Failure: Never Forever

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It is well known that for 28 years Abraham Lincoln experienced one failure after another. In 1833 he had a nervous breakdown. When he ran for speaker in 1838 he was defeated. In 1848 he lost re-nomination to Congress and was rejected for land officer in 1849. These failures didn't stop him from battling on. In 1854 he was defeated for the Senate. Two years later he lost the nomination for vice-president and was again defeated for the Senate in 1858. Yet, despite it all, in 1860 he was elected president and went down in history as one of America's greatest presidents.

Obviously, success isn't the absence of failure. It is having the determination to never quit because "quitters never win and winners never quit."

Almost every person who has achieved anything worthwhile with his or her life has not only experienced failure but experienced it many times. Lincoln experienced innumerable failures, but he was never a failure because he never gave up.

Walt Disney was the same. He went broke several times and had a nervous breakdown before he became successful.

Enrico Caruso failed so many times with his high notes that his voice teacher advised him to give up. He didn't. Instead, he persevered and became one of the world's greatest tenors.

Albert Einstein and Werner von Braun both failed courses in math. Henry Ford was broke when he was 40. Thomas Edison's school teacher called him a dunce, and later he failed over 6,000 times before he perfected the first electric light bulb.

Failure is an event, not a person.

Demosthenes, the famous Greek orator, failed before he became famous. His father died when he was only seven, leaving him a wealthy estate. At age eighteen, through public debate, he sought to claim his estate from his dishonest guardian. Unfortunately, not only was he shy and retiring, but he also had a speech impediment which caused him to fail in trying to prove his right of ownership.

Without doubt this failure provided the motivation that gave him the determination to persevere until he became the most famous political orator in antiquity. Nobody knows who received his estate but 2,300 years later students still know about Demosthenes.

No matter how badly or how many times a person fails, he is never a failure providing he gets up just one more time than he falls down. Furthermore, like a high jumper, one never discovers his full potential until he reaches his point of failure. As one person said, "Low aim, not failure, is crime." Remember, too that failure is an event, not a person.

It is actually the fear of failure, not failure itself, that cripples people. As Baudjuin once said, "No matter now hard you work for success, if your thought is saturated with the fear of failure, it will kill your efforts, neutralize your endeavor,and make success impossible."

Lincoln, who hated slavery, overcame his many failures to eventually abolish slavery because he had determination, a noble cause to believe in and live for, and the courage to fight for that cause regardless of failures and setbacks. A cause to live for doesn't have to be as mighty as Lincoln's, but does need to be meaningful. Everybody needs something bigger than himself to live for.

It is the fear of failure, not failure, that cripples people.

Rather than having no goal, it is, as it has been wisely said, "far better to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered with failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat."

It is interesting to know that Lincoln was also a very unhappy and melancholy man. His first sweetheart died before he was able to marry her. And his marriage to Mary Todd would have been enough to destroy any man with less courage and determination than Lincoln. However, historians agree that had Lincoln been happily married, he would never have become president. Out of his failure and unhappiness in marriage he was able to give his life to a great and worthwhile cause.

John Wesley, the father of the Methodist church, was another man whose marriage was a failure. He, too, was able to rise above his circumstances to build a work that has helped millions of people around the world.

The Apostle Paul was another person with a determination to win. His goal was to proclaim God's message of love and hope to all people. As a result he was thrown into jail several times, and faced death again and again. Five times he was whipped by the Jews and three times he was beaten with rods. Once he was stoned, three times shipwrecked. He faced grave dangers from robbers and mobs. He lived with weariness, pain and sleepless nights. He was often hungry and cold and was criticized for his less-than-perfect looks and speech. But did Paul ever feel that he was a failure or that God had forsaken him? Never!

Unwaveringly he kept his eye on his goal.1 The problems, setbacks and failures along the way strengthened him for the journey. Paul's attitude was: "It is God himself, in his mercy, who has given us this wonderful work [of telling his Good News to others], and so we never give up."2

For those who trust in God, failure is never forever.

Perhaps there is no greater way to overcome feelings of failure than to know what God wants you to do with your life. He wants you to achieve something worthwhile S not necessarily spectacular. When you are living in harmony with God's will, you can know that you have God on your side and that he will give you the faith, courage, and determination to go on.

As God said to Joshua, "Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go."3

As far as following God was concerned, Jonah failed hopelessly. He defiantly did the opposite of what he knew he was supposed to do. But did God reject him? No. God allowed him to experience failure. This brought him to his senses. When he was ready to listen, "the Word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time."4

And so it is with us. No matter how many times we feel we've failed, God will continue to call us to himself.

If you feel you have failed, be encouraged. Now's the time to give God a chance. "He'll mend even a broken heart if you'll give him all the pieces." God calls us all to follow him, so why not respond to his call and, if you haven't already done so, ask him to come into your life as Lord and Savior? He can make a much better job of your life than you can if you will trust it to him.

For those who trust in God, failure is never forever.

1. Philippians 3:14. 2. 2 Corinthians 4:1, TLB. 3. Joshua 1:9, NIV. 4. Jonah 3:1, NIV.
Copyright 2001 by Dick Innes

2002 ACTS International. Used by permission.