TRA Wordtalks

TRA 5th August, 2001
Great Success.

Luke 22:54-62

The word that rhymes best with "Australia" is "failure"! During the Olympics, our success in the pool, on the courts, on the track and other fields of competition, saw us in an unusual situation: we were victorious! The flag flying at the top brought cheers. The national anthem brought tears to the eyes. The cry "Aussie, Aussie, Aussie" brought responses of "Oi! Oi! Oi!" The Olympics and the Paralympics brought more success per head of population to us than any other nation in the world. Even the man ridiculed as President of the International Olympic Committee for declaring "The winner is Sid-en-nee" was regarded like a fond old grandfather when he declared "The Sydney 2000 Games were the best ever!"

Yet many of us believe it is un-Australian to be successful. We have carried the sense of failure since our convict days. Our masters and betters reminded us that failure brought us here. We were in this country for their country's good. Our artists, singers, sportsmen and women were unsuccessful until they had proved themselves overseas. We desperately wanted to be appreciated. As soon as any visitor stepped off a ship or plane journalists used to ask, "How do you like Australia?"

Our national day recalls a 1915 military disaster and defeat on the shores of Turkey. Our most famous explorers died in the desert. Our national song celebrates a no-hoper who steals a sheep for food and commits suicide by drowning. Our greatest hero defied the police in armour and died by hanging! Failure and Australia rhyme together.

Our Premier Bob Carr, whose historical knowledge is linked with his poetic prose, says: "We are a mix of British stoicism and Irish melancholy. Our founding myths are tougher, more etched with failure than those of USA, because of thinner soil, more fragile vegetation, grudging river systems. There were no wagon trains coming down to lay out cities on rich, deep soils. Ours was a harder task of settlement - a sparser, less obvious heroic effort."

After the Olympics, many people lost their optimism, national pride and sense of success. The post-Olympic blues revive the feeling of failure. After all, 90% of the best athletes in the world did not win a medal. Like them, many of us try, but never win. The sense of failure is never far from the surface. Work has not become what we had hoped. Things do not turn out as we were led to believe. Marriages have ended in tears. Children are a concern despite our hopes for them. Politicians disappoint. Friendship is betrayed. Prayers are not answered. Achievements often disappoint. Those things upon which we place our hearts can lead to false hopes, bitter recriminations and despair, and certainly to lives of despair, anxiety and stress. That in turn can lead to physical heart failure and death. Failure becomes the cruel companion to many of us.

The Bible records many failures because it records life as it is. The Bible is about real people. Some of the biblical failures are today only remembered for their successes, but before there was success, there was failure. Consider some of the most famous of people who were firstly failures.

Jacob is remembered as the great prayer warrior who wrestled all night with God. Yet before his great change of heart, he had deceived his blind father, stolen his brother's inheritance, despised his wife Leah and lusted after his sister-in-law Rachael. He was a man of treachery, graft, sin, unfaithfulness - a failure of a man. But God changed his direction and character and he became known as a great and good man.

Moses was a murderer, a fugitive from justice and one who because of his failure would never lead the Israelites into the Promised Land. Yet he became a national hero, the founder of a great nation and the creator of international law. David had the husband of his mistress killed. He stood beside the casket of his dead illegitimate son as a moral failure. Yet he is remembered as a hero, the one who slew Goliath, the great composer of some of the world's greatest songs.

Peter was one of the first disciples, who had boastfully said: Matt 26:33-5 "Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will." "I tell you the truth," Jesus answered, "this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times." But Peter declared, "Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you." Peter was cocksure of his loyalty and strength. He was absolutely sure that he would never fail Jesus on a point of loyalty and courage. Later that night, he was in the High Priest's courtyard, where Peter had gone to find out what was happening to his Master. Luke 22:55 "When they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and had sat down together, Peter sat down with them. A servant girl saw him seated there in the firelight. 

She looked closely at him and said, "This man was with him." But he denied it. "Woman, I don't know him," he said. A little later someone else saw him and said, "You also are one of them." "Man, I am not!" Peter replied. About an hour later another asserted, "Certainly this fellow was with him, for he is a Galilean." Peter replied, "Man, I don't know what you're talking about!" Just as he was speaking, the rooster crowed. The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: "Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times." And he went outside and wept bitterly." Peter had failed! 

Jesus Christ sees the desires of the heart in spite of whatever outward failure a person may show. We said: "Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap." Luke 21:34 Do you see the significance of what Jesus is saying? The Lord Jesus knows the human heart, its deceitfulness and frailty. He knows the consequences of being entrapped by the pleasures and possessions of this age. He knows that despite best intentions we can fail Him and others. All of us can experience failure in our relationships, our work, our study, our exams, our commitments, our faith - failure is common to us all. Above all, spiritually, each of us has failed. The Oxford Dictionary describes failure as "to become deficient, to be wanting, to fall short of performance and attainment..." That is exactly how Paul described what happens in our relationship with God. He wrote: Romans 3:23 "There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God."

Geoff Bullock, more than any single person has changed church music in Australia. His popular songs like "The Power of Your Love", "The Great South Land of the Holy Spirit" and "This Kingdom" are sung in churches around the world. His CD's have reached gold and platinum status. He started "Hillsong" music festival. At the height of popularity his life fell apart. He still believed but was exhausted by uncertainty. He sinned. His church drew back from him. His marriage fell apart. He was devastated. He withdrew from public life. I have interviewed Geoff recently and he said: "I struggled with a sense of failure for years. The higher I climbed, the lower my self-esteem. The greater the success, the more profound the cloud of failure. My life was finally shattered around me. The success had gone. I had fallen from the heights. I was publicly exposed as having failed. I was a failure. I was sure that everyone knew. If they didn't, they were certainly going to find out. Jesus faithfully walked with me while I searched for a way to resolve the crisis. I searched with all the strength I could find. I receive A+++ for effort. I broke many hearts. I was convinced the only way was to try harder. I worked harder to believe what I should believe. I found Him? Wrong! wrong, wrong! He found me." Geoff became right with God not because of what he did but because He fell into the gracious hands of God who does not leave us in our failure. Why? Understand and you understand failure! For failure need not be final. Failure can lead to greater achievement. Failure does not mean that God has abandoned you, but that rather, God has a better plan in mind for you. You may have caused your failure, but God can take it and remake it and you!

All achievers have first of all failed. Some of the world's most famous people have been declared by experts to be failures. Albert Einstein was declared a failure at maths. Winston Churchill was declared a failure at school. Walt Disney was told he would never amount to much in life. A dozen athletes at the Olympics told tales of achievement after failure. But it does not happen automatically. There are two steps in going through the backdoor to success. Failure will be the backdoor to success provided:

you learn from failure. Thomas Edison invented the electric light bulb and the storage battery. He tried over 10,000 experiments to produce the bulb and battery. At the end he said, "I haven't failed. I know 10,000 ways that will not work. Failures are but fingerposts pointing out the right direction to those who are willing to learn." Deeper thought is born out of failure. New ideas are conceived in failure. Find a person who has never made a mistake and you will have a person who has never made a discovery. We all need to learn from failure. It is the backdoor to success. Provided also that:

you turn from failure. You cannot dwell in failure. You must turn from it and start again. If you have failed, you must get up and start again. Failure is not a resting place, but a starting place. That is the whole meaning of repentance. You turn from your error, your wickedness and sin, and asking God's forgiveness, start all over again. That is why Christianity is such a healthy life-style, for no matter how you fail, you can find a way from failure to even greater success. The story of Christianity is the story of failed men and women who have found new futures.

This is of deep importance. It is only through admission of moral failure, of falling short of God's glory, of admitting to your sin and repenting of it, that you can come to Jesus Christ. Romans 3:23 "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." There is none of us righteous, worthy to be right with God. Our sinfulness makes all of our righteousness as dirty rags in God's sight. At the foot of the Cross there is level ground. We stand equal before God in that we have failed to be what God intended us to be. 

When Peter failed, he saw Jesus Christ looking at him. In that look was the encouragement to start again. Jesus accepts our intentions. He understood Peter did not mean to fail in his commitment and courage. He understands us and accepts what we had intended in our hearts. Jesus understands your weakness. He was personally tried and tested in all points as we are and so he is able both to understand and to strengthen. Jesus challenges your commitment. After the resurrection He asked Peter three times, "Do your love me?" With Peter's reply each time one of the failures was wiped out. Then Jesus challenged him afresh, "Well feed my sheep." The failure was forgotten and the fresh challenge was given.

What comes after "failure" in the dictionary? Faith! Faith is the answer to every failure. Faith to be forgiven. Faith to start again. Faith to find new ways. The future lies in faith. Failure is the front door to the Saviour. You can start afresh by faith if you come to know Jesus Christ as both Lord and Saviour. Accepted Jesus Christ by faith now.

Gordon Moyes

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