Most Christians think that failure is a bad thing. I beg to differ. Why is it that we spell faith as R.I.S.K.? If by faith we can order mountains to rocket off into the distance, why have there been whole mountain ranges that just haven’t budged, even when we’ve been full of faith!
Some would say – a lack of faith. I would say that it’s not because of a lack of faith but because of an absence of faith, which is something completely different. As I’ve claimed many times in this book, if faith comes by hearing from God then it’s possible that God never specifically said what we claimed He did. The translation from Scripture in the form of letter, poetry or history into an explosive bullet called a ‘rhema’ word probably did not occur.
I now believe, however, that the far more overriding reason for the disparity between the ‘certainty’ of faith and the ‘failure’ of faith lies in our narrow interpretation of faith. We see it as an event – Jesus saw it as a journey. Almost every description He gave about the kingdom of heaven involved a journey – (I personally prefer a ‘shazam’ but Jesus disappointingly never used it.) ‘A farmer went out to sow his seed …’ is all about the kingdom of God and that journey. It ends in the certainty that faith living produces extraordinary results, but the riskiness of that journey and the failures of that journey are fully legitimised and accounted for in the parable (Mark 4:3-8). Failure is not final, nor is it to be avoided. Failure is not an option – it’s a necessity.
Here are 4 truths about failure we all need to understand.
1.Failure is not an ‘F’ word
Jesus prophesied that not every seed scattered would produce a harvest. Some seed would fall on hard soil, some on shallow soil and some on overcrowded soil – all of which would not produce. The idea of ‘perfect’ faith living is foreign to Jesus. The idea that the journey to success would be perfectly successful is not right – it has its seasons of lows and highs and eventually leads to something very high indeed. In the previous chapter in Mark’s gospel, Jesus chose His twelve disciples. The maximum success Jesus had with the twelve was 92%. Judas, despite how much prayer cover the Saviour personally gave to him, failed. Why expect 100% success rate in the choosing of a ministry team or in the formation of a business when Jesus himself never achieved it. In fact, if you track forward a little, the success of Jesus’ team proved almost disastrous from just before the cross to just after the resurrection. It depends when you cut in on the story. To date, the story of what the eleven of the twelve disciples achieved, however, under the influence of the Spirit certainly proves the 30, 60, 100 fold increase that Jesus prophesied at the end of the parable.
‘Mountain moving’ may not be as instant as we interpret it to be. Our faith life may end up being a mountain moving story rather than a mountain moving event.
Most Christians, and most people, fear failure. We’ve created a perfectionist Christianity where the only reasons for imperfection are doubt and impurity. Outside of real faith, Christians have created a polarised environment oscillating between wanting to believe and not really believing. Faith and failure seem incongruous. Yet, through this parable of the sower, Jesus amazingly puts the two worlds together in the shape of a journey that started badly, yet finished brilliantly. Welcome to the faith life – and welcome to real faith – not just wishing to believe because of our wrong interpretation of failure.
2.Failure is the sign of future success
Seed scattered on hard paths is the sign that a farmer is in the vicinity. It’s proof that someone with a sack full of seed is out and about somewhere in the field. Proverbs 14:4 says, ‘When there are no oxen, the manger is empty, but from the strength of an ox comes an abundant harvest’.
Oxen means mess. Mess means strength. Strength means harvest. Failure is, therefore, the sign of coming success.
A number of years ago we started a ministry called ‘Mega Babe’. It was to be another ministry of the Megacentre in which we were already running Megakids and Meganursery. Mega Babe was to be a clothing agency where people from the inner city of Sheffield would give us their clothes to sell and we would split the profit. The aim was to get into the lives of local people and see an effective business established. All was not good from the start. Firstly, a Matalan, a huge chain of department stores offering the cheapest of clothing, opened across the road! Secondly, one of the few takers of our great idea was a local transvestite who loved spending time trying on all of the clothes. Because of that, we lost the support of a number of our volunteers! Thirdly, Mega Babe, as the name suggests, was seen as either a store for babies clothing or for very, very large women. After a short time, we cut our losses and closed its doors.
In itself, Mega Babe was a failure. But as part of a faith journey, Mega Babe was a sign that we’d set off on an adventure of making Jesus known to the local community. It was the evidence of desire, heart, proactivity and entrepreneurialism. When the oxen of inspiration is in the stall, the droppings of bad ideas and not so good ideas will litter the floor. The strength obtained by the great ideas and projects will, one day, far outweigh all that’s gone before. From the ashes of Mega Babe, we have gone on to create Megalearn (teaching non-English speaking people English and computer skills), Mega Conferencing and two other Megacentres! Our failure was a part of our road to success.
3.Failure is never final
The final instalment to every story of faith is incredible success. Hardship along the way may produce the internal success of character, but this then leads to great expectation (see Romans 5:3-5) and great outcomes.
Faith does not disappoint. If God placed a word in your heart, it will come to pass – albeit not usually as the crow flies but as a river runs! Generally, the words that God actually gives to us are non specific – they relate much more to His nature and to a grand outcome than to a specific plan and specific detailed outcome. Because the logos of the word of God is filled with the gazumping of the ‘lesser will of God’ with the ‘greater will of God’, we need to be open to the unusual and the invasion of the overriding and overarching will of the Father (that are also attached to our deeper desires and passions). When all is said, summed up and done, 30, 60 and 100 times that which is sown is the definitive outcome of good seed in good soil. And that is what all who live by faith are destined for in both the ministry of this life and the magnificence of the next.
4.Failure is in the soil not the seed
The overcrowded soil did not allow the seed of God’s word to receive the moisture and sunlight it needed to grow. The failure, however, was not in the seed. Visa Versa, the success is in the seed and not in the soil. The good soil provided the environment but the power and beauty was provided by the seed. We may have failed but we are not a failure and the word itself has not failed. In the midst of our failure it is important to note that success is in our relationship with God, not our fruitfulness.
By failure and faith we enter into grace (Romans 5:2). Grace is a gift from God. It originates from heaven itself. We did not create it. We need to separate grace from human effort. You can only effectively do this, however, in times of failure. They prepare our hearts for our amazing season of success. Ego must be dealt with. Now is the time to see ourselves as successful traders of heaven – even in the midst of failure and disappointment.
It’s also important not to over fertilise the good soil. You can start in faith and yet finish in the flesh (ask those Galatians!). Psalm 37 is the psalm which outlines what to do while waiting for a harvest. Because it’s His harvest and not our harvest, it’s important not to constantly tinker with the soil and not to constantly pull the seedlings out of the soil to see how they’re going!
There is an expression that is currently doing the world circuit which I think is incredibly detrimental to the journey of faith. It’s the expression, ‘If you keep doing the same thing, why expect different results?’ In other words, ‘If you’ve failed, it’s time to try something completely new’. Faith, however, keeps on spilling and sowing the same seed and does actually expect different results. It expects that from the continued process of sowing we shall see an exponential return on all we do – eventually!
Failure is not something to shy away from – it’s not an ‘F’ word – it’s something to be enforced, expected and entered into knowing that it’s never final. If your inspiration is from the Spirit of God you are on your way to an incredible future. The trapping of your failures are proof that the oxen of inspiration is in the stalls – you’re on your way to a God assured harvest.