Summary: When we fail in ministry, our failure need not be fatal. Rather, if our failure teaches us to depend on Christ and care for people, we can move on from failure to impact our world like Jesus’ original disciples did.
A CEO has taken on a new job, and the outgoing CEO says to him, “Sometimes you’ll make wrong choices. You will. You’ll mess up. When that happens, I have prepared three envelopes for you. I left them in the top drawer of the desk. The first time it happens, open #1. The second time you mess up, open #2. The third time, open #3.”
For the first few months, everything goes fine. Then the CEO makes his first mistake, goes to the drawer, opens up envelope #1, and the message reads, “Blame me.” So he does: “This is the old CEO’s fault. He made these mistakes. I inherited these problems.” Everybody says, “Okay.” It works out pretty well.
Things go fine for a while, and then he makes his second mistake. So, he goes to the drawer and opens up envelope #2. This time he reads, “Blame the board.” And he does: “It’s the board’s fault. The board has been a mess. I inherited them. They’re the problem.” Everybody says, “Okay, that makes sense.”
Things go fine for a while, and then he makes his third mistake. So, he goes to the drawer and opens up envelope #3. The message reads: “Prepare three envelopes.” (John Ortberg, in the sermon “Guide,” www.PreachingToday.com)
Eventually, we have to own up to our own mistakes, but failure doesn’t need to be fatal. In fact, important lessons can be learned from our failures, even if we fail as followers of Jesus Christ.
Sometimes in the Christian life, we get so caught up in our own successes, we fall flat on our faces. That happened to Jesus’ original followers. They were casting out demons, healing sick people, and becoming very popular with the people. Three of them had gone to the top of a high mountain with Jesus and met Moses and Elijah! Then they came floating down from that mountain-top experience and crash landed as abysmal failures.
Even so, they learned some important lessons, and they are lessons we can learn from our failures, as well. If you have your Bibles, I invite you to turn with me to Mark 9, Mark 9, where we learn some lessons from failure.
Mark 9:14-18 When they came to the other disciples, they saw a large crowd around them and the teachers of the law arguing with them. As soon as all the people saw Jesus, they were overwhelmed with wonder and ran to greet him. “What are you arguing with them about?” he asked. A man in the crowd answered, “Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech. Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not.” (NIV)
A distraught father comes to Jesus’ disciples for help with his demonized boy. & This is something they should have been able to handle. After all, Jesus had given them authority to cast out demons, and they had done it many times before (Mark 6:7,13).
Except this time they can’t do it. This time the disciples fail. Why? Well look at what Jesus tells them in verse 19 (read).
Mark 9:19 “O unbelieving generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me.”
Jesus is speaking to his disciples, and He scolds them for their unbelief. You see, they had done this so many times before, and
they had become so good at it, that they became self-confident and forgot to depend on God. It was a subtle form of unbelief. It was the unbelief of pride.
William Lane, in his commentary on Mark, says, “An attitude of unbelief and self-confidence, based on past success, had exposed them to failure” (p.332).
And this is the first lesson we learn from failure: Don’t depend on yourself. Instead…
DEPEND ON CHRIST.
Keep on believing in Him. Keep on Trusting the Lord. Continue to rely upon Him even if you’ve been a Christian for a while. Because as soon as we stop relying on the Lord, like his first disciples we too will fail.
Corrie Ten Boom used to tell the story of a woodpecker that was pecking away at a tree when the sky turned black and thunder began to roll. Undaunted, the wood pecker went right on working. Suddenly, a bolt of lightening struck the old tree and splintered it into hundreds of pieces. It frightened the bird, but he was unhurt. Then as he flew away, he looked back with amazement and said, “Look what I did! Look what I did!” (Bible Illustrator #1723, 10/1988.15)
That woodpecker failed to realize that a power far greater than itself had splintered that tree. He just happened to be in the right place at the right time.