Dealing Redemptively With Your Failures

Bible Book: Joshua  7 : 5-6
Subject: Failure, How To Overcome

Unfortunately, we all experience failure from time to time. Of course, not every so-called failure is actual failure--but at the same time, real failures do occur in all of our lives. James 3:2 (NIV) says, “We all stumble in many ways....” Some have a much better batting average than others--but man, at his best, fails now and then. Sometimes we fail in our work, or at home, or in school, or socially--and sometimes morally and spiritually.

But what I want to speak about tonight is how to deal redemptively with our failures. (Although “redemptively” may not be in the dictionary, it seems to me to be the appropriate term--so I guess I’m creating an adverb!) We can get some powerful help from Joshua, chapters 7 and 8.

Joshua and his army, confident from having decisively defeated the city of Jericho, decided to go up and do battle against the people of Ai, a little city located not far away. However, to their utter surprise and consternation, they woefully failed in that attempt. They were soundly defeated by the army of Ai. In Joshua 7:5-6 we read:

“And the men of Ai smote of them about thirty and six men: for they chased them from before the gate even unto Shebarim, and smote them in the going down: wherefore the hearts of the people melted, and became as water. And Joshua rent his clothes, and fell to the earth upon his face before the ark of the Lord until the eventide, he and the elders of Israel, and put dust upon their heads.”

They were in bad shape. They had been beaten and humiliated. Yet they dealt with their failure redemptively--and you and I can do the same. Let’s see how they did it.

I.                Failure Need Not Be Final

First of all, God reminded them that FAILURE NEED NOT BE FINAL. Look at Joshua 8:1: “And the Lord said unto Joshua, Fear not, neither be thou dismayed: take all the people of war with thee, and arise, go up to Ai: see, I have given into thy hand the king of Ai, and his people, and his city, and his land.“ God said, “The first time you didn’t get the job done-but this time you’re going to succeed. The first time you failed--but failure need not be final.”

Sometimes we fail in a particular endeavor because that was not the thing we should have attempted, to start with--and often God uses a failure of that sort to steer us in an entirely different direction, where we can find success. Many such examples could be given--I’ll give just one.

When I was the Academic Dean of Hannibal-LaGrange College (now University) there was a young woman who enrolled in our Nursing program. She was probably in her late 30s, very sharp, and enthusiastic about being a nurse. Her instructors bent over backwards to try to help her, but although she was very intelligent she simply didn’t have the “knack” for that type of work, and regretfully the nursing faculty had to dismiss her from that program. However, she did show an aptitude for teaching, so instead of sitting around moaning and groaning she enrolled in the Teacher Education program. She finished with flying colors and became one of the outstanding elementary school teachers in the area. She found from experience that failure need not be final.

However, sometimes even when we are “on the right road” we fail. But if that has happened to you, I want to encourage you not to give up. Don’t throw in the towel. Don’t give in to despair--because however miserably you might have failed, there is still hope for success. Failure need not be final. You may have burned certain specific bridges, so that the book has to be closed on those specific situations--but the point is, the next time around as you deal with a similar situation you can prevail. Failure need not be final.

Many Bible characters, such as Abraham, John Mark, and Simon Peter failed, but later succeeded--and you can do the same.

In the 1800s a young man in Illinois ran for the state legislature, and was badly swamped. He next entered business, failed, and spent seventeen years of his life paying off the debts of his unethical partner. He was in love with a beautiful young woman and became engaged to her--and then she died. Later he married a woman who was a constant burden to him, but he was faithful to her. Entering politics again, he ran for Congress, and again was badly defeated. He then tried to get an appointment to the United States Land Office staff, but failed. He became a candidate for the United States Senate, and was soundly defeated. In 1856 he became a candidate for the Vice Presidency but was defeated by Frederick Douglass. One failure after another--many of them major setbacks. Yet he kept on keeping on, believing that failure need not be final--and as we all know, that man, Abraham Lincoln, in 1860 became the 16th President of this United States, and his memory is revered by people the world over.

II.              The Essentials For Moving From Failure To Victory

But not only did God remind Joshua and the Israelites that failure need not be final; God also showed them THE ESSENTIALS FOR MOVING FROM FAILURE TO VICTORY--and what worked for them will also work for you and me. How do you move from failure to victory?

A. Get Rid of the Sin in the Camp

Let’s look at the first essential. Following the defeat at Ai, Joshua fell on his face before God in despair. But in Joshua 7:10-11 we read: “And the Lord said unto Joshua, Get thee up; wherefore liest thou thus upon thy face? Israel hath sinned....” In verse 12 God said, “Therefore the children of Israel could not stand before their enemies, but turned their backs....” Then in verse 13 God said, “Up, sanctify the people, and say, Sanctify yourselves against tomorrow: for thus saith the Lord God of Israel, There is an accursed thing in the midst of thee, O Israel: thou canst not stand before thine enemies, until ye take away the accursed thing from before you.”

In the remainder of chapter 7 we learn that they found the culprit. A soldier named Achan had stolen and hidden some forbidden items from the Jericho battle site, and his family had aided and abetted him. Because Achan and his family had contaminated the whole camp of Israel, had caused a crushing defeat to his nation, and had caused the death of 36 soldiers, God commanded that capital punishment be administered. Once that sentence was carried out, thus removing the stain from their midst, Joshua and his people were clean and ready to make a new beginning.

So, the first step in moving from defeat to victory is to GET RID OF THE SIN IN THE CAMP.

Not every failure in life is traceable to sin, certainly--but often sin is the cause, or at least one of the causes. In this instance Achan was the culprit--but often, when sin is a factor in our failure, we, ourselves, are the culprit--and so we should always start by searching our own hearts. 2 Corinthians 13:5 begins with these words: “Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves....” In Isaiah 59:1-2 we read: “Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear: But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear.” The inspired writer of Psalm 31:10 acknowledged, “ strength faileth because of mine iniquity....”

If you’ve never been converted, you need to repent and by faith receive Christ as Lord and Savior. In John 3:18 Jesus said, “He that believeth on him is no condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”

If you’re already saved but have gotten off the track of God’s will, you need to come honestly before the throne of grace and ask God’s forgiveness for your waywardness. Then you can claim the grand promise of Psalm 103:12: “As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us.”

Over and over the Bible makes it clear that in order to be victorious in life’s battles, God’s soldiers have to be clean. 2 Timothy 2:4 says, “No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who has chosen him to be a soldier.” In one of Tennyson’s poems, Sir Galahad speaks these words:

“My good blade carves the casques of men, My tough lance thrusteth sure,

My strength is as the strength of ten, Because my heart is pure.”

So, that’s the first essential in dealing redemptively with our failures--we need to examine our hearts, to be sure that we’ve faced up to any sin in our lives that might have caused or contributed to our failure. Lamentations 3:40 says: “Let us search and try our ways, and turn again to the Lord”--and here is the wonderful promise of Isaiah 1:18: “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.”

B. Learn from your Failures

There is a second essential for moving from defeat to victory, closely related to what we’ve already noted. As we have seen, God pointed out to Joshua why he and his army had failed--and it is crystal clear that Joshua took to heart what God showed him. In other words, Joshua and his people learned from their failure--it is obvious that they did, because the next time they marched against the city of Ai they were victorious.

We are reminded by their experience that it is God’s will that you should LEARN FROM YOUR FAILURES--and that I should learn from mine.

Historians tell us that Thomas Edison, in his efforts to make a workable light bulb, tried unsuccessfully 700 times. His response was, “Well, now I know 700 ways not to do it.” He learned from his failures. In 1879 he learned that by inserting a “carbonized cotton fiber,” a thread, into an oxygen-free tube, that filament would glow--but not for long. Eventually he discovered that the secret was in creating a vacuum within the glass bulb and using a tungsten filament rather than cotton. He learned from his failures.

David Cawson tells a story that many are familiar with, but it will bear repeating. At Laney High School in Wilmington, North Carolina, in 1978 there was a 15-year old boy who yearned to be on the school’s varsity basketball team, but he didn’t “make the grade.” Evidently he simply didn’t demonstrate the necessary skills. For one thing, he had a poor shot and had a hard time hitting the basket. No one was surprised that he didn’t make the team. But what did surprise folks was the way that boy responded. Instead of sulking, or giving up, he set out to correct his mistakes and to develop the skills he needed. He spent endless hours in the gym, often by himself--day after day, month after month. Finally Michael Jordan became one of the greatest basketball players the world has ever seen. He finally succeeded because he determined to learn from his failures on the court.

We can also learn from our failures in the moral and spiritual realm. In 1 Timothy 1:18-20 Paul wrote to his young protege:

“This charge I commit unto thee, son Timothy, according to the prophecies which went before on thee, that thou by them mightest war a good warfare; Holding faith, and a good conscience; which some having put away concerning faith have made shipwreck: Of whom is Hymenaeus and Alexander; whom I have delivered unto Satan, that they may learn not to blaspheme.

Edgar A. Guest wrote:

One broken dream is not the end of dreaming,

One shattered hope is not the end of all;

Beyond the storm and tempest stars are gleaming,

Still plan your castles though your castles fall.

Though many dreams come tumbling in disaster,

Though pain and heartache meet you down the years,

Still cling to faith, your secret fears still master,

And strive to learn a lesson from your tears.

C. Follow God’s Instructions

There is a third factor in turning failure into success--and this also is closely related to what has already been said--but it deserves separate mention, and here it is: IN YOUR NEXT ATTEMPT, FOLLOW GOD’S INSTRUCTIONS. In their first campaign against Ai, there is no indication whatsoever that Joshua and his people sought God’s guidance. Maybe they were so “pumped up” from their victory over Jericho that they were overconfident. At any rate, it appears that they set out strictly on their own--and the result was disastrous.

But now, this time around, Joshua knows better than to charge off like gangbusters without seeking divine guidance. This time he waits on the Lord, and listens as God speaks. As we read earlier, in Joshua 8:2 the Lord said to Joshua: “And thou shalt do to Ai and her king as thou didst unto Jericho and her king: only the spoil thereof, and the cattle thereof, shall ye take for a prey unto yourselves: lay thee an ambush for the city behind it.”

In the next several verses God elaborated on those instructions. He gave them the details as to how many soldiers were to be in different locations, and when and how they were to implement the various parts of his plan--and Joshua and his troops carried out those instructions to the letter--and bear in mind that this was not a slaughter of innocent people, but the judgment of God upon an evil, depraved society that had long resisted his grace and truth. In verses 26-27 we read:

“For Joshua drew not his hand back, wherewith he stretched out the spear, until he had utterly destroyed all the inhabitants of Ai. Only the cattle and the spoil of that city Israel took for a prey unto themselves, according unto the word of the Lord which he commanded Joshua.”

So, Joshua and his soldiers had failed previously--but this time, as they faithfully followed God’s instructions they won the victory. In like manner, if you and I would win where previously we have failed, we must seek and carefully follow God’s instructions.

Where do we find those instructions? In the Bible, through prayer, and sometimes through the counsel of some Godly person whom God places in our path. Sometimes God will cause circumstances to converge so as to indicate his will. Sometimes he uses a combination of all these things. But if we seek his will with deep earnestness, he will reveal it.

D.  Give it all You’ve Got

Let me call attention to a fourth essential for dealing redemptively with our failures. Having confessed any sin that was involved in your failure, and having learned from your failures, and having sought and found God’s guidance--this time GIVE IT ALL YOU’VE GOT.

Do you remember what happened the first time Joshua and his troops set out to conquer Ai? Let’s go back to the record of that first attempt. Joshua 7:2-3 says:

“And Joshua sent men from Jericho to Ai, which is beside Bethaven, on the east side of
Bethel, and spake unto them, saying, Go up and view the country. And the men went up and viewed Ai. And they returned unto Joshua, and said unto him, Let not all the people go up; but let about two or three thousand men go up and smite Ai; and make not all the people to labor thither; for they are but few.”

And Joshua--apparently without checking signals with the Lord--followed the advice of his scouts. They all thought Ai would be a “pushover” and wasn’t deserving of an all-out effort, so they sent only a small fighting force--and, as we’ve seen, defeat was the result. Joshua and his soldiers were driven back and fled in disarray.

But now, as they prepared for their second attempt to conquer Ai, God said, in Joshua 8:1, “...take all the people of war with thee....” In other words, God was saying, “This time give it all you’ve got.” So it is with you and me--if we would move from failure to victory, we, too, must pour our all into whatever God leads us to attempt. In Ecclesiastes 9:10 we read: “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might....” Colossians 3:23 says, “And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men.”

After a concert by the famed violinist, Fritz Kreisler, a fan rushed up to Kreisler and said, “I’d give my whole life to play like that.” Kreisler replied, “I did.”

William Booth was the founder of the Salvation Army, and was mightily used of God to reach multitudes of the down-and-out of London for Christ. In 1909, when Booth was 80 years of age, American evangelist J. Wilbur Chapman asked him the secret of his success. Dr. Chapman, telling later of that conversation with William Booth, said this:

“He hesitated a second, and I saw tears come into his eyes and steal down his cheeks, and then he said, “I will tell you the secret. God has had all there was of me. There have been men with greater brains than I, men with greater opportunities; but from the day I got the poor of London on my heart, and a vision of what Jesus Christ could do with the poor of London, I made up my mind that God would have all of William Booth there was. And if there is anything of power in the Salvation Army today, it is because God has all the adoration of my heart, all the power of my will, and all the influence of my life.”

Dr. Chapman said that he went away from that meeting with William Booth knowing “that the greatness of a man’s power is the measure of his surrender.”

He was exactly on target. So, no matter how far we’ve fallen, no matter how bloody we are from the battle, no matter the enormity of our failure, we can--by the grace of God--move from failure to victory, if we’ll go about it God’s way--that is, if we’ll surrender ourselves unreservedly to Christ and then follow the same steps that Joshua followed in dealing with his defeat. That’s how to deal redemptively with your failures.