This is an article from my files. It is undated and likely more than twenty years old. But the encouragement that it contains is timeless. I wanted to share it with you. Thanks for reading, JD.
THE MEANING OF FAILURE by Rubel Shelly
Unfortunately, most of us equate our performance and our personhood. It is a terrible mistake that sets people up for unhappiness, depression, and even suicide.
Some women aren’t stunning, and some men aren’t good-looking. Only a tiny percentage of students graduate with 4.0 averages. Not everybody who applies gets into graduate school or professional school, and some who get in either can’t take the pace or decide it’s not worth it. Some people can never break into the career they want. You may never be the top salesperson in your company. You may not make top level management. You may have no musical talent.
Some people get married and are unable to make their marriages work. Some people break the law, get caught, and spend time in prison. some unmarried women get pregnant. The list can go on and on indefinitely. All of us fail at some things, and some failures (e.g., relationship failures and moral failures) are worse than others (e.g., being a success in your own business or mastering the piano or golf).
But no failure means that you are worthless as a person, that your life is without meaning, or that you are unimportant in the eyes of God.Some people I know would never have risen from the ashes of a failure like King David’s adultery or Simon Peter’s three denials. They would have told themselves that they were worthless failures as people, that their lives could never again be valuable, and that God would never give them another chance.
To fail at something means simply that, well, you have failed at something. It most assuredly does not mean you are useless, insignificant, and meaningless as a person. “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart form the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered” (Matthew 10:29-30).
Your failures don’t mean that God has given upon you either. God is determined and persistent in his quest for your salvation. He is the shepherd who searches the open country until he finds one stray sheep from his fold (Luke 15:3-7). He is the woman who sweeps her house until she finds a lost coin (Luke 15:8-10). He is the father who keeps his eye on the horizon, looking for the outline of his prodigal son starting toward home (Luke 15:11-32).
Our God is in the forgiving and renewing business. Don’t ever doubt that. And don’t ever let Satan convince you that your Father would give up on you – no matter what you have done or how far from him you have strayed.
During your times of trial and suffering, when you see only one set of footprints, it was then that I carried you.
It is doubtful that there are many people who are unaware of the famous (although unattributed) poem Footprints in the Sand. The closing line (above) reminds us that when we feel alone, we are never truly alone for God is with us. That single set of footprints belong to God who carries us.
I was reading through Psalm 77 today, though, and there’s an even more startling teaching about faith that caught my attention. The Psalm is not one of David’s, but rather Asaph. It is a Psalm for troubled hearts. It begins…
I cry aloud to God, aloud to God, that he may hear me. In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord; in the night my hand is stretched out without wearing; my soul refuses to be comforted. I think of God, and I moan; I meditate, and my spirit faints. (Psalm 77:1-3, NRSV)
Who hasn’t had a sleepless night calling out to God? We can identify with this immediately. The rest of the Psalm continues through the night as the writer ruminates over his questions about God. He thinks about the mighty things that God has done, concluding…
You are the God who works wonders; you have displayed your might among the peoples. With your strong arm you redeemed your people …. (Psalm 77:14, 15a, NRSV)
Then a moment of faith …
Your way was through the sea, your path, through the mighty waters; yet your footprints were unseen. (Psalm 77:19, NRSV)
It’s one thing to look back and see that single set of footprints in the sand. It’s another to look forward and backward, and see no footprints at all. In the writer’s remembrance of the Exodus and particularly the crossing of the Red Sea one cannot help but see the amazing works of God. But no footprints…
Maybe God has been at work in your life in amazing ways, but you’ve been so busy trying to fight your way through your troubles on your own that you failed to notice. Have you called out to God throughout watches of the night only to hear …. nothing in return? Are you looking around for evidence that God is near but there’s not a single footprint to demonstrate that He is?
Recovering our Faith: When all seems lost, God is Able!
Crisis can lead to loss of faith or growth of faith, or sometimes both. Have you suffered a loss that brought about a crisis of faith?
What do we do when faith seems to have let us down… God hasn’t answered our prayers like we wanted … and the pain is immense?
One thing I do know is that we are not alone if we are having a crisis of faith.
*Hagar – (Genesis 21:17) “God has heard…”
*Elijah – (1 Kings 19:4, 9-10)
*Peter – denied Christ and then went back to an old way of life for a season.
When all seems lost, can God really restore our faith?
1. What I Learned About Faith from Revelation
The Devil is At Work(Revelation 2:9-11)
I know your affliction and your poverty, even though you are rich. I know the slander on the part of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Beware, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison so that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have affliction. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life. Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches. Whoever conquers will not be harmed by the second death.- Revelation 2:9-11
God affirms that there will be some severe troubles ahead for the Christians. Satan has his work that afflicts and imprisons us. When hurt we tend to blame. Don’t blame God for what Satan is doing! Satan hates us and works against us at every opportunity. God promises the faithful…
*You will be tested -Be faithful until death
*Receive the crown of life
*Conquerers escape the second death
God Knows Your Affliction (Revelation 2:2-14)
And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write: These are the words of him who has the sharp two-edged sword: “I know where you are living, where Satan’s throne is. Yet you are holding fast to my name, and you did not deny your faith in me even in the days of Antipas my witness, my faithful one, who was killed among you, where Satan lives. – Revelation 2:12-14
God knows what you are going through. The purpose of support groups – being around others who know. Your tears have not escaped him. He knows your efforts to cling on to His promises. He knows you can make it.
God Helps Us Conquer Evil
Through Justice. Revelation 13:9-11 Let anyone who has an ear listen: If you are to be taken captive, into captivity you go; if you kill with the sword,with the sword you must be killed. Here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints.
Through Promises. Revelation 14:12-13Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and hold fast to the faith of Jesus. And I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who from now on die in the Lord.” “Yes,” says the Spirit, “they will rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them.”
Jesus is Still King (Revelation 1:4-6)
John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. ~Revelation 1:4-6
2. How Can I Recover My Faith After Crisis?
I don’t know everything, but God does. Proverbs 3:5-6 says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.”
Faith is deliberate confidence in the character of God whose ways you may not understand at the time. — Oswald Chambers
Pray often & Think Right.
Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. …and the God of peace will be with you. – Philippians 4:6-9
God Walks through Dark Valleys. A favorite Psalm says, “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff—they comfort me” (Psalm 23:4).
I will have nothing to do with a God who cares only occasionally. I need a God who is with us always, everywhere, in the deepest depths as well as the highest heights. It is when things go wrong, when good things do not happen, when our prayers seem to have been lost, that God is most present. We do not need the sheltering wings when things go smoothly. We are closest to God in the darkness, stumbling along blindly. –Madeleine L’Engle
Believing Jesus brings peace. John 14:1 reminds us, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.”
Oh, how great peace and quietness would he possess who should cut off all vain anxiety and place all his confidence in God. –Thomas A. Kempis
Following Jesus brings healing. Isaiah 53:5 tells us of the Suffering Servant, “But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed.” Whatever healing we need, Jesus is the one who can supply it.
We are empowered to Stand in Faith.
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints. – Ephesians 6:10-18
We wait. 2 Peter 3:13 reminds us, “But, in accordance with his promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home.”
We Embrace New Life.
Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. -Romans 6:3-5
“Faith goes up the stairs that love has built and looks out the window which hope has opened” — Charles Spurgeon
I’m praying that your recovery time will be spent leaning on God until your faith grows strong and hope is restored.
It’s not anything I can really identify in very specific terms, but I do believe there are times when individuals are targets of evil influence. It can come through events or emotions or other people.
“Simon, Simon, look out! Satan has asked to sift you like wheat.” ~Luke 22:31
I don’t think you have to look for a demon under every rock to believe this. It is true that there are just bad things that happen. Sometimes as the result of poor decisions or unexpected consequences. But that’s not the kind of thing about which Jesus warned Simon Peter (and the other Apostles. ‘You’ is plural – he is referring to all of them, although his attention seems to be on Peter). Even with a warning, Peter still fell into a kind of sifting nearly cost him his faith.
But I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And you, when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers. ~Luke 22:32
Jesus prayed for Peter that his faith would not fail. It very nearly did fail, but there was a layer of faith that Satan could not peel away. Jesus knew that this journey of Peter’s was about to take a detour, but it was not permanent. He had work to do on the other side of this experience.
All kinds of Christian people experience the influence of evil in their lives. It isn’t always evident at first. We can find ourselves scrambling for answers. Like afflicted Job, who wasn’t privy to the conversation between God and Satan. It is understandable when he weeps:
I was at ease, but He shattered me; He seized me by the scruff of the neck and smashed me to pieces. He set me up as His target; His archers surround me. ~Job 16:12-13
God had not targeted Job, nor his friends. But someone had. How can you know if you are facing the oppression of the enemy? Notice the various names for Satan in the Bible and you will see how he operates. Destroyer. Accuser. Liar. Tempter. Thief.
If you feel like a target for evil influence in some way, you are not without defense. The classic text on spiritual warfare is Ephesians 6:10-18. Truth. Righteousness. Readiness. Faith. Salvation. God’s Word. These are the items that will equip us to survive. We do not wait until we engage the enemy to equip ourselves. That is what we are to be doing now. How are you preparing for the inevitable spiritual sifting that is coming your way?
I believe Jesus is praying for us, too, that our faith would not fail. If you could hear Jesus praying for you right now, what do you think He would be praying about?
Since He has already won the victory, we await the Glorious Appearing of Christ with confidence and joy.
…We wait for the blessed hope and appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. ~Titus 2:13
We may sometimes be a target of Satan and his work, but we are not helpless. We remain victorious no matter what comes our way – because we are saved by the Eternal King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
God I’m looking around at our broken world … a world you made … a world you love. I think about the terrible things that your Creatures do to one another. I’m aware of the wars that exist between nations, groups of people, cultures, and even within ourselves.
I’m praying for the Christians in Israel and Palestine who are brothers and sisters in the blood of Christ but who cower under the sound of rockets surrounded by the blood of their families.
I’m praying for the children pouring into our country with no hope and no future … and those who would frown at them and want them to go away. Children trying to survive in a world they did not create. Children without beds, who deserve to be loved just as much as our children safely tucked away in their beds tonight.
I’m praying for the people in godless nations gathered to worship who whisper their prayers, sing softly, commune in darkness, and who risk everything to worship you.
I’m praying for the children who are traded and abused for purposes their young bodies are not prepared for. And for the lifetime of scars they will carry, if they live.
I’m praying for the people I passed by today without noticing … who just needed a smile.
I’m praying for those in hospital beds who have heard news they never wanted to hear, and who have no one to comfort them.
I’m praying for the person reading these words right now and the pains they have suffered, the disappointments, and the burdens they carry.
It seems like a broken prayer … just a frail expression … but it is an expression of trust in a powerful Father.
Had it not been for You, Lord, the waters of hurt and anger would have engulfed us. Bless your name Lord, you’ve somehow set us free from the Enemy’s grasp. Our help is in You. Our hope is in You. (From Psalm 124)