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We all fail, from time to time. But how do we react when failure comes? Do we become discouraged, or do we pick ourselves up and try again? Your Bible gives valuable insights into using failure as a springboard to success!
You can turn life's setbacks into a springboard for spiritual success!
Running down the court, my feet became tangled and I felt myself falling. The concrete basketball court, littered with loose bits of gravel and dirt, seemed to rise to meet me. For a moment, time hung suspended while other players careened past me. But I was falling, and braced for the inevitable crash landing!
And then with a flash I remembered the coach's cautionary words for such a moment: "Tuck and roll"! He had instructed us to not try to break a fall, but just "tuck" the elbow and shoulder, and roll through it.
I followed the coach's advice, rolled through the fall, and I was surprised how quickly I was right-side up and back on my feet. I had saved myself from an ugly concrete burn and avoided nasty gravel cuts on my arms and elbows. I may have prevented a broken wrist. It was a powerful lesson that day on the basketball court. There is a "right" way to fall, and a "wrong" way. The right way saves one from unnecessary cuts, bruises and even serious injury.
In the arena of life, all of us will have setbacks and disappointments. Everyone will fail—or fall—in something eventually! "Failure," according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, springs from an original French root meaning "to fall." It refers to omission of occurrence or performance, lack of success or a falling short.
We all stumble sometimes. But, when we do, how do we deal with it? How do we handle setbacks in life without letting them crush our spirit?
Anyone who attempts anything will make mistakes. This is part of the learning process. Michael Jordan, the famous American basketball player, is reported to have said: "I've missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I've been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed" (Nike Culture: The Sign of the Swoosh, p. 49).
Political and military leaders also have recognized the importance of dealing with failure with a positive attitude. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill once said, "Success is never final. Failure is never fatal. It is courage that counts." And United States General George S. Patton was known to say that it is not how far you fall that matters, "it's how high you bounce when you hit bottom!"
God wants us to have the same attitude. No, He does not wink at sin. He does not always exempt us from the consequences of our mistakes. But He does teach us to deal with problems positively. How can we make sure trials do not destroy us? How can we turn failure into a springboard to success?
The last Passover of Jesus Christ in 31ad was a life-changing event for all His disciples, including Peter. Confident in his abilities, Peter had been sure he would protect Jesus Christ from any mishap that would befall Him. He assured Jesus of that, during the last Passover, when he told Jesus, "I will lay down my life for Your sake" (John 13:37). To this, the Messiah replied, "Will you lay down your life for My sake? Most assuredly, I say to you, the rooster shall not crow till you have denied Me three times" (John 13:37–38).
This statement must have jolted the self-assured Peter. He had no intention of turning his back on the Messiah! He would fight to the death! But it was not long before Peter ate his words, and did precisely as the Lord predicted. Jesus and His disciples went to the Garden of Gethsemane, where they often walked and talked. It was there where Judas Iscariot betrayed Him to the chief priests. As Peter attempted to intervene physically, Jesus stopped him and told him to put away his sword. To Peter's shock, Jesus allowed Himself to be bound, arrested, and led away.
Jesus Christ was led before the High Priest, interrogated, humiliated, slapped and beaten. Peter slipped into the courtyard of the High Priest to see what would happen next, but to his dismay he was recognized. Just as Christ had predicted, Peter denied knowing Jesus three separate times (Luke 22:56–60). Just as the rooster crowed, "…the Lord turned and looked at Peter" (Luke 22:61).
The realization of what he had done came crashing down in one awful second. From overflowing confidence, Peter's expectations were dashed. He had failed. He fled in bitterness, overcome with grief (verse 62).
Every time we fall down and make a mistake, we have to make a decision. We are forced to choose how we will react. Whether setbacks are small or large, insignificant or life-changing, we have a choice. Which path do we take?
In those bitter hours and days following his denial of Christ, Peter did some hard thinking. It became a critical juncture in his life. He came face to face with his own human weakness. He was horrified to discover how vulnerable and fearful he could be. This strong dose of reality shook him to his very foundation. But Peter made the right choice, and we read of it today in the Bible. Generations have been inspired to read how Peter rebounded from an unspeakable setback to be a powerful tool in God's Church. In the words of the apostle Paul, he sorrowed "in a godly manner… For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death" (2 Corinthians 7:9–10).
Peter's choice led him to deep repentance, powerful zeal and a strong desire to overcome his human frailties (verse 11). It enabled God to use him as a dynamic leader in the fledgling Church. It changed his life forever. As we face trials and difficulties in life, what can we learn from Peter's example? How can we learn to bounce back better?
Jesus Christ gave some powerful and encouraging instructions just before His death, that would inspire Peter and all the apostles their whole lives. As He had predicted that they would all desert Him, He also said: "You will be scattered, each to his own, and will leave Me alone. And yet I am not alone, because the Father is with Me. These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation" (John 16:31–33).
The Bible shows that trials are part of life—even for those striving to obey God! Some, admittedly, we bring on ourselves. Some are caused by our own weakness or pride, or even our own stupidity! Other times difficulties are not our fault, but involve circumstances beyond our control. We will have problems.
The same Peter that denied Christ also wrote, years later, "Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ's sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy" (1 Peter 4:12–13). And yet, how many times do we get flustered because bad things happen? How often do we think, "This isn't supposed to happen to me!"
Jesus told us not to be despondent when we face setbacks. "These things I have spoken to you, that you should not be made to stumble… Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world" (John 16:1, 31–33). Admitting we have problems does not take them away. But it does help us deal with them instead of denying them or running away from them.
Good parents will teach their children how to deal with setbacks and difficulties. They will help them understand that "life involves many frustrations, and it's only through experience with frustration that we develop a tolerance for it. This enables us to turn adversity into challenge and persevere in the face of it. Perseverance, that all-important 'if at first you don't succeed' attitude, is the primary quality in every success story" ("How to Raise Happy Kids," Reader's Digest, John Rosemond). We are God's children. Is He also teaching us to persevere under stress? If we do not face our problems squarely and courageously, they can spawn other new, unrelated problems. Frustration erodes our faith, because we are not facing reality. And running from our problems does not make them go away! But admitting them and confessing our mistakes (1 John 1:9) is the first step to successful bouncing back.
Jesus explained during His final conversation with His disciples why Christians suffer problems at all: "I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit" (John 15:1–2). God is in the process of helping His people grow! And growth sometimes means cutting away damaged or unproductive branches in our life. That is why we sometimes suffer pain and difficulties.
But do not confuse "pruning" with being rejected. Anyone who grows fruit trees knows the joy of planting and working with them year after year. It is exciting to see them healthy and strong, yielding good fruit. Do not assume that just because God allows you to suffer emotional, mental, or physical pain that He has deserted you! In reality, God will not reject anyone who is truly conquered and surrendered to Him. He allows us to suffer as a part of our growth process, and He promises us the help we need.
On the last night that He was alive, Jesus Christ encouraged His disciples by telling them they would never be alone. Even after He would leave them, He would send His Spirit to guide and help them. He said, "I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever" (John 14:16).
The Holy Spirit, the very power of God, would be the vehicle through which God and Christ would live in the disciples. Jesus went on to describe "the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you. I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you" (John 14:16–18).
The Holy Spirit would come, and through it Christ would literally live His life in His true followers (Galatians 2:20). Jesus promised that His Holy Spirit would be sent—as it was on the Day of Pentecost—to be His presence in them. He promised that this Spirit would "teach [them] all things" and "bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you" (John 14:26). The disciples would be able to remember, with understanding, everything Jesus had taught them during His ministry. It would guide them "into all truth" (John 16:13).
If we are really seeking and crying out to God for His understanding, He will give it to us as well. Notice what Christ also said, earlier in His ministry: "If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!" (Luke 11:13).
Peter remembered the promise of the Spirit, and that encouraged him during the worst days of his life. When the Holy Spirit was sent, God used Peter powerfully as a leader among the disciples on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 1:4). When we stumble and have problems, we need to remember God can help us. If we cry out to our Father, in humble obedience to Him, willing to forsake our own will for His, He will guide us. And if we are truly repentant and obedient, He will put His Spirit in us (Acts 2:38; 5:32).
When we are young, we often have "big plans" for a lifetime of impressive achievements. As we grow, we learn not only which goals are worthy of our pursuit, but also what it takes to achieve those goals. Those whose ambitions are greater than their efforts may become discouraged, and find their lofty ambitions to be counterproductive. Writer Sue Shellenbarger observed, "Even when students cling to lofty ambitions, they often set themselves up for failure by not aligning their behavior with their goals, says Dominique Morisano, an assistant professor of clinical psychology at Columbia University... 'They might say, "I want to be a pediatrician," but they're not attending school, they're using drugs, they're not taking care of themselves,' says Dr. Morisano… 'The result is often hopelessness. A belief in one's ability to achieve goals is important to building a hopeful attitude'" ("Making Kids Work on Goals," Wall Street Journal, March 9, 2011).
Adults, too, sometimes set unrealistic goals. Peter set one when he thought he could with his sword defend Christ against the might of the Roman army. When he failed, he was crushed. We, too, will be disappointed if on our own we try and fail to really change and grow. However, if we submit to God's rule over our lives, genuine overcoming becomes possible (Matthew 19:26). When we are troubled with seemingly endless trials, we need to remember why God created us. He wants us to grow and be in His eternal Family forever! This is not "pie-in-the-sky" religious sentiment; it is a rock-solid promise from the great Creator God!
Just before His death, Jesus gave His disciples tremendous encouragement. He told them of His coming Kingdom. In doing so, He was not referring to something abstract "in our hearts." Nor was He describing an organization of carnal human beings vying for worldly power. No! He was foretelling the establishment of a literal Kingdom on earth! He went on to say: "Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father's house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you" (John 14:1–2).
Some mistakenly believe that Christ's reference to "mansions" has something to do with going to Heaven. In fact, Jesus was describing that each would have a particular place within the "household" of God. These places are not dwellings; rather, they are positions of authority and responsibility within the very Kingdom of God upon the return of Jesus Christ.
This is what was on Jesus' mind during His last night before His crucifixion. Think about it! In practically the same breath that He told Peter he would deny Him, He turned around to tell the disciples of their inspiring destiny! He spoke about the future. He was not just focusing on the suffering He would endure, or on the discouragement they would feel upon His leaving. No, He focused on the vision of what was coming. He fixed their eyes on His Kingdom—and the part He wanted them to play when it is set up on planet Earth!
When we drop the ball, make mistakes or suffer from problems, does God want us to hang our heads and feel like failures? Does He want us to slink away in self-pity? No! He wants us to focus on the future. He desires that we recognize the great potential He gives to those who are willing to submit to His will and Spirit.
Jesus told His disciples, "You did not choose me, but I chose you" (John 15:16). He extended that calling to those yet unborn whom the Father would call through their testimony (John 17:20). A calling from God into His Truth and His Church is truly an awesome opportunity
God has big plans for us, if we are willing to submit to His rule in our lives—if we come to understand the purpose for problems, and grow through God's own correction and pruning, asking Him to empower us through His Holy Spirit.
We will make mistakes. We will stumble and suffer in life. We will have problems, as long as we are in the flesh. But God tells us to face our trials and difficulties positively. In the end, it is not the setbacks that He is most concerned about. It is how well we bounce back!