God Meets Real Life: Facing Down Failure

“ Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” – Winston Churchill.

Everyone knows about failure, because failure is a part of life.

But how we deal with failure is key.

Failure often brings up a lot of questions for us to process:

  • What does failure mean to our life?
  • What does failure mean to our relationship with God?
  • What does failure mean to my usefulness?
  • Does failure mean I’m finished?
  • How can I overcome a foolish decision, a huge mistake or massive loss?

For some, failure turns into paralysis.

For others, failure becomes a dead end in the road.

But as long as we have breath, failure is somethings we can overcome and leave behind.

The Bible is full of stories of failure. Noah and drunkenness. Moses and murder. David and adultery. Peter and denial.

If you go into a bookstore you can find all sorts of books about becoming a success. But books about how to deal with failure are far and few between.

Some people try to avoid failing by doing nothing. Which is really another form of failure. Thomas Edison had a proper perspective of failure: “I have not failed! I just discovered 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

There are several reasons why we encounter failure:

Sometimes we fail in spite of our best efforts.

We really do try our best but come up short. (Think of the Buffalo Bills who made it to the Super Bowl four times in a row…and lost each time!)

Sometimes we fail because we’re unwilling to do what is needed to succeed.

This can come form laziness, choosing to be uninformed, of a lack of priorities

Sometimes we fail because we’ve drifted from God’s wisdom and direction

Failure often comes from disobedience and disregard for God’s order and truth.

Sometimes we keep failing after an initial failure.

We might call this the “snowball effect.”

We are so distraught about failing we pretty much lose perspective on life and pile up the failures.

In all of this, the big question we have to ask about failure is this: does God view my failures as the end of the road? If I mess up, does that mean God wants me to hang it up?

To these questions I would offer an emphatic NO.

In fact, our failures may be one of the most important aspects of our lives.

Psalm 119:71 says, ” It was good for me to be afflicted so that I could learn Your statutes.”

We need to (often) be reminded that failure is not the opposite of success, it’s part of success.

Consider Proverbs 24:16: “The righteous may fall seven times but still get up, but the wicked will stumble into trouble.”

So what does it take to bounce back from failure?

I’d  boil it down to two words: humility and obedience.

Here’s a thought. Often times failure leaves us humiliated. But sometimes that humiliation is so strong and so intense because of an unhealthy presence of pride.

We think so highly of ourselves that we can’t deal with any type of failure.

To rebound from failure we must get real about our humanity.

And without the presence of humility, we will likely not choose obedience.

But to rebound from a failure is to make this proclamation: “This time, Jesus is doing the driving.”

So many of our failures simply boil down to this: we demanded doing things our way, ignoring God’s input on the matter.

So, the way to rebound from many of our failures is to admit that we’ve tried to do things by our own insight and own power rather than trust God and His Word.

I don’t know where I got this quote, but it’s a good one to ponder:

“There is a fundamental principle here. Sometimes God must engineer failure in us before He can bring about success with us. Our failures are often rungs on the ladder of growth—if we will learn from our mistakes rather than grovel in the dirt.”

Sometimes we think Jesus doesn’t have the time, space or energy for failures. And yet, when we observe His ministry as described in the Gospels, Jesus seems to be drawn toward failures!

Lepers. Tax Collectors. Prostitutes.

Wasn’t it our failure that motivated God to come and save us?

Wrapping up, when mature believers fail they:

  • Acknowledge their failures and refuse to hide behind any lame duck excuses.
  • Confess any sin to God when sin is involved is involved in the failure.
  • Study or examine what happened so they can learn from the failure
  • Receive God’s grace and forgiveness
  • Put it behind them and move ahead (1 John 1:9; Phil. 3:13).

And here’s the last thought

Often times we will heal more quickly from our failure when we use our failure to help others

This is often the last thing we want to do, isn’t it?

Our pride says hide our failures, and uphold our victories!

But check out 1 Corinthians 1:26-31

For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth.  But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

Maybe the quickest way to rebound from failure is to use to help someone else!

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end;they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. Lamentations 3:22-23

God Meets Real Life: A Series

First in a series of posts drawn from my recent class called “God Meets Real Life: Biblical Answers to Difficult Questions, Perplexing Problems and Paralyzing Fears.”

Several years ago I remember Ryan Dobson, son of author and speaker James Dobson talking about an interchange he often had with is dad. It would go something like this:

JD: “Hey, Ryan, How’s it going?”

RD: “Good, dad!”

JD: “That’s great. Enjoy it. But it won’t last!”

That’s reality, isn’t it. We enjoy some good times in this life. But they can’t last forever.

Into each life a little rain must fall. But sometimes it feels like a deluge.

When difficult times hit us, our theology moves from theoretical to practical.

And in some cases, we discover our theology is a bit more flimsy than we thought.

Sometimes we find out our theology looks a lot like Swiss cheese.

Perhaps we have looked at life through rose-colored glasses, not really taking the time to think how we would handle life’s challenges. But we should.

A passage of the Bible I think speaks to how we fare in the storms of life comes from the very last words of Jesus’ famous Sermon on the Mount:

“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, it fell, and great was the fall of it.” (Matthew 7:24-27)

Too often when life collides with our beliefs, our beliefs take a beating.

But I don’t believe this is God’s intention. He does have answers for us. He wants to give us direction when faced with storms.

We don’t have to wash out, burn out or dry up.

Mike Fabarez, in the book LIFELINES FOR TOUGH TIMES wrote:

“Real strength and perspective will come only when we are willing to calibrate our thoughts and align our lives with the truth that God has revealed in His Word.”

The reality is this: As much as we try, we can’t avoid pain in this life.

Some days if feels like the wheels are coming off.

And in some cases, the whole car begins to fall apart.

A few of us will likely face things that feel like a nuclear blast.

I wonder: are we prepared for the worst day of our life?

We will we endure? Or will we crumble?

Finding Your Sweet Spot: A Primary Key to Ministry Effectiveness

Over the last few weeks I’ve written about pursuing our sweet spot when it comes to service and ministry. This is the last post in the series.

Some of the areas I covered included our natural abilities, passions, personality/temperament, spiritual gifts and experiences.

Isn’t it great to know that God has gone to such great lengths to help us become useful for His Kingdom?

So here’s a question: how do we keep our sweet spot sweet?

My answer is simple. When we commit ourselves to serving others with all that God gives us, we will avoid seeing our sweet spot turn sour.

We must be like Jesus, who Paul described like this in Philippians 2:

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. (Philippians 2:5-7 (ESV)

For the vast majority of us, servanthood doesn’t come easily or naturally.

We think about ourselves much more than we think about the needs of others.

But, by God’s design, our ministry sweet spot is only effective when we use it to help others.

I believe the journey to becoming a servant to others begins in the mind. That’s where the battle exists.

We must embrace the message of Romans 12:2 that exhorts us not to be “conformed to the world, but transformed by the renewing of our minds.”

Thinking like a servant provides strength the servant needs to be content with his life, without having to compare himself with others, and being overcome with the pride or pity that inevitably shows up.

Satan likes to employ a sort of spiritual yardstick, tempting us to get our mind of Jesus and onto our own concerns. But as soon as we start comparing ourselves to others, whether it be out of pride or embarrassment, our minds will turn away from those we should be serving and onto ourselves.

Developing the mind and heart of a servant is no easy task. It demands humility…and humility is hard to come by.

We have to agree with Jesus that the definition of greatness, according to His kingdom is wrapped up in one word: service.

Rick Warren put it this way:

Greatness in God’s book is not measured by how many people serve you. but by how many people you serve.”





Reflecting on Good Friday

Our church’s Good Friday service had several of our elders and pastors sharing reflections regarding Jesus’ time in Gethsemane. The following is the portion I shared:

Luke 22:47-51

While he was still speaking, there came a crowd, and the man called Judas, one of the twelve, was leading them. He drew near to Jesus to kiss him,  but Jesus said to him, “Judas, would you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?” And when those who were around him saw what would follow, they said, “Lord, shall we strike with the sword?” And one of them struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his right ear. But Jesus said, “No more of this!” And he touched his ear and healed him. Then Jesus said to the chief priests and officers of the temple and elders, who had come out against him, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs? When I was with you day after day in the temple, you did not lay hands on me. But this is your hour, and the power of darkness.”

In the space of these 5 short verses is found a lot of energy and emotion.

SO much is going on! With each verse, the intensity level rises. And things seem headed toward a certain conflict.

So what is it that is creating such a potentially potent situation?

Let’s consider two of the main players described in this passage:

First off we have Judas, who has conspired against Jesus.

Want to create some tension? Stab someone in the back through an act of treachery. Then sit back and watch the emotions rise.

Judas had followed Jesus for three years, seeing His miraculous works and hearing His life-transforming words. And yet, Judas decided that 30 pieces of silver, which would have been worth about $600, was enough to sell Jesus out.

Then, to add to an already volatile situation, one of the disciples, in a show of unrestrained zeal decided to take a sword and swing it at the head of a Roman soldier. Although Luke leaves this “person of passion” nameless, John’s gospel spills the beans that it is Peter.

Now, sometimes you have to admire deep passion. But commitment without control can often turn into something dangerous. Bottom line, Peter simply wasn’t using his head.

For one, he was likely outnumbered by about 6000 soldiers. But on top of that, Peter chose a path that was clearly not in line with the ministry or mission of Jesus.

Remember, Jesus is described in the Bible as the “prince of peace.” Yet Peter chose out-of-control violence.

What is amazing in the midst of all of this intensity, triggered by Judas’ betrayal and Peter’s unchecked devotion, is how Jesus maintains a powerfully strong measure of COMPOSURE.

If anyone should be losing it, it’s Jesus!

Jesus literally has the weight of the world pressing down on Him, yet he’s the One who has the presence of mind to stay focused on His mission, without sacrificing any aspect of His character.

In this passage, Jesus does three things.

  1. He absorbs the pain of Judas’ betrayal.
  2. He brings Peter back down to earth
  3. And finally he heals the ear of the soldier

Like so many times before, Jesus reveals himself as more than human.

But we…we are simply human, aren’t we?

Like Judas our life can be marked by compromise or hypocrisy.

Time and time again we let Jesus down.

Maybe like Peter we resort to solving problems and dealing with struggles in ways that make sense to us, but don’t have the support of Scripture.

Stop and think for a moment of all those times that, spiritually speaking, you’ve missed the mark, stepped out of bounds, or dropped the ball. Reflect upon some of the times you might have betrayed Jesus, been ashamed of Jesus or disobeyed Jesus.

Although we might not like to admit it, we likely have a lot in common with Judas and Peter.

Thank God for the focus and purposefulness of Jesus. No wonder He’s called “THE ROCK!”

The truth is this: Jesus’ intentionality more than makes up for our instability.



Finding Your Sweet Spot: Personality/Temperament

People are different.

We have different personalities and different temperaments.

This is by God’s design. He doesn’t make us all the same.

Some people are purpose oriented, while others focus on people.

Some people are extroverted, others introverted.

Because of our differences, there are several personality tests available. Tests like Myers-Briggs, Strengthfinders, Life Languages, DiSC, and many more.

DiSC, life many other tests breaks personalities down into four basic groups.

Life Languages has seven groupings of personality.

And Myers-Briggs offers sixteen!

Some tests use animals to try and communicate personality type.

In the DiSC program people are either lions, otters, beavers or golden retrievers.

I believe it’s helpful to learn more about our personality type for three reasons.

  1. To better know ourselves (and how God wired us)
  2. To better interact with others
  3. To better respond to opportunities that come our way

Regarding our differing personalities, author Erik Rees gives this solid reminder:

“God didn’t create other people to please you – and he didn’t create you to please them. He made us to please Him. He created all of us to relate differently, feel differently, react differently, and respond to life differently. Though our culture often portrays outgoing and unreserved people as the model of “success,” such a view is misleading and harmful. We do not have to conform to the expectations of others in order to feel we have accomplished something worthwhile in life.”

God made us to be us for a reason!

So, how do we learn more about our personality and temperament? Here are a few questions to help us narrow things down:

In social settings, are you more outgoing or reserved?

Are you more cooperative…or competitive?

When it comes to your feelings, do you express freely or keep emotions under control?

Are you high risk or low risk?

Are you drawn more to people or to projects?

Do you prefer to follow or lead?

Do you like to work in team or go solo?

Your answers to such questions might help you find a place where you can serve well.

When we understand our personality we can put our strengths to use.

When we understand our personality we can better understand those we work with.



Finding Your Sweet Spot: Spiritual Gifts

When a person places their faith in Jesus, many things happen all at once.

A few examples: the Bible explains that at salvation we are instantly justified, reconciled, regenerated, adopted and accepted.

Another thing that happens is the God gives every believer what’s known as a spiritual gift.

Spiritual gifts are not personality traits or natural abilities.

They are defined as “a God-given special ability, given to every believer to share God’s love and strengthen the body of Christ.”

Another definition of spiritual gifts goes like this: “Spiritual gifts are abilities God gives the believer for the purpose of service. They are not human talents, because human talents are inadequate to do the work of God.”

Spiritual gifts serve as a great reminder that when it comes to life within the community of church, no one is meant to sit on the bench.

The reality is just the opposite: every follower of Jesus is expected to contribute because everyone has something to offer!iri

Two sections of the Bible offer a basis for the idea of spiritual gifts:

Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 12:7 (ESV):

To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.

And Peter put it this way:

As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace. (1 Peter 4:10 ESV)

To discover most of the various types of gifts God graces upon us, the following Bible passages provides lists of gifts: Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, and Ephesians 4.

But essentially the gifts can be categorized into two groups: speaking gifts and serving gifts. Another way to look at it is this: there are up front gifts and behind the scenes gifts.

It’s important to note that spiritual gifts are just that: They are gifts.

They cannot be earned.

They cannot be bought.

They aren’t deserved.

They are given to us just like our salvation is given to us: by grace.

And, it is always God’s intention that we use our giftedness to minister to and bless others. Our gifts aren’t meant to serve ourselves.

I believe that when we serve in areas that best match our giftedness, we will experience deeper fulfillment and greater fruitfulness for God.

Conversely, when we try to serve in areas far outside of our giftedness, we often  end up feeling frustrated and fatigued.

Lastly, the employment of our gifts must always be rooted in love.

Paul made this point crystal clear when he wrote these words regarding spiritual gifts:

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:1-3 ESV)

If you are a Christian, congratulations…you’ve been gifted. But remember the words of John Maxwell:

“You have been gifted for greatness – in service, not status.”

Finding Your Sweet Spot: Experiences

Your past has a purpose.

God can use your past joys, sorrows, losses, mistakes, accomplishments and struggles.

God wants us to employ the lessons we’ve learned by sharing them with others.

Romans 8:28 has often been a difficult verse for people to fathom. It says:

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose. (ESV)

What stands out in this verse is two words: all things.

God can take our messes and mistakes and some how use them toward a divine purpose.

He can bring forth beauty out of ashes (See Isaiah 6:1-13)

God is the one who can weave purpose and meaning into those things that, to us, look like chaos and confusion.

This is not easy stuff. Our pain is real. Our losses are truly losses.

But our past pain, in time, can become a balm to someone else going through a difficult time.

And the longer we live, the more experiences we gain.

They can come from a variety of places: family, job, relationships, adventures, mission and service, health, travel, education, and so on.

Think about this: have you ever been encouraged or challenged by the experiences of another? Has there ever been a time when you were scared, lost, disillusioned, worried…and someone else’s story helped buoy you back to a place of balance. Aren’t you glad that rather then stay quiet, they were willing to share their story with you?

Regarding the usefulness of our experiences in helping others, author Max Lucado wrote:

“God sees our life from beginning to end. He may lead us through a storm at age 30 so we can endure a hurricane at age 60. An instrument is useful only if its in the right shape. A dull ax or a bent screwdriver needs attention, and so do we. A good blacksmith keeps his tools in shape. And so does God.”

Stop and think: what has happened in your life that you can use to help someone else going through a tough time?

The truth is this: our experiences are often very much connected to our ministry sweet spot.

Finding Your Sweet Spot: Passion

Just what does it mean to find our ministry sweet spot?

One of the most common ways of “deciphering” a sweet spot to think about what sits at the junction of your passion (what you love), your abilities (what you are good at) and other’s needs (where you can make a difference).

Passion is defined like this:

intense, driving, or overmastering feeling or conviction;  a strong liking or desire for or devotion to some activity, object, or concept; ardent affection.

Another word for passion is heart. When we have heart toward something, it usually means we are all in.

Regarding the concept of heart, Erik Rees wrote this:

Heart is where you are centered, where you desire to serve, the altar upon which you wish to place your talents. Giftedness is what you are. Heart is where you will likely apply what you are. Heart refers to empathy, attraction or draw toward a group of people, a field of expertise or a particular type of service.

With that in mind, it helps us think a bit more clearly about the exhortation found in Colossians 3:23-24:

Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.

Essentially, we are to do our our labor for the Lord with a measure of heart and passion!

Evaluating your heart helps you determine where you might best use your gifts, where you wish to serve, and whom you wish to serve.

Let’s be honest. In life, some things grab us and some things don’t.

Some things get us “amped up” and excited, others struggle to keep our interest.

When you are passionate about something, you voice raises and you talk faster!

When you are passionate about something your mind operates at a laser focused level!

When you are passionate about something you can’t seem to get enough of it!

Some questions that help us get more in touch with our sense of heart could include: What drives you in life? Who do you care about? What needs to you love to see met? What causes strike a chord with you?

Sometimes we develop heart from the experiences we have gone through in life.

We become empathetic to others because we really do know how they are feeling.

In some cases what we have to do is start thinking about the areas where needs exist and think about how our heart resonates with them. This could include needs that are spiritual, physical, relational, vocational or emotional.

You may just have to lay out all the different options on the table in order to start seeing what types of things connect with your heart.

Another quote from Erik Rees:

Connecting with your God-given passions transforms  your everyday life. Passions make work seem like play. And our gifts and passions ignite like spiritual rocket fuel, propelling us to new heights of service, when mixed with our giftedness and abilities.

Finally, as to all aspects of our sweet spot, we must be cautious. Sometimes a desire for personal comfort, personal success and personal glory displaces a passion for God’s glory.

When seeking to find our sweet spot, it is good to always remind ourselves that our sweet spot exists for three reasons that go in a specific order:

(1) That God is glorified; (2) That other are served; (3) That we are fulfilled.