[The following article is an edited transcription of our audio teaching, Failing Forward by Dan Gallagher.] It is my privilege to bring you this teaching which I have titled Failing Forward and subtitled Turning Mistakes into Stepping Stones to Success. It was a number of years ago that I read a book by the author John Maxwell, and John’s book was titled Failing Forward. John’s pretty articulate, and he gave me a lot of inspiration to go the Word of God over the last few years to see what God has on the subject of failure and success and to see specifically if I can find examples from the Bible on Failing Forward. One of the points that John makes is that people in our society are always training for success, when really what we should be doing is training our young people on how to fail. You see, failure is a lot more common than success. If people do not know how to fail properly and if they do not know how to fail forward, then they will never be able to reap the success that they really desire. You can be a winner in many ways, but you can only be a loser in one way—that is to fail and not look beyond the failure. One of the greatest problems that people have with failure is that they are too quick to judge isolated situations in their lives and then label them as failures. We are too quick to look at something when we are given some adversity or defeat and then give up. In fact, failing is really a gift if we can learn to have the proper perspective on it. Why would I be qualified to do this teaching? Well, I am not qualified because I am not necessarily a great success. I have to be honest with you; I am qualified because I have failed miserably in life. I have failed at marriage. I have made many mistakes as a father. I have failed in friendships, and I have failed in being a friend. I have failed in businesses. One time, I had a very successful construction company, and I lost it. I have failed in ministry. I have been kicked out of a leadership program, and I walked away from another, but I am qualified to do this teaching because in spite of those failures, in spite of those defeats, in spite of the adversity that I have been confronted with, I have learned how to succeed in marriage. In fact, my wonderful wife, Lori, and I are in our fifteenth year of marriage. I have also learned how to succeed in being a loving husband and how to be a good father and hopefully how to be a great grandparent. I am now succeeding in friendships, and I have succeeded in business and hopefully now in ministry. Why? I have succeeded because I have learned the lesson of failing forward. That is why I am doing this teaching, because I want to inspire you. I want to encourage you. I want you to have hope and learn how to fail forward. I am going to cover five different areas.
1) We are going to examine God’s Word to gain a biblical perspective on this subject. What does God have to say about failing, and does He have anything to say about failing forward? I think that you are going to be thrilled and exhilarated about what God has to say on this subject. Also, what does God have to say about success? I think that we need to have a biblical perspective on that as well. 2) We are going to review records of men and women in the Bible to see what lessons we can learn from their lives. We will look at lessons about how some have failed forward and some have not. 3) We will examine what God has to say about a few things pertaining to success; specifically, things that we may not in our modern/post-modern culture define as successful. I do believe that we need to go back to God’s Word and see how He defines it. 4) We will examine some common failure myths and become myth busters. 5) We will look at some keys to learn how to fail forward.
Something that I realized as I began to examine the Word of God is that I believe that God gave me the perspective that really His book, the Bible, is a story of failure. I am not trying to be blasphemous here. See, God has not always been successful, but one of the lessons that I believe that He wants us to see is that He knows how to turn His defeats and losses into successes. Consider for a moment Lucifer, the bright and morning star, the supreme angelic being, and one of the pinnacles of God’s creation. What does Lucifer do? He turns on God. He rejects God, and he leads open rebellion in the heavens against God. I would not consider that too much of a success story, and I am sure that you do not either. How about God’s first attempt for a family, Adam and Eve? God creates the heavens and the earth and all that we see—the skies above, the stars, the moon. He puts everything here for man’s provision. To provide for him and to show His loving concern for man. What does man do? Given a little bit of temptation, man rejects the Word of God and does not trust God. Man turns and walks away from God. Well, that is two strikes. Again, I do not consider that too much of a success story. In fact, I consider that a pretty big failure. God does not say, “That is it. I am going to take my ball and go home. I am not playing with you anymore.” No, he does not. He immediately sets in play the moves to start the redemption of mankind. God, in Genesis 3:15, describes the coming of the Savior. God begins to fail forward. He takes the failure that Lucifer has handed Him, and He begins to play forward. He begins to learn from what He has been dealt, and He moves it forward. You see, when it comes to failing, we need to change our perspective. It is perspective that leads to perseverance. Perseverance brings longevity, and longevity brings increased opportunities for success. That is what failing forward is. Most of us are given some adversity or defeat, and we think that is the end of the game. But the fact is that if we are going to continue to press forward, when we get the defeat, when we are hit with adversity, if we will learn to fail forward, we will increase our opportunities for success. That is what the lesson is about in this teaching. Let’s take a look at a beautiful record of what God says about failing.
Proverbs 24:15 and 16 (15) Do not lie in wait like an outlaw against a righteous man’s house, do not raid His Dwelling place; (16) for though a righteous man falls seven times, he rises again, but the wicked are brought down by calamity.
Again, how many times does a righteous man fall? He falls seven times; he rises again. That is the lesson of Scripture. That is what God wants us to take away—that a righteous man, when he falls, he gets up again. You know the number seven, in the Bible, means spiritual perfection or completeness. Every time you fall, the righteous man gets up. That is the lesson that God wants us to take away. We are going to fall. We are going to trip. We are going to stumble, but when we do, we need to get up, and we need to move on again. That is what a righteous man does. Another lesson that we can take away from God’s Word is that the Bible really is a book about losers. Again, I am not trying to be sacrilegious here! It is however a book about losers. Some of those losers stay losers. Some of the winners become losers, but some of the losers have become great winners. That is what we want to look at. Let’s look at some of the records of the men and women of the Bible and see specific examples from their lives what we can glean—examples of how to fail forward. Genesis 37 is about Joseph and his brothers.
Genesis 37:19 and 20 (19) “Here comes that dreamer!” they said to each other. (20) “Come now, let’s kill him and throw him into one of these cisterns and say that a ferocious animal devoured him. Then we’ll see what comes of his dreams.”
Can you imagine? I cannot. I have seven brothers and sisters. I was raised in a great family, and all of my brothers and sisters loved each other a lot. We still do. We fight for each other. I cannot imagine how my heart would be pained to think about how my brothers or sisters would be, not only jealous of me or want to do me harm, but that they would want to kill me. Fortunately, because of Reuben’s intervention, they merely threw him in a cistern and sold him off to slavery. Now, that is a little bit of a defeat. That is a little adversity. I do not think that many of us can say that we have endured that type of thing.
Genesis 37:23 and 24 (23) So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe– the richly ornamented robe he was wearing— (24) and they took him and threw him into the cistern.
Shortly there after along comes a Midian caravan. They pull Joseph out and sell him into slavery with the intent that they would never see their brother again. Joseph’s heart must have been broken knowing that God had called him. Joseph had dreams. He had revelations. God had revealed to him prophetic images of what his life was supposed to mean. This one certainly was not lining up to it—in chains and shackles, being led away by a Midian caravan off to Egypt. Shortly after arriving in Egypt, he is sold. He ends up working for a man named Potiphar. Everything seems to be going well, and he is elevated to the head of Potiphar’s household. This is not bad for a slave, but still it is something that I would not consider as the ideal life, nor do I think you would either, but Joseph was doing the best that he could. He was trying to fail forward. In Genesis 39, Potiphar’s wife comes along and falsely accuses Joseph of trying to seduce or rape her.
Genesis 39:19 and 20 (19) When his master heard the story his wife told him, saying, “This is how your slave treated me,” he burned with anger. (20) Joseph’s master took him and put him in prison, the place where the king’s prisoners were confined.
Again, this is another defeat, more adversity. What a horrific way to live life. First as a slave, and not only that, now you are falsely accused and thrown into prison. Joseph spends quite a bit of time in prison, and along comes a couple of the Pharaoh’s servants, the chief cupbearer and the baker. They are thrown into prison with him. Not only was Joseph thrown into prison, and yes, he does get elevated in prison, but while he is in prison, he gives the interpretation of two dreams, and all he asked of these two men is, “Just don’t forget me. When you get out and you are restored to your position, don’t forget me.”
Genesis 40:23 The chief cupbearer, however, did not remember Joseph; he forgot him. Genesis 41:1 When two full years had passed, Pharaoh had a dream:
Well, I really think that after two years have gone by that this is considered forgetting this poor guy Joseph. This is not some “club fed.” This is the most wretched place on the earth. It is a pit. It is filled with vermin and feces. It is a hole in the ground even though Joseph may be the head of the dung heap. Two years go by, and Joseph still has a great attitude. You know this story. Joseph goes from being a prisoner to being the second in command of all of Egypt – all in the very same day. I want you to see Joseph’s perspective because this is powerful.
Genesis 45:1-3 (1) Then Joseph could no longer control himself before all his attendants, and he cried out, “Have everyone leave my presence!” So there was no one with Joseph when he made himself known to his brothers. (2) And he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard him, and Pharaoh’s household heard about it. (3) Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph! Is my father still living?” But his brothers were not able to answer him, because they were terrified at his presence.
At this point, Joseph’s brothers had no idea who this Egyptian standing before them was.
Genesis 45:4 and 5 (4) Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come close to me.” When they had done so, he said, “I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! (5) And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you.
What a perspective! That was a man who learned to fail forward.
Genesis 45:6 and 7 (6) For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will not be plowing and reaping. (7) But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.
That is failing forward. What a wonderful example that Joseph gives us. I think God wants us to take away a lesson. He wants us to know that no matter what we are handed in life, we can fail forward because God is always working in all situations for our good (Rom. 8:28). One of the greatest problems that people have with failure is that they are too quick to judge isolated situations in their lives and label them as failures. You have to realize that failure is the price that you will pay for success. Only one real definition of failure exists. Albert Hubbard once said, “A failure is a man or woman who has blundered but is not able to cash in on his experience.” What you have to tell yourself is not that you are a failure but that you merely failed at doing something. A big difference exists between these two. In Joshua 2:1 we see the story of Rahab:
Joshua 2:1 Then Joshua son of Nun secretly sent two spies from Shittim. “Go, look over the land,” he said, “especially Jericho.” So they went and entered the house of a prostitute named Rahab and stayed there.
This is a prostitute, a woman of ill repute. It is still the same as what prostitutes are today. They sell their bodies. This is a woman who is a prostitute, and this is where the spies go to live. That is not the end of the record concerning Rahab. In Matthew 1:5 and 6 is the record of Jesus Christ’s lineage.
Matthew 1:5 and 6 (5) Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab, Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth, Obed the father of Jesse, (6) and Jesse the father of King David.
Because of her righteous act, Rahab the prostitute, is in the Christ line. That is what I would consider as the proper perspective, not that this woman was the prostitute. That may have been where she mentally lived, but from God’s perspective, because of Rahab’s righteous acts, God included here in the lineage of Jesus Christ.
James 2:25 In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction?
That is failing forward. Do not let isolated situations define you as being a failure. Do not be too quick to judge. Let us not be too quick to judge Rahab because God’s perspective was not that she was a prostitute but because of the righteous act that she did, she is considered righteous, for she is included in the Christ line. Let us also look at another great example. Consider the life of Moses. He was born as an Israelite but raised in the house of Pharaoh.
Exodus 2:13 and 14 (13) The next day he went out and saw two Hebrews fighting. He asked the one in the wrong, “Why are you hitting your fellow Hebrew?” (14) The man said, “Who made you ruler and judge over us? Are you thinking of killing me as you killed the Egyptian?” Then Moses was afraid and thought, “What I did must have become known.”
You see, the day before Moses saw an Egyptian beating up on a Hebrew, and he struck the Egyptian, killing him, not only killing him but burying him in the sand. Well, all of a sudden, he is there trying to intervene between two Hebrew brother’s fighting, and the next thing that you know, one of them has turned on him.
Exodus 2:15 When Pharaoh heard of this, he tried to kill Moses, but Moses fled from Pharaoh and went to live in Midian, where he sat down by a well.
Wow, put yourself in Moses’ shoes. How successful would you feel at this point? Having to go from the position of the guy riding in the chariot, living in Pharaoh’s house, clothing, wealth, food, all of that at your feet, and servants waiting on you, and what are you now? You are a murderer, and you are sitting down by a well as a fugitive from your homeland. It does not sound too successful to me. That perspective had to change. Moses had to change. God did work with Moses, and you know how God called Moses in the burning bush. It is a beautiful record in Exodus where God works with Moses, and He tries to build Moses’ heart. God tries to build Moses and get him off his failure from thinking that he is nothing but merely a forty year wanderer in the wilderness following sheep to all of a sudden a man who is going to lead God’s chosen people out of Egypt.
Exodus 33:11 The LORD would speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks with his friend.
Wow, that is invigorating to me. This is a guy who is a murderer; a man who has spent 40 years walking through the desert. He had to change his thinking. He had to fail forward. He had to wrap his mind around what God was calling him to do. He was a man that the Word of God declares that God knew him “face to face as a man speaks with his friend.” That is failing forward! This is a wonderful example of what God is trying to tell us about how we need to do the same thing. We need to fail forward. When adversity, when defeat, when the obstacles of life come your way, you cannot become immobile with them. We have got to go to God, and we have got to fail forward. In 1 Samuel 9:1 is the record of a man named Saul. This is a record of a man who started off as a great winner but became a loser. Some of these other people about whom we have talked, Rahab for example, started off as a loser, but the Word of God testifies that she was a great winner, or Moses who started off as a winner, became a loser, and then turned around and became a winner again. Now, we have Saul.
1 Samuel 9:1 and 2 (1) There was a Benjamite, a man of standing, whose name was Kish son of Abiel, the son of Zeror, the son of Becorath, the son of Aphiah of Benjamin. (2) He had a son named Saul, an impressive young man without equal among the Israelites– a head taller than any of the others.
This is not some loser. This is an impressive young man that the Word of God would say that he is “without equal.” That is not where Saul ends up, unfortunately. Because of the insecurities of Saul’s heart, because of his fear, because of his jealousy and envy of a young man named David, he loses his entire ministry.
1 Samuel 18:8 Saul was very angry; this refrain galled him. “They have credited David with tens of thousands,” he thought, “but me with only thousands. What more can he get but the kingdom?”
See how Saul’s heart had turned. This is a man that was without equal among the Israelites. God did not choose Saul because he was a loser. He chose Saul because he saw the potential in this man, but Saul just lost it. He did not know how to fail forward.
1 Samuel 18:9-12 (9) And from that time on Saul kept a jealous eye on David. (10) The next day an evil spirit from God came forcefully upon Saul. He was prophesying in his house, while David was playing the harp, as he usually did. Saul had a spear in his hand (11) and he hurled it, saying to himself, “I’ll pin David to the wall.” But David eluded him twice. (12) Saul was afraid of David, because the LORD was with David but had left Saul.
Saul lost it. Saul did not know how to fail forward. He did not know how to take his defeats. Okay, so what if David had killed tens of thousands and Saul only his thousands. Was that a reason or justification to try and kill David? No. Saul needed to grab a hold of his mind. The fact of the matter was that God had chosen Saul, which was a bigger testimony than the tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands a man named David would have killed.
1 Samuel 19:1 Saul told his son Jonathan and all the attendants to kill David.
Can you imagine starting off like this? David is already anointed and had the oil poured on his head. This is a little bit of a defeat. David got to start a lot of his public life with the great success of killing Goliath. David did slay Goliath in front of all of the armies of Israel. Remember David as a young man, the record even says that he carried the guys head for a number of days. He was pretty satisfied at that success. How would you feel if the king of your country was trying to kill you? We already read how Saul had tried to pin him twice against the wall with the spear. I will not go through the whole record of David’s life, but please, do take the time to examine it because you will find that he was an adulterer and a murderer. A child of his died as a result of his sin. He took a census in disobedience to God’s directive, and people died as a result of that. The record of the Word of God was also that he was an over-indulgent father. He was a man of blood and a man with a hot temper. Remember when he was on his way to kill Nabal because he had refused to feed him and his army. But what is the real testimony of David? In spite of his adultery, his murder, in spite of his sin, in spite of his being an over-indulgent father, being a man of blood, and all of the other negative, nasty things that we know of David’s life, the testimony of the Word of God was that he was “a man after God’s own heart.” Why? It was because David, in spite of his sinfulness and in spite of his unrighteousness, did do the righteous thing of falling before the Father and of confessing his sin. He was a man who knew how to fail forward. Let’s take a look at Jesus Christ. Did Jesus Christ’s life look like a success? He starts his ministry being tossed out of his hometown synagogue and was then led to a hill where they were going to toss him off a cliff. It would have killed him. Jesus was openly ridiculed. He was without any honor in his hometown. He was beaten, flogged, and crucified. He was murdered. He was falsely accused. Remember, the people walked by him saying, “If this be the Son of God, let him come down off that cross.” Even after his death, Jesus was buried in another man’s grave. It does not look too successful to most of us. It did not look successful to them in those days either. Yet in Luke, talking about the road to Emmaus, there is a beautiful record.
Luke 24:25 and 26 (25) He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! (26) Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?”
Did Christ not have to deal with adversity and then succeed? Did Christ not have to suffer defeat and then succeed? Did Christ not know how to fail forward? His death looked like a failure to his followers. It looked like the Devil defeated God, but from God’s perspective, it was the summit of success. Jesus’ death opened wide the door for all mankind’s repentance and permanent redemption. It is what ushered in the greatest thing that God has done for mankind, the Sacred Secret. That is what I call failing forward. God, again, lets it look like He is being defeated, but He fails forward. Let’s consider the life of the Apostle Paul. I love Paul. He is a great inspiration to me. I want this teaching to be an encouragement to you as it has been to me.
2 Corinthians 12:7 To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.
This does not sound too successful.
2 Corinthians 12:8-10 (8) Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. (9) But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. (10) That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
For when I am weak, when I fail, when I am defeated, when I am confronted with adversity, insults, hardships, persecutions, difficulties, weakness, he says, “Then I am strong.” This is a man who knew how to fail forward! I cannot even imagine the suffering that Paul had to endure in his life, yet he was able to pick himself up. What does the Word of God say, “A righteous man though he falls seven times gets up”? Paul was righteous, and all these other people. Think of Job. He lost everything, all the material possessions, his wife, his family, and everything, yet it says that God restored it to him again double. How about the prophets of the Old Testament? Isaiah and Jeremiah, these guys were persecuted. They were pursued. Read the record in Hebrews of the great men and women of faith and all the things that they had to go through. They learned to fail forward. We have got to learn to persevere. We have got to learn to look adversity in the face and use it as a friend. We need to use it to encourage us and use it to inspire us to succeed.
2 Corinthians 6:4 and 5 (4) Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; (5) in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger;
This does not sound too much like a wonderful and abundant life to me.
2 Corinthians 6:6, 9 and 10 (6) in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; (9) known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; (10) sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.
This is a man who has mastered the art of failing forward.
2 Corinthians 11:23-30 (23) Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. (24) Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. (25) Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, (26) I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. (27) I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. (28) Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. (29) Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn? (30) If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.
Wow! Can you imagine? Forty lashes minus one and receiving that five times from the Jews. Three times being beaten with rods, being stoned, and being shipwrecked, this is unbelievable to me, but this is a man whose testimony of his life is a phenomenal success. Never judge your life by isolated situations or instances. Let God write the testimony of your life. Be a righteous person and get up and keep moving. Do you have things that have been unsuccessful in your life? So what, so have I, so have we all! If you have not had them, then you are not living. Let God define success for us. In fact, that is the third point of this teaching. How are we defining success? If you look to the world, you are not going to get a proper definition. Their definition includes wealth, fame, beauty, material goods such as: money, cars, fat paychecks, big bank accounts. Is that how you are defining it? Do you feel defeated because your bank account is not that big? Are you having financial difficulty? Maybe you are not the most handsome or most beautiful woman on the street. Maybe you have a car that is broken down. I am sure that many of us do, but that is not how we need to define success. That is how the world defines it, and do not let the Devil bait you into that trap. Do not misunderstand me. I am not saying that anything is wrong with these things in and of themselves, but it is how we relate to them. It is our perspective about them. A lot is wrong with them, though, if the possession of them or the quantity of them is how you are defining your success. I say this because God says that He has chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise, so we need to examine our definitions. One of the things that always keeps me sharp in this area is reminding myself that discipline does not necessarily feel very successful.
John 15:1 and 2 (1) “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. (2) He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.
I do not imagine that too much is there that feels good about the pruning process. I have been pruned a lot in my life. I know when God is disciplining me, because He disciplines us like a father disciplines his children. I have four daughters, and they are wonderful women, now. They have all been raised, but it was very hard. They did not enjoy discipline, but yet God’s testimony says, “Every branch that bears fruit, he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.” Well, are you feeling pruned? If you are not fruitful, you are not being pruned. That is what he says that every branch that bears fruit is going to be pruned. When you are enduring the pruning process, you have got to learn to fail forward. You have to learn to press through that. Another example of how we define success (something that we need to remember), is that persecution never feels very successful.
Matthew 5:11 Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.
He said, “Blessed are you when people insult you.” Do people insult you? Have people falsely accused you? Do you feel persecution? I am telling you this: the testimony of Jesus Christ is that you are blessed if you are persecuted. Are you being insulted or persecuted or being falsely accused because of him? If that is the source of your persecution, you are pretty blessed. You are a successful person. You need to remember that. I know that sometimes I am accused of things which I really do not have a witness in my heart about and it hurts. It hurts a lot. It feels like eating dirt with gravel and glass in it, but yet the testimony of the Word of God is that if you are walking, serving the Father, walking in His will, pursuing a holy and righteous life style, you are going to be insulted. You are going to be persecuted, and you are going to be falsely accused.
John 15:20 Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.
Is your life showing some signs of persecution? I remember a story that I heard years ago. The dean of a Christian seminary used to bring in all the students and interview them. He brought in a young man one day and asked him how his life was going. The young man said, “Fine! Everything is going great, wonderful.” The dean looked really distressed. The young man said, “Why? What is wrong?” The dean said, “Then you must not being doing something right because if you are really walking with the Lord, you ought to be feeling some heat.” I really believe this is the testimony of Scripture. Do you have some heat coming against you? Do you have some adversity? Are you feeling some defeat? If you are, then you are probably doing the right thing? That is the perspective that you need to have. You need to be able to fail forward. All great achievers are given multiple reasons to believe that they are a failure, but in spite of that they persevere. I would like to move on now and take a look at some of the myths that surround failure. In fact, I call this part of the teaching “Let’s Do A Little Myth Busting.” First myth:
Failure Is Avoidable—that is a myth. Failure is not avoidable. We all fail. You have got to realize that when you fail, when you trip, or when you stumble, it is not the end, and it is not avoidable.
People Think of Failure as an Event. It is not a single event. It is usually a series of bad decisions. I know many times as I am counseling people, and they tell me of the specific instance where they stumbled, but yet as we talk, and you back that process up, we find a series of thought patterns and processes that led to the whole series of events that culminated into the failure (event) that they want to hold on to. It is not an event; it is a series of bad decisions. Just think of the physical world. Years ago a popular hotel had a walk-way (bridge) that collapsed during a large celebration. When they went back and did a failure analysis on it, it was not any single thing that caused the failure of that bridge. The first aspect was that too many people were on the bridge. The second aspect was that all the people were dancing and swaying to the music. The third aspect was that the contractor had shorted some of the material and bolts, in some way. The fourth aspect was that the engineer had not properly calculated all the length and span and load on the bridge. You see, although the failure was an event, what caused the failure was a series of events and not any single thing. Many times when they do failure analysis of physical events, they find that it is not any one thing but rather a series of bad decisions (bad moves) which resulted in that event. I would bet you that many times this is a similar thing in your life. How about, for example, your health? I receive calls from people asking to be ministered to. Someone may be having heart trouble, but the fact is that they have lived a life where they have eaten the wrong foods or smoked cigarettes or lived under stress, and now they want healing for their heart; however, they have sown into bad health situations. It was a series of events that led up to this heart situation.
Failure is Objective Verses Being Subjective. The majority of times failure is subjective. It is a matter of perspective. That is what we have to do, gain the proper perspective, a healthy perspective. Yes, you may have made a mistake, but you can change your perspective about that single event (defeat) so that you can learn from it and move forward. The fact is that I have made many mistakes, but I always tell myself, “Well, at least now I know what not to do.” This is a great perspective; therefore, it was not a failure. It is not a failure because now I know “that did not work,” and now I know not to do that anymore. I change my perspective on it; it is a great place to be.
Failure is an Enemy. We always think of failure as an enemy. We do not want failure to come anywhere near us. I would really like to encourage you to make failure a friend. Not that you want to desire it or to come to you, but the fact is that it is going to come to you. Remember, failure is not avoidable, but when it does come, look at failure as merely feedback. I heard a man a number of years ago say, “I never look at things as failures; I look at it as feedback.” Right? Well, now you know what does not work. You need to tell yourself, “It is not that I am a failure, but that I failed at doing something.” A big difference can be seen between these two.
Failure is Irreversible. Many times we get ourselves stuck in a hole (stuck in a pit). We think that there is no way for us to climb out. Let me tell you something. I was charged with 17 felony counts. I plead guilty to two felonies. I sit here today with no criminal record. That is by God’s mercy and grace. At one time, I did not have any idea of how to get out from underneath that. Also, I had lost a civil lawsuit of wrong things that I had done. I was 5.1 million dollars in debt, but again by God’s mercy and grace, I was able to work out a settlement with the people that I owed the money. I was able to pay them back in a huge way. Today, I am able to work in ministry. When I tell you that I have been a failure, I am not making that up. I have made plenty of mistakes in my life, but by God’s mercy and grace, failure is reversible! It is a myth to think that failure is irreversible. Don’t get me wrong. Consequences do occur for actions, and what you sow, you will reap. We do have a powerful God, and I know that from the record of Scripture—look at the life of David. I have not murdered anybody. I have never done things like that, but yet he was called a “man after God’s own heart.” Moses murdered someone, yet he was called “the friend of God.” He knew God face to face. Failure is reversible, but it is dependent upon you for changing the trajectory of your life. It is dependent upon you to make up your mind to walk holy and godly. You can do that. You can change. You do not have to live in this failure, defeat, or adversity. The power is within your own life.
We Think That Failure is Final. It is not over until it is over. Your life is not over until you stand before the Lord Jesus Christ and he looks you in the face and you hear his testimony of your life. I am looking for the day when I can stand before Jesus Christ, and he says, “Well done brother; come on in buddy, good job.” That is going to be the testimony that I will accept. Until it is over, it is not over. I have made many mistakes, and maybe so have you, but it is not over until it is over. Let us accept the testimony of God and Jesus Christ. Let us change our perspective; let us learn to fail forward.
In the next part of this teaching I would like to review four keys on how you can remove yourself from failure. I think that these are powerful and practical steps. They have worked for me and they have worked for many people. I would like you to just consider them. Key One: When you attempt anything and you find yourself not succeeding and being defeated, examine your expectations. What did you really expect? Were you realistic? Did you expect everything to go perfect? If you expect everything to go perfect, and it did not go perfect—well, all of a sudden that is a source for a lot of pain and thinking that a big defeat has occurred for you. Did you expect to succeed on the first try? That is not realistic. Do you know that George Washington lost five out of the first seven battles in the Revolutionary War? What were his expectations? If he had expected that every time he entered into battle that he was going to win or if he expected everything to be perfect or if he expected to succeed on the first try, we would probably still be answering to the king of England. How many mistakes did you expect to make before you succeeded? Did you allow yourself as you set out to make any mistakes? Who is the other great President that comes to mind if I told you to think of two Presidents, George Washington and who else? Most people would say Abraham Lincoln. Do you realize that Abraham Lincoln failed at almost everything that he had attempted until he was finally elected President; and even then, he was faced with a civil war, the only civil war in our nation’s history? He is one of the top Presidents that we think of and remember. The first thing that I would like for you to do is to examine your expectations. Are you realistic in your expectations? Are you having problems in your marriage? Did you expect everything to go perfect? Are you having problems with your children? Well, was it realistic that you would not have some problems? If you adjust your expectations, it will help you go a long way to learning how to fail forward. I am not saying, “drop your vision” or “lower your expectations.” I am saying to become realistic in your expectations. Key Two: Find new ways of doing your work. Okay, you have done some things, and it did not work. Brainstorm new approaches, and then try some of them. Think of Thomas Edison for example, two thousand tries to make the incandescent light bulb before he succeeded. Do you know what that tells me? It tells me that 1999 times he failed. That is a man who knew how to brainstorm and try new approaches, so find new ways to do your work. Look at the fact that if it does not work, that is a great place to be. You now know what not to do. I think of it as seeing a big wall of ice in front of me and not knowing where to start. I have no idea of how to climb it, so I just take a running stab at it. With my ice-pick, I just slam it into the face of the ice. Well, guess what? At least now, I have a starting place, and from there, I get to move forward. Everything may not be going up. Maybe I will have to move sideways, maybe occasionally move backwards, but keep looking toward the goal of going up. Brainstorm new approaches and then try them. Find new ways of doing your work. Key Three: Focus on your strengths. Maximize your skill and strengths to maximize your efforts. A good friend of mine, Dave DeMars, said years ago that his father or grandfather said to him, “If it does not fit, do not get a bigger hammer.” You see, a lot of time that is what we do. We try something, and it does not work. What do we then do? We get a bigger hammer, and we just keep pounding away at it. You need to learn your strengths. Years ago I remember someone came to me in fellowship and said, “Dan, I believe that I am called as a teacher. I would really like to teach.” I said, “That is great. That is a beautiful desire and a wonderful thing. Why don’t you teach next week at fellowship?” They taught a couple of times. They finally came back to me one day and said, “You know, I have taught a few times, and I am just not getting that my ministry is teaching.” That is a wonderful place to be. How would you have known if you had not tried? You know what you know now? You know that you are not called as a teacher. In the same way, how do you know if you are a prophet? You start to prophecy. You start to speak. You get bold and walk out. How would you know if you are an evangelist? You try to go out and evangelize and start speaking. Maximize your skills, but in order to maximize your skills, you have to learn what those skills are. A number of years ago, John Schoenheit and others had the inspiration for our Teens & Twenties Camp. John and I had lots of conversations about this. John’s focus was on study skills and developing the working of lexicons, concordances, and Greek and Hebrew. One time I was talking to John, and I was just struggling with this, “John, I am not getting this. I do not understand it. All the kids that I know do not seem turned on by the intricacies of the Word of God the way that you are.” He looked at me and said, “Yeah Dan, but you know what. I realize that I have to run a thousand kids through in order to find a few that really want to research the depth of God’s Word the way that I do.” You see, that is a man who understands the principal of failing forward. He does not look at it as 999 kids that do not get that spark like he does. He is looking for that one diamond in the rough. That is failing forward. Learn to maximize your skills and your strengths, and you will maximize your effort. Focus on your strengths. Key Four: Vow to bounce back. No matter how many times you may fall; pick yourself back up. It does not hurt to pick yourself back up. We just get defeated. We get tired. We want to give up, but it is what you do after you get back up that really counts. You know that it is not a matter of try, try, try, and try again. It is a matter of try, learn, adjust, and then try again. Is not there a definition that “insanity is essentially doing the same thing over and over and over and expecting different results”? You have to find new ways to do your work. Focus on your strengths and vow to get back. George Bernard Shaw once said, “A life spent in making mistakes is not only more honorable but more useful than a life spent doing nothing.” Go out and make mistakes. That is honorable because then at least you are trying; you are moving. You have to get yourself moving. It does not matter how long you have been inactive. It does not matter how long that you have been sitting without movement. The only way to break that cycle is to face the fear and take action. Remember the example that it is a lot harder to turn a car or ship that is basically stationary than to turn one that is moving. Get moving. If it is not the right direction, believe God that He will help you to turn the direction to get it right. Failure is an inside job. No matter what happens to you, what is important is what happens in you. That is the lesson of Paul and that is the lesson of Jesus Christ. It is not a matter of what happens to you. A lot of times we have no control over that, but I certainly have control over what is going to happen inside me. It is inside me that I make up my will and my decision to fail forward. A man is not defeated by his opponents. He is defeated by himself. The Danish have a saying, “Life is not simply holding a good hand. Life is learning how to play a poor hand well.” Has life handed you a poor hand? If it has, play it well, and you will learn how to fail forward. Are there areas of your life where you are stuck? Have you been defeated by a setback or failure in an area of your life? I certainly have been. You are not alone. If you are not failing, you are not growing. If you are not making mistakes, I will guarantee you that you are not trying hard enough. You are probably playing it too safe. This teaching is intended to be an encouragement to you. Where have you failed—in relationships, in marriage, with your spouse, with your children, at work, in ministry, in your walk with Christ? Well, it can change in an instant. You need to get up and to get going. You need to make those areas of your life whole by learning to fail forward. We tend to overstate the event and understate the process. Every fulfilled dream occurred because of a dedication to the process. It is the process of failing forward where you will find success. Lord Byron once said, “Adversity is the path to truth.” Have you endured some adversity or is everything going easily for you? Again, if you are not experiencing some failures or some defeats, you are probably not growing, and you are probably playing it too safe. To achieve your dreams, you must learn to embrace adversity. You see, it is through adversity that we are able to develop maturity. Adversity creates resilience. Adversity pushes the envelope of accepted performance. Adversity provides greater opportunities. It is adversity that prompts innovation. If it was not for adversity, we would keep doing everything the same way that we have always done it. It is adversity that prompts innovation. Through adversity, we can reap unexpected results and then use the adversity to motivate us and not to defeat us. Failure is the price that we must pay for success.
Romans 8:34 and 35 (34) Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died– more than that, who was raised to life– is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. (35) Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?
Are you experiencing any trouble in your life? Are you experiencing any hardship? Have you endured any persecution? I doubt that many of us have endured famine, nakedness, danger, or sword, but I know there are plenty of Christians around the world that this verse speaks directly to.
Romans 8:36 and 37 (36) As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” (37) No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.
We are more than conquerors! That is not just words on a page. That is the Word of God. We are more than conquerors! We can learn to fail forward.
Romans 8:38 and 39 (38) For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, (39) neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 9:1 I speak the truth in Christ– I am not lying, my conscience confirms it in the Holy Spirit–
Have you been defeated? Are you being defeated? Well, you are not alone. I have been there. I know what it is like to endure demonic wickedness. I know what it is like to endure shame. I have been through guilt. I have suffered through insecurities. I have been handed lots of tragedies and lots of defeats, but please join with me, and let us learn to draw dividends from defeat. Let us learn to fail forward. That is what God wants us to do. That is the record of Scripture. God bless you, and let us fail forward together!