Summary: How a person handles failure can mean the difference between living a life of victory or living a life filled with bitterness, hostility and anger.

The Apostle Paul

-How to Handle Failure-

2 Cor. 4:7-9

2 Cor. 11:24-30


How a person handles failure can mean the difference between living a life of victory or living a life filled with bitterness, hostility and anger.

In the first church I served as pastor in Kansas City I got acquainted with a youth husband and father whose wife attended our church, but he seldom attended. I went golfing with him a few times to get acquainted. On one occasion I encouraged him to put his faith in Jesus.

He told me that he couldn’t trust God because God had failed him. In college he was driving his car at reckless speeds and he was involved in a car accident. His best friend was riding with him and his friend was seriously injured. He said that he prayed for his friend. He told God that he wanted him to answer this one prayer, “let my friend live!” His friend died. He said he could not trust God because God had failed him when he needed God most. He said, “I’ve given up on God.”

How do you work through failure? Do you believe that failure is not final and failure has a purpose?

The Apostle Paul experienced failure after failure, but he came through every failure with victory. All of us can learn from Paul’s experiences to help us learn how to handle failure.

We might say that Paul was the fourteenth Apostle. After Judas Iscariot betrayed the Lord and Jesus rose from the dead and ascended into heaven the leaders in the early church chose an apostle to replace Judas. The replacement had to be someone who had been with Jesus from the time John the Baptist baptized Jesus until his ascension. Matthias was chosen to take over the apostolic ministry. Matthias was the 13th Apostle. The Apostle Paul claimed to be an Apostle appointed by Jesus on the Road to Damascus (recorded in Acts 9) to be an Apostle to the Gentiles.

Paul writes in Galatians 2:8-9: “For God, who was at work in the ministry of Peter as an apostle to the Jews, was also at work in my ministry as an apostle to the Gentiles. James, Peter, and John, those reputed to be pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship when they recognized the grace given to me. They agreed that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the Jews.”

Paul grew up in Tarsus, a city of Cilicia a city made up primarily of non Jews. He was born a Roman citizen, the son of a Pharisee, educated under a Doctor of Law, Gamaliel and he was a student of Greek and Jewish literature.

When you go through failures what are your first questions? “Why are people doing this to me?” “Why is God allowing this to happen to me?” Or you may think: “I have been keeping my prayer life up to date and I have been walking with the Lord and obedient to His Word so why should this happen to me now?”

Better questions to ask might be: “What can I learn through this experience?” “What is God teaching me through this failure?”

From the life of the Apostle Paul we can learn helpful lessons on how to handle failure.

I. Failure is common to all.

At various stages of our lives we all experience different kinds of failure. Some failures are out of our control. When I try something that doesn’t work out I choose to look at the experience, not as a failure, but simply it didn’t work so I’ll try something else.

Jesus experienced failure. Mark 6:1-6 is an account where Jesus experienced failure from a human point of view. “He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. And he was amazed at their lack of faith.”

From the world’s view Jesus was a failure. He didn’t set up an earthly Kingdom and bring peace on earth. He died on a cruel cross rejected by the religious and non-religious leaders of his day.

The Apostle Paul experienced one failure after another. 2 Corinthians 11:24-30. Paul gives a litany of failures…hardships, persecutions and pain. He could said, I’ve been down for the count of 9, but I’m getting up.” “I’ve been knocked down but I’m not out.”

“We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.” {2 Cor 4:8-9 RSV}

William Barclay translates these verses:

We are sore pressed at every point, but not hemmed in; we are at our wit’s end, but never at our hope’s end; we are persecuted by men, but never abandoned by God; we are knocked down, but not knocked out. {2 Cor 4:8-8 Wm Barclay}

After all that Paul went through you wonder why he didn’t give up on life and become a hermit. When experiencing failure you may consider staying inside and pull the covers over your head and stay safe and out of harms way.

Paul even had a physical infirmity that he called his “thorn in the flesh.” He prayed for God’s healing, but the infirmity remained. He accepted the weakness as from the Lord and could say: “When I am weak then I am strong.”

Joni Eareckson became a paraplegic after a diving accident. She testified that her physical disability pushed her to start a life-long ministry to help people like herself. She says that her ministry of comfort and encouragement to others provides for others: “a way out of the miry pit of depression, despair and self-pity. You realize that there is always somebody worse off then you, and form that understanding you find strength to be victorious and carry on in even the toughest situations.”

Joni says: “We shouldn’t view life’s struggles as daunting obstacles to our happiness. They can be the very keys to our lasting happiness, true contentment and godly joy.”

A common denominator for people that learn how to deal with failure and hardships in life is that they don’t give up. They refuse to focus on the failures and weaknesses and focus upon their strengths.

Michael Jordan did a basketball commercial where he walks in the arena and the people are chanting, “Michael! Michael!” He says, “I’ve missed 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and I have missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life.” Then he says, “That’s why I succeed.” Michael Jordan didn’t focus on his failures he focused on his strengths.

The Apostle Paul could testify: We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.” {2 Cor 4:8-9 RSV}

II. God is Interested in How You Respond to Failure.

What you call failure God may call a window of opportunity for learning. In times of failure and change:

• You may be given a new opportunity

• A new open door

• Chance to more out of your comfort Zone

• Respond in love and good will and not

1. Anger _”I’ll get you”

2. Revenge – “God cause that person grief”

3. Gossip – “poor me, pity me, look what happened to me”

Jesus was spit upon, beaten, suffered pain, crucified on a cruel cross, but he did not retaliate. He said: “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.”

Here is the important question: “Are you prepared to fail?”

For 33 years Jesus was preparing for the cross – in the world’s view, the biggest failure of his life. Jesus was prepared from the beginning of his life on earth. Luke 2:32 says that Jesus grew in wisdom statute and in favor with God and man. Jesus developed a balanced life: grew in wisdom – mentally, in stature – physically, favor with God – spiritually, and favor with men, socially.

1. He walked with God

2. He made prayer his habit

3. He knew the Word of God – time and time again He quoted the Old Testament

4. He was looking toward an eternity of victory over sin and Satan – Jesus knew all his suffering and turmoil would be worth it all.

The Apostle Paul was prepared. His preparation started on a dusty, lonely, road on the way to Damascus. Jesus spoke to him and called him to a new mission in life. Saul was transformed into Paul. He also spent three years in the Arabian dessert – Galatians 1:17-18 – three years of preparing his mind, body and soul for the ministry God was calling him to.

When you are prepared change and failure will not ruin your life. You will ask the right questions and take the right actions.

In the movie The Natural, Robert Redford is a baseball player named Roy Hobbs, perhaps the most gifted baseball player ever. He’s a high school wonder boy, a natural who gets a shot at the big leagues. But his dreams of a professional career are cut short when he is shot in the stomach. Fifteen yeas later, an aging Hobbs gets a second chance. He’s signed by the New York Knights – the worst team in the league. But through his incredible gift, untarnished by the years, Hobbs has a second change when the star player dies and he leads his team into the World Series.

The climax of the film is the game for the championship. Hobbs takes a bribe to throw the series. It’s the bottom of the ninth; the score is Pittsburgh 2, Knights 0. The Knights have 2 outs; there’s a man on first and third when Hobbs steps up to the plate. He’s their only chance, this is his moment. Now, there’s an important part to this story. Ever since high school days, Hobbs has played with a bat he made himself from the heart of a tree felled by lightning in his front yard. Hobbs burned into the bat the picture of a lightening bold and the words “wonder boy.” This was the only bat he ever stepped up to the plate with. Now he’s up to bat. His first swing is a miss; his second is a foul ball high and out of play. His third is a solid hit along the first base line. It looks like a home run but goes foul. As Hobbs returns to the plate, he sees his bat lying there…in pieces. It shattered on his attempted home run swing.

Many a man and woman have come to this kind of critical moment in their lives. All their dreams and hopes seem to break into pieces…investments fail, company terminates employment, illness requires changes to be made, an unmarried daughter turns up pregnant, a spouse walks out. What is the person to do? Will he/she stay in the game or shrink back and withdraw from life?

Will you try to put all the pieces back together by yourself? But like humpty dumpty who had a great fall and all the king’s men could not put humpty dumpty back together again.

Hobbs stands looking over his shattered bat. The bat is beyond repair. Then he says to the bat boy, “Go pick me out a winner, Bobby.” He stays in the game and hits a home run to win the series.

To prepare to keep swinging we need to turn to the Lord for His strength to face change and failures. All the king’s men could not put Humpty Dumpty back together, but God can.

The Apostle Paul like all of us faced failure, but he was prepared and responded with renewed faith in the Lord.

III. Failure Pushes you toward Higher Goals.

Failures are a blessing when they push you toward higher goals. Paul stated in Philippians 3:13-14, “Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have arrived. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead. I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

The Apostle Paul could say: “I’ve forgetting past hurts, past rejections, humiliations, suffering for righteousness, and I’m forgetting that for years my life was on the wrong road.”

I’m reminded of the way God answers prayer by what someone wrote concerning what they prayed for and how God answered:

I asked for health that I might do greater things;

I was given infirmity that I might do better things.

I asked God for strength that I might achieve;

I was made weak that I might learn to obey.

I asked for riches that I might be happy;

I was given poverty that I might be wise.

I asked for power and the praise of men;

I was given weakness to sense my need of God.

I asked for all things that I might enjoy life;

I was given life that I might enjoy all things.

I got nothing I asked for but everything I hoped for;

In spite of myself, my prayers were answered—

I am among all men most richly blessed.

The Apostle Paul lived in the light of eternity. When you and can begin to see the big picture and life in the light of eternity we then know how to handle failures and change.

Charles Colson in his book “Loving God” tells about his experience in prison. While in prison he remembered his life before prison, honors he earned, court cases he won, and prestige in government positions. His life had been the perfect success story, the great American dream fulfilled. But while in prison he had time to think and pray. He realized all his achievements meant nothing in God’s economy.

His greatest victory was his biggest failure, begin sent to prison was his great humiliation – but prison was the beginning of God’s greatest work in his life. God chose the one experience in which he could not glory for His glory.

The Apostle Paul could say, “In my weaknesses God is glorified. When I am weak then I am strong.”

We all need to see failures from God’s perspective. If failure and change causes us to look up and make new commitments and surrender to the Lord – then we can praise His Holy name.

In Christ you have His promise: “I will never leave you or forsake you.” Even in the valley of the shadow of death you have the promise: “I will be with you.”

Toward the end of Paul’s life he was in Rome under house arrest. Some people as they come to the end of their life’s journey become bitter and angry at life, not Paul. Paul understood his future was not long on earth. Nero was emperor of Rome. Paul knew he was about to face death for his commitment to Christ.

He could say to Timothy: 2 Timothy 4:6-8, “For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day---and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.”

How you handle failure is critical to your life today and in the future. A common truth is that everyone experiences some kind of failure and change. To God the important truth is how you respond to failure and change. Failure is a blessing if it pushes you to humble yourself before the Lord and begin to live in the light of eternity.

When experiencing failure or change what can you do? From the experiences of the Apostle Paul what can you resolve to do? Take a few moments in silent prayer and then write your resolve.