Tag Archives: failure

I Can Fail

 

… without falling apart!

 Words of Grace  

Ouch!  We watched the Superbowl.  We have lived in Colorado for a long time and have been Broncos fans through thick and thin.  Whatever happened in that game was hard to take.  As the young people say, “Epic fail!”

A few years ago I learned one of the most important lessons of my life: Failure is part of the game.  We all fail.  Sometimes regularly.  Sometimes often.  Failure is just a normal part of the human experience.  Failure is proof that we need a Savior.

But… but… I still hate it.  Of course!  No one likes failure.  It hurts.  It seems to negate all the work we have done.  It sets my progress back.  It can be humiliating (like the Superbowl!)

Focusing on failure is focusing on myself and my limitations.  My fear of failure and hatred of it actually comes from my flesh.  When my weaknesses or errors are exposed, especially publicly, my flesh feels vulnerable.  I have to admit that I can’t do everything well.  In fact, the more I fail, the more I reveal my inadequacy and incompetence.  The more I reveal those things, the more I reveal my need—and I don’t like to reveal my need.

But the truth is that I am a person with needs, lots of them.  I do make inaccurate assessments and foolish decisions.  I don’t have the strength or wisdom I need to succeed in life the way I want.  And I certainly don’t have the ability to succeed spiritually without the Lord.

No matter how hard you try; no matter how good you are; no matter how dedicated you are—you still need a Savior.  That’s the truth.  You will choose poorly.  You will act foolishly.  You will never measure up on your own.  You need what Jesus came to give you.

And your failures are the proof of that.

So, the next time you fail: don’t get angry; don’t blame others; don’t beat yourself up; and don’t give up.  Instead, use the failure as an opportunity to give thanks to the Lord for His love and His kindness.  You see, once again, that you can’t do it alone.

And, praise God, you don’t have to!

 

I can fail.

Failure is normal.

Failure is not evil nor unusual.

Failure reminds me of the truth.

Jesus is my strength and hope.

He never fails.

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The Inconsistent Life

 

So you must be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect. Matthew 5:48 (NCV)

 How are you doing?  Working on that perfection?  Absolute consistency, steadfast faith, unending love.  No mistakes, no compromises, no slips.  How are you doing with all that?

Well, most of us aren’t doing very well, are we?  In fact, most of us are struggling.  We want to do right, but we still do wrong.  We try to stay away from certain things, end certain bad habits, but they continue to draw us in.  We aspire to goodness, but still don’t measure up.  And, honestly, that makes us feel bad.

But the inconsistent life is normal and we should feel good about ourselves.  Think about that for a moment.  When, in the church, were you taught to say, “I feel good about myself”?  Oh my, that would be a prideful and arrogant statement, wouldn’t it?  No one could say that, right?  Wrong!  I can say it.  And so can you.

Now, before I explain what I mean, let me say what I don’t mean.  I don’t mean that we should pat ourselves on the back because we are making progress.  There is no call for progress in the Christian life.  Progress earns us nothing.  Just because we are better than we were last year, according to some measurement, does not make us good.  That may sound discouraging, but we all know this to be true.  We climb up one rung of the ladder and there is always another for us to climb.  Always.  If we base our motivation on progress we will become discouraged very soon as we realize that our progress will never be enough.

Nor should we feel good about comparisons.  We look at others and think we are at least better than they are.  While the church has taught progress openly, it has taught comparison secretly.  But comparison also earns us nothing.  In fact, comparison only brings us further down.  It robs us of our brothers and sisters and it causes us either to live in pride or shame.  If we can find people who are somehow worse than we are, we can also find people who are somehow better than we are.

And let me take away one more common motivation for believers—future hope.  I believe in Heaven and glory and the promise of a wonderful future; but I do not believe that I will be more perfect someday.  We were taught that we would have to excuse bad behavior here, that the battle in us between the old nature and the new nature will only end upon our death.  But then we will finally be free and clean and perfect.  Today we are doomed to live in defeat and discouragement; but then we will be victorious and happy.  No, that’s not much encouragement for today.

The real encouragement comes from knowing who you are.  Those who belong to Jesus have died and are alive today as new creations who live in Him.  He is our life.  Our sins, past-present-future, are washed away forever.  We are as clean and righteous and holy as He is, because He is our life.  This is who we are.

Sin, even something I do today, belongs to who I was.  My flesh continues to struggle to be in control of my thoughts and actions, but when it is, that’s not me.  I am not brought down by my flesh.  I am nothing less because my flesh gets its way once in a while.

Yes, this life looks inconsistent.  That’s normal.  Every Christian has walked this walk.  But we feel good about ourselves because we are already complete in Christ.  He is enough in us.

I can hear two objections already.  First, what about the call to be perfect?  I will answer that and deal with the verse next week.  Second, so sinning is okay?  No—and I will write about that in two weeks.  So hold on.

If the work of Christ is finished (and it is) and the Christian is complete in Him (and we are), then we should feel good about ourselves—even if we see an inconsistent life along the way.

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Guilt

Grace 101

Ever feel guilty for doing something and then realize that you are already forgiven?  And then you feel guilty for not remembering that truth before?  We are creatures of guilt.  We are so familiar with guilt that we don’t recognize it as it creeps into our hearts and destroys our days.  It feels so right because it fit so well in our lives for so long.

But guilt and shame can distract you from the joy of grace.  They come when we forget that we are no longer under law, but they also come when we chastise ourselves under grace.  Many of us were taught to think of ourselves as stupid or weak or foolish.  Remembering the message of grace in a world (or in a church) that does not support that message can be hard work.

Some people who have had limbs amputated struggle with what is called, “phantom pain.”  Phantom pain is more than a memory that can simply be blocked out with effort.  Phantom pain, pain in a hand that is no longer there, for example, can be very real.  Something like 80% of amputees report some kind of phantom pain.  It hurts.  No one knows exactly what is happening, but almost all theories center on the continued functioning of nerves that used to extend to the absent limb.

Well, I don’t want to push the analogy too far, but you and I have nerves that are very used to experiencing shame and guilt.  In fact, most of us would worry about ourselves if we didn’t feel guilty for doing something wrong.  And we kind of want to have a reminder or a nudge when we do something wrong, don’t we?  But then, when we do feel guilty, we fall back into the self-condemnation and the oppression we experienced under the law.

So let me suggest a new tactic.  I think the nudge from the Holy Spirit is good.  There are things that we do that are hurtful to ourselves and others.  We don’t want to do them.  If we do them, we want to be nudged.  But we don’t have to feel shame and guilt.  That is something different.

If we could interpret the nudge from the Spirit as a blessing, as something good, then we could win.  Instead of the pain of shame, we could feel the attention of the Lord and the influence of His Spirit.  That’s not a bad thing at all.  In fact, we could go so far as to rejoice at our renewed awareness of His presence.

The next time the Holy Spirit nudges you with the mindfulness of your wrong action, just say, “Thanks!”  Believe that His only purpose is to help you and His only motive toward you is love.  There is no condemnation in His nudge, no shame, and you carry no guilt.  But He simply is telling you that this is not going to be profitable and He loves you enough to make His presence known.

Now, I know that someone will say that people will just sin more then so they can feel good about their interaction with the Spirit.  Listen: that’s dumb.  No one who wants to walk with Jesus will sin more so that they get more attention from Him.  What will happen is that the distraction that comes with the earthly consequences of sin and the false guilt will end and their hearts will be even more at peace in their relationship with Him.

You see, we no longer need guilt to guide us.  We have love.  God’s love for us is active and involved.  He speaks to us and leads us.  That is a very good thing.

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Strength

Grace 101

 

Sometimes the Christian message seems to be little more than the motivational “speak” of the secular world.  Rah rah, get out there and do great things for God.  Nothing can hold you back.  You can do anything.  There is no “can’t” in Christian vocabulary.

But there is.  A “can’t,” I mean.  The truth, whether I like it or not, is that I can’t make it in this world.  I certainly can’t guarantee my destination after this world.  I can’t be a good enough husband or father.  I can’t preach a convincing enough sermon.  I can’t lead someone to the Lord.  I can’t solve my own problems, let alone someone else’s.

You see, you and I were born failures and we have been failing ever since.  Failure is what is normal for the people of this world.  We can’t measure up to the expectations of others, or even to our own.  That’s why we needed a Savior.

Is it so hard to admit our weakness and need?  Wouldn’t it be a lot easier if we didn’t fight against the truth?  I know that no one wants to embrace failure.  This is a competitive world with high expectations.  We won’t succeed if we admit the truth.  So, we lie to ourselves and to others.  Oh, sure, I can do it.  I can be good enough at whatever you need.  I can be strong enough or wise enough.  I can do it.

But saying it doesn’t make it true.  The truth is that we need something more than we have.  We need Someone more.  Those who have read my work know that one of my pet peeves is the idea that Jesus is just like me.  If Jesus is just like me, then how can He help me?  Why would I need someone just like me?  No, I need someone who is more than me.

Now, this is an important part of the grace message.  If you look in the box of gifts that came with your salvation, you will find the strength to accomplish anything.  But there is a catch.  This strength is His strength.  He will do what you need.  The message of grace is that you now have a relationship with One who loves you and is strong enough to accomplish all that you need and all He expects of you.

Do you need to be a good parent?  Then look to Jesus for what you need.  Are you in difficult circumstances?  He is strong enough for you.  He is strong enough to overcome that bad habit, strong enough to change what needs to be changed, strong enough to get you through.  Jesus is the One who is strong.

There is a Bible verse that says that “I can do all things.”  But it contains a qualifier.  “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”  It is His strength and it comes to me through my relationship with Him.

As I write on narcissism, I hear from people in all kinds of very difficult circumstances.  Some of them are heart-breaking.  There is no wisdom, no strength that I can give them.  But Jesus is their strength.  Sometimes decisions have to be made and followed through.  So hard.  Too hard.  But Jesus takes us by the hand and leads us through.  He is strong enough.

Grace is about relationship with the Lord who loves us.  He gives us everything we need.  He gives us strength to accomplish everything He asks of us.  Trust Him.  If Jesus is leading you, follow Him without worrying about whether or not you can do it.  You can’t—He can!

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What I know about you. . .

. . . you are a success!

 

One of my favorite chuckles was from a few years ago when a candy bar company was running a contest.  To find out if you had won, all you had to do was unwrap the candy bar.  But every one I saw had the words, “Sorry, you are not a winner.”  How depressing!  Even my candy bars called me a loser!

The motivational speakers used to ask us what we would attempt if we knew that we couldn’t fail.  What would you be doing now, if you knew you could be successful?  Because motivational speakers usually appeal to the needs of the flesh, they give us energy and incentive to try harder.  The problem is that we still draw from the same source.  We look to our energy to accomplish our projects.

There is another perspective available to those who trust in Jesus.  We can look to Him for His energy to accomplish His projects.

When you came to Jesus, I hope you were convinced of your own inability to do what was necessary for your salvation.  I hope that someone told you the good news of what God had already done for you in Jesus.  I hope that you accepted His work on your behalf.

And I hope that attitude didn’t stop there.  Many preachers will tell people they are unworthy to gain their salvation then expect those same people to be good enough to maintain salvation.  But if you weren’t good enough to get it, how can you be good enough to keep it?  And further, if you can’t keep it on your own, how can you make your Christian life successful on your own?  Now, I know that some preachers will allow even this and say that we need Jesus to help us do what we are supposed to do.  But the whole truth is that He is not our helper, He is our Lord.

You see, when you came to Jesus and trusted in Him, success was redefined in your life.  Because of your association with Him, you will always be a winner.  He holds the victory and He gives it to those who are His.  He ran the race and, in Him, we are the champions.

But there’s more: in Psalm 1, David wrote about the person who delights in the Lord:

He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also shall not wither; and whatever he does shall prosper. Psalm 1:3

Even your projects will be successful!

I was visiting with a friend the other day and I reminded him that success for the believer is in the journey, not the destination.  Our goal is to walk with the Lord who loves us, not to accomplish something for Him.  Why would you want to give Jesus a gift He didn’t ask for, isn’t interested in, and won’t use?  But as you walk with Him, you will learn that He does His work and you are privileged simply to participate.  The work is His, the strength is His, the wisdom is His, and the results are His—He just shares the joy of success with you.

What if you didn’t have to worry about results?  Would you find rest easier?  What if you didn’t have to work to be successful?  Would you find more joy in life?

Don’t worry.  The important work will get done.  You will still have an active life.  But the frustration and fear and burden will be gone.  You are already a success!

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What I know about you. . .

. . . you are hope-full!

 

Depression is many things.  We know today that depression can be a chemical imbalance.  We know that depression can be seasonal.  Some say that depression is anger, others say sadness, still others say loneliness.  I suspect many people feel all of these at the same time and much more.  But I think a common thread runs through depression, no matter how it is caused.  Depression is a loss of hope.

Where do you go when hope is gone?  What do you do?  Try harder?  Work smarter or faster?  When your car is stuck in the snow bank, does it help to spin the tires faster?  No, when hope is gone, giving up seems reasonable.  Depression, for some people, is that closed loop between the logical decision to give up and the heart desire for something to be different.

I have believed for years that there is a strong correlation in our hearts between hope and help.  In fact, the Greek word for hope sounds like help.  The Scriptures use help to communicate assistance or comfort or relief.  But help isn’t what we need when we are discouraged.  In those times when we look ahead and see no change, no progress, despair comes easily—not because we have no help, but because we know that more help won’t help.  We need hope.

We need something outside ourselves.  When trying harder doesn’t do it and we have tried all the ways we know or care to try, there just isn’t any more we can draw out of ourselves.  The legalist comes along and tells us to stop being sad or angry, to put a smile on our faces and push forward, but we have done all that and it didn’t help.  The old line, “If it’s going to be, it’s up to me,” is a lie.  We think, “If it’s up to me, it isn’t going to be.”

And we need a person.  More and better rules or methods aren’t the answer.  An idol of rock or wood won’t be enough.  Another book to read, another class to attend, another trick to try—these things aren’t what we need.  They all tell us to draw more from ourselves and we are tired.  Drugs may help to soften the pain and exercise may cause new blood to flow in our veins, but what do we do when there just isn’t any more, when we have given all we have to the cause?

And we need a person bigger than the people we know.  As long as our helper is “just like me” we have little hope.  Certainly others can encourage and love, but the hope we need is more than they can provide.  We need someone bigger than this world, someone who is stronger than the problems of life.  Fellow sufferers are important, but they don’t give us hope.

There is a Person who loves you, Someone who is bigger than your problems, bigger than the world.  He has come to you in Jesus.  Jesus is the Lord God Almighty in human flesh.  Somehow, by a great mystery, God came into our world TO BE OUR HOPE!

And you and I have hope.  There is no problem that can overcome us, because we look to Him.  There is no situation that can move us to despair, because He is there and He is real.  And He has promised that those who come to Him through Jesus will find life and freedom and love forever.

One of the verses of Amazing Grace we often skip over is so important for us.

The Lord has promised good to me…

His word my hope secures.

He will my shield and portion be

As long as life endures.

 

David certainly understood this.  He struggled with his feelings.  I think he suffered from depression.  Like us, he forgot from time to time that God was with him and loved him.  He began to look at the opposition he faced or the troubles he suffered and his own weakness.  When he did that, he began to despair.  But God lovingly and patiently drew David back and so many of the Psalms end with praises to the Lord.  God was David’s hope.

 

Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him for the help of His countenance. Psalm 42:5

 When we struggle, the Lord is our hope.  When the world seems to be too much, there is One who is bigger.  When we can draw nothing more from ourselves, He is there with plenty.

But listen: if you know someone who is struggling, be sure to remind them in love of the One who loves them.  Don’t tell them to have more faith or to buck it up because of Jesus.  Tell them they are loved and there is One who is greater than their problems.

There is hope in the Lord.  The day of peace will come.  The future is good.  The results of your project are in His hands.  He loves your children more than you do.  There is no failure for those who walk with Him.  There is no sin that can separate you from Him.

Those who belong to Jesus are full of hope, even when they forget.

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Failing

Some of the hardest times for us are those times when someone sits in judgment of our work.  Whether it is from a teacher, a mother-in-law, a boss, or whoever, it is hard for us to listen to criticism.  It seems that no matter what we tell ourselves, these people are sitting in judgment of us as people.

You know what I mean.  Somehow a negative comment about a presentation becomes, in our hearts, a negative comment about the person.  When someone criticizes a messy house, the homemaker feels it as a personal wound.  When the boss says the job could have been done better, the employee believes that his job is in danger.  If he loses the job, he will be a failure as a husband and father and man.  You can come up with your own illustrations, I am sure.

But why do we do that?  Why do we assign negative comments about our work to ourselves as people?  Why don’t we just shrug our shoulders and try to do better next time?  Probably because we were trained to think that our work is who we are.  When we made our beds, we were good children.  When we spilled our milk, we were told that we were careless.   We learned that “stupid is as stupid does.”

We learned the opposite also.  We learned that good little boys and girls do what they are told.  They clean themselves and their surroundings.  They do their chores and keep their promises and know when to be quiet.  Orderly children are good children.

So, when we hear judgment or criticism, we receive it into our hearts.  Most of us are not able to simply take it and use it to better our actions.  We have to go through the process of talking ourselves out of feeling rejected and worthless.  Poor quality work makes us poor quality people, we think.  Failure makes us failures, we think.Failing

But that’s a lie!

This week we are going to look at the idea of failure and judgment and identity.  Check back tomorrow!

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