By Dr. Rhansyl Harris
It was the Cincinnati poet Nikki Giovanni who said, “I really don’t think life is about the ‘I-could-have-beens.’ Life is only about the ‘I-tried-to-do.’ I don’t mind the failure, but I can’t imagine that I’d forgive myself if I didn’t try.”
Failure of any kind is unavoidable, unpredictable, unpreventable, and, let’s be honest, uncomfortable. For those of us who miss the mark most of the time, our discomfort arrives when we have to face ourselves in the mirror. It comes when we receive compliments from accomplishments and accolades for our abilities. We know better.
When Circumstances Happen
When I was in school working on my doctorate, I knew that my project, when implemented, could help so many Christians. I sacrificed time away from my wife and two small children. I did a great deal of traveling in order to get the proper research needed for excellent work. I spent a ton of money hiring a well-known editor. I didn’t mind doing all of this because I knew that I had an amazing dissertation. Finally, after years of study and research, I stood before the exam committee to defend my dissertation with the utmost pride and joy. However, to my dismay, I failed the exam.
I could not have been more humiliated. To add insult to injury, I had to leave the room and walk through the main lobby where over 120 people, including many that I had recruited into the program, were asking me the question, “Did you pass?”
I remember going to my room to cry myself to sleep. I felt as if I failed my family, friends, mentors, and myself! I felt like the biggest loser. I remember my wife calling to encourage me that it was not the end of my journey. She told me to get up and do what it takes to get what I came for. I eventually passed it a few months later, but it took about a year to heal. It should not have taken that long. But I thought that I was invincible and could not fail; after all I am blessed and highly favored by God.
It is erroneous and immature to think that we are so engulfed in the Word of God that trouble won’t come our way. We can have salvation down to the bone and be sanctified to the marrow, but the reality is, we are not perfect people and we will fail at something.
I know what you must be saying: “I am not supposed to fail because I am a child of God. I was baptized, I trained my children to recite the 23rd Psalm by memory, and everyone in my church loves my jovial personality! Why do I keep missing the mark? What is wrong with me?” You are not by yourself my friend. We all have failed, whether it was in our finances, in our family, or in our faith. This is why the Bible is so relevant because it is heavily seasoned with people like you and me who loved God and grew in their relationship with him and yet failed on their journeys miserably.
When Sin Happens
Sometimes failure is out of our hands—we have no control over the situation. But sometimes we fail because we have made sinful choices. Is there still hope for us then?
Adam and Eve failed in their faith when they disobeyed God in the garden. Then there’s Abraham and Sarah, who decided to manufacture the promise of God by allowing Hagar to have their baby rather than waiting on God’s plan to manifest. What about Jacob and his mother, Rebekah? They were the ones who devised a plan for Jacob to steal the birthright from Esau with a bowl of chili. Oh! There’s Solomon who was wise but unwise with his desire for ungodly women. Moses needed anger management classes. Jeremiah could not stop crying. Peter denied Jesus before the rooster could cock a doodle doo.
The list goes on and on and on of those who loved God yet still missed the mark just as we do. However, God still used them all to do mighty acts. Did you notice that God looked beyond their guilt and strengthened their gifts? Did you notice that God is doing the same miracles for you and me today?
I submit to you that failure does not end your story. Zig Ziglar says that “failure is a detour, not a dead-end street.” Your life is not over because you messed up! It’s over when you give up trying, shut down, close yourself from the world. God’s love is so amazing that when we fall, his love will pick us up, dust us off, restore our joy, and place us on course to continue in the work that he has for us.
Paul, one who knew about falling morally but getting back up again, in his mighty missive to the Romans, took 10 of 16 chapters to prove to the readers that, through faith, there is life after failure. In the first three chapters he proved that everyone has and will fall short and miss the mark. He went on to show the ineffectiveness of the law (chapter 4) as it pertained to salvation and deliverance from the war within. Salvation comes by faith through the grace of God. We say that we walk by faith, but our actions show that we favor being under the law. When we fall, instead of repenting and rejoicing over being justified by faith, we set up camp in the city of guilt and shame.
Paul, the writer for 13 epistles, went further by giving us a glimpse of this war that even he dealt with (Romans 7). He said, “The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God’s commands, but it’s pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge. I’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me?” (vv. 21-24, The Message).
This expert of the law, Paul, laments of continuously falling and desiring to dabble in a lifestyle that was not approved by God. This troubled tone was not enough give me hope. However, I put aside despair when Paul opened chapter 8 with this chain-breaking announcement: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and of death.”
I want to encourage you, my sisters and my brothers, that God loves us, flaws and all. We will not be perfect, and failure will occur. Yet let us delight in the Lord and in the power of his might. Let us not make our focus on our guilt but on the goodness of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
We have victory over our failure.
Dr. Rhansyl Harris is the Lead Pastor of The Rock Church in Cincinnati, Ohio, and adjunct instructor at Cincinnati Christian University.