks like a failure? It may be that within it are the very seeds of your next success.