WE LIVE IN A WORLD obsessed with success. We all want to know who is the richest person (because the accumulation of wealth is an indicator of success), the youngest person who attained a PhD, the winners of Wimbledon or the Golf Masters and the top schools in the country. And success is attractive. We want to associate ourselves with winners and not with losers. We seem to think that maybe success attracts more success.
So when I was asked by my pastor to preach recently on the topic of failure, I was both intrigued and delighted. I was intrigued because the topic of failure was part of a month-long series of sermons focusing on how to grow through hardship, and it too was part of my church’s broader theme for the year which was “Lord, Be Glorified In Me”. It seemed to beg the question, can my failures glorify God?
My delight was because I believe I am more of an authority on failure than I am on the topic of success. I cannot speak convincingly on how to be successful as my “track record” bears scant evidence of it. Also, the people that I spend the most time with, my counselling clients, come to see me because of some recent failure in their personal or interpersonal lives.
As with all good sermons preached in a Methodist church, I *RG·V *UDFH DQG ‘V tried hard to come up with an acronym for the points I wanted to convey. I finally came up, not with a word, but with a sound. It is the primal cry of agony when we encounter a failure, which is “AARGH!”
The first letter A stands for acceptance. Some failures and setbacks come as a consequence of our own folly or inaction. The Bible gives us the lesson in Proverbs 24:30-34 of a lazy person who let thorns and weeds overtake his fields which in turn resulted in a life of poverty. In such instance, we are to accept responsibility for our own folly and take the necessary corrective steps.
But what happens when failure is caused by others? Thousands of depositors in Cyprus are facing financial failure which is not of their own doing. Here, too, the point of acceptance is valid. How many of us know of individuals who are unable to accept the terrible hand life has dealt us with? They remain trapped in their denial and bitterness for years, unable to move on.
The second letter A is for acknowledgement that in spite of bad outcomes, God is still in control. Habakkuk 3:17-19 speaks of how the prophet still rejoices even though all around him is desolation. The prophet rejoices not because he is glad that his crops have failed, but in the knowledge that his God can redeem him. This rejoicing can be all the more certain when we remember in Job 12:10 that “in His hand is … the breath of all mankind”.
This brings me to the letter R which stands for reliance on God’s grace and provision. Romans 8:37 tells us that our victory is assured when we rely on Him.
The letter G is a prompt for us to go to God for His miraculous strength – either to overcome the hardship or to endure the hardship. We often have a one-sided or egocentric view of success, and want success in our terms. But success may be finding the strength to live each day with depression, or caring for a family member with dementia.
Lastly, when we rely and go to God for strength, we can use the word beginning with the letter H which is “Hallelujah”. It is to let out a shout of praise not anguish. This rejoicing is in the same vein as what the Apostle Paul said of boasting about his weaknesses and failures so that he could testify all the more of God’s strength.
In fact, in 2 Corinthians chapters 10-12, the Apostle Paul literally displays all of his setbacks. I suggest that this is a good way to begin glorifying God in spite of our failures. As an exercise, it may be good to list and reflect on our shortfalls. The process both humbles us and at the same time reminds us of God’s rich provisions.
As Christians, we need not remain embarrassed or ashamed of our failures. We have a God who cares about our failures and is more than sufficient for our setbacks. Indeed, I believe He is a God who is just as concerned about how we fail and move on from there, as He is about how we succeed. So the next time you fail and cry out “AARGH!”, remember this experience can have a whole new meaning.
Benny Bong is a member of Kampong Kapor Methodist Church, is a family and marital therapist.