Failure. We’ve all been there. We’ve failed a spouse. We’ve failed a friend. We’ve failed a child. We’ve failed our parents. We’ve failed God. And if you’re like me, you walk away feeling like you’ve blown it for good and feel you should be benched….permanently. “That’s it. You’re done. It’s all over. No more chances for you.”
But this is faulty thinking. And if we are honest, it’s also prideful thinking. We think that we should be better than that. That somehow God expected more of us. But the reality is apart from Christ, not a one of us has anything to offer. Every single person God has used throughout history has failed. And some in not so small ways, I might add. The only saintly thing about any of us is the life of Christ in us. Moses was one of these saints of old and his life can teach us a lot about failure. Here are three things I noticed in recent days while contemplating the life of Moses:
1) Failure sometimes comes through good intentions.
Moses had a heart for God. Hebrews 11:24-26 tells us that he preferred to endure ill-treatment with the people of God rather than to enjoy his place in the palace and the pleasures of sin. But, when Moses sees an Egyptian beating a Hebrew slave, he becomes vengeful and decides to take action based on the knowledge that he was going to be used to deliver God’s people. (Acts 7:23-25)
It was true. God was going to use Moses to deliver His people, but this was not the way or the time. With apparently good intentions, Moses acted in haste on God’s behalf, murdered a man, then spent forty years as a shepherd in hiding.
Sometimes we can be a little too hasty to act on God’s “behalf” rather than waiting patiently for Him to do His work, His way, in His time. But God is so gracious. God uses our failure and it’s consequences to teach us and to humble us; not to eliminate us.
2) Failure doesn’t mean elimination.
In Exodus 3 we see God appearing to Moses in the burning bush and now calling him to the task of delivering the Israelites out of Egypt. But Moses is not so hasty this time. Notice Moses’ apprehension:
- “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and that I should bring the sons of Israel out of Egypt?” (Exodus 3:11) Perhaps Moses was thinking he should be disqualified due to his previous failure. At this point in his life, he’s well aware of his faults and isn’t in a hurry to take charge. (Exodus 4:10)
- “What if they will not believe me…?” (Exodus 4:1) That’s right. You and I are not the only ones to ask, “What if…?” Moses is apprehensive and maybe a little fearful as to how this is going to go down.
- And finally, he pleads with God to send someone else. “Please Lord…” (Exodus 4:10) Moses is convinced he is not equipped for the task.
But notice God’s response. God does not tell Moses, “You’re right. Who are you? You’ve already proven yourself a failure. What was I thinking?” But neither does God say, “Come on, Moses, I know you have it in you. You’re a great leader. You always know just the right thing to say.” No, far from it. God simply says, “Certainly I will be with you.” (Exodus 3:12) That’s it.
God ignores Moses question of, “Who am I?” Why? Because the question is never about our credentials or what we have to offer God. The question is are we willing to die to self and yield to Him? We are simply the vessels that He chooses to use to accomplish His work. God wasn’t looking for the man who had it all together. He was looking for a broken, humble heart that was surrendered to Him. And Moses was evidently first in line.
Aren’t we a lot like Moses? Sometimes we see our strengths and like that annoying boy in fourth grade, we raise our hand in utmost confidence and say, “Me! Me! Me! I can do it! Pick me!” (Hopefully we aren’t quite that obnoxious, but the heart is the same.)
Other times we focus on our weaknesses like the insecure girl sitting in the back of class with her head down praying the teacher won’t call on her. And we ask, “Who am I that I should raise this kid? Who am I that I should get that job? Who am I that I should disciple someone else?” We know our own failures and we know them well.
But eventually, be it ever so slowly, we grow. We learn to stop looking at our strengths or our weaknesses and start looking at the great I AM. In brokenness and surrender, we humble ourselves and step aside. Then and only then are we ready to be used by the Master. And that brings me to my third and final point.
3) Failure leads to growth.
As Henry Ford said, “Failure is the opportunity to begin again, only this time more wisely.” And I would add, “more humbly.”
Let’s fast forward to the scene of Moses at the Red Sea. Here he is with the Israelites, facing certain death apart from God’s intervention. They have the Red Sea ahead of them, which they can not cross. And Pharoah and his army behind, whom they can not beat. The Israelites are afraid for their lives and once again are whining to Moses and questioning his decision.
But Moses responds with great faith: “Do not fear! Stand by and see the salvation of the Lord which He will accomplish for you today…The Lord will fight for you while you keep silent.” (Exodus 14:13-14) Funny thing isn’t it? He tells them to keep quiet and watch. I don’t know about you, but that’s not the first thing I think of doing when my life is in shambles.
I have to wonder what Moses was really thinking during that moment. In his book, Christ for Real: How to Grow into God’s Likeness, Charles Price imagines Moses’ silent prayer facing this crisis:
Lord, we have a big problem…and I have no idea what we should do. But I want to remind you of something. It wasn’t my idea to come here, it was Yours. You called me at the burning bush and I told you I wasn’t able, but You said You would be with me. You also said we would go to Canaan, and as this isn’t Canaan, it is inconceivable that we would die here on the banks of the Red Sea, for You always mean what You say. So although I don’t know how we are going to get out of this, You do. It is Your responsibility and I trust You. So, thank You. Amen.
Now, I don’t know if that’s really what Moses was praying, but it sure sounds like something I would pray if I were in his shoes….er, I mean sandals.
Oh friend, if we repent of our failures, turn to Christ, and die to self, failure will always lead to growth. Failure is a part of life. No one enjoys it, but there’s no escaping it. Believe me, the perfectionist in me has tried. 😉 But God has the supernatural ability to take our failures and work them into our lives for good.
We need not fear failure. We only need to cry out to God that our failures (and the pain that comes with them) will not be wasted. May we always do as Henry Ford stated and, “…begin again; only this time more wisely.” And with a big dose of humility. 🙂
Have a great week and don’t forget the fika!