The Purpose of Failure

You try to be productive and focus. But a flood of thoughts come and your mind becomes a messy haze. It is hard to focus on any particular point. It is a moment when you have been told you have monumentally messed up and are going to lose something of immense value in your life, something similar to your job. Or a moment where your decision making reveals your lack of ethics.

You wrack your mind, asking how and why you came to a place where you went wrong. You consider every possible extreme scenario that could end up hurting you.

You wonder, “Why me? Why did I have to go and mess up so badly? Things could have been so much different for me if only I had made better decisions.” Or some version of that.

I was considering the purpose and impact of failure in the course of our lives. Why do we fail? Why does God allow us to go through seasons of failure and lack of success/progress?

I have been through such experiences to realize that failure and the lessons that arise from it can be the driving force to your success.

After down moments in life such as these, I’ve found it incredibly easy to hide in a corner and increasingly desire to be invisible and alone in your mire of despair.

But in hindsight alone is it discovered that the path to your God-intended purpose included this very troublesome but necessary step. The deep anxiety faced in your current struggle and the ability to overcome that arises are the very forces that ultimately propel you to your final purpose.

If you are in that place of failure and doubt about your future, don’t stay there. Move forward; stay focused and don’t let your past hold you back.

In the words of writer and theologian C.S. Lewis, “Failures, repeated failures, are finger posts on the road to achievement. One fails forward toward success.”

Moving Out of the Wilderness

23 “But he brought us out from there to bring us in and give us the land he promised on oath to our ancestors.” (NIV) – Deuteronomy 6:23

These are the words of Moses in an address to the people of Israel. In this specific section, Moses is describing a future conversation where an Israelite father answers this question from his son: “What is the meaning of the stipulations, decrees and laws the Lord our God has commanded you?” (v. 20, NIV).

In a future where the people of Israel would reflect on the path God led them down, Moses thought it important for a Jewish parent to remind their young son that God had indeed led them out of slavery in Egypt and on the path to the Promised Land.

Their path to the Promised Land led them through several wildernesses. There is immense significance in these places the Jews walked through and how we relate to these times today.

In their exodus from Egypt, the Israelites traversed the following wildernesses: Shur (Ex 15:22), Etham (Nm 33:8), Sin (Ex 16:1), Sinai (Ex 19:1, 2), Zin (Nm 13:21; 20:1), Paran (Nm 13:26), Kadesh (Ps 29:8), Moab (Dt 2:8), and Kedemoth (Dt 2:26).*1

Job refers to the wilderness as “a land where no man is” (38:26), it is a place for various animals and birds, such as wild donkeys, jackals, vultures, and owls (Ps 102:6; Jer 2:24; Is 13:22; 34:13–15).*2

It is basically described as a wild place, unfit for permanent settlement. Nobody would wake up one day and say, I want to spend time in a wilderness, or I want to spend time in a place where you can’t even farm and survive.

Yet as believers, many of us tend to be in such places for seasons and moments of our lives. And we often get stuck there without an idea of how to get out.

For many, this looks like coming to church meetings but having no true spiritual thirst or drive to pursue God on a deeper level. It may even involve serving in many capacities in a church setting, but really having no true passion to pursue Him. On some level, it may look like a general apathy toward your faith and spiritual growth. And you have to ask and be certain of the answer to this question: Is your faith on fire for God? Or are you stuck in a wilderness of apathy? And further, if you are in a state of apathy, is it a matter of urgency to get out of it?

There are many thoughts on getting out of a spiritually dry season but I’d like to point out a few key points:

RETURN TO YOUR FIRST LOVE

In his words to the church at Ephesus, John commends the believers for their endurance in the faith but gives them a warning as well: “Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first” (Revelation 2:4-5, NIV). 

Was there a moment in your life when your faith was active and passionate? That you would give anything to be in the presence of God and to serve? Is that the same for you now? Has your love for Jesus grown stronger or have you grown more complacent? Return to those passionate times of faith and loving Jesus.

This requires an intentionality and discipline on your part. But know there is a spiritual battle for your soul, and you have to fight, submitting yourself to God and fighting from a place of victory through Christ’s death on the cross. Remember, it is not about you in the end. You are part of God’s master plan; we all have a part to play and role in this battle.

DON’T GIVE UP

A lot of things may change through different seasons of life, but some things are unchangeable: God is your Father, and you are His child. This same God who created the entire universe, knows you and loves you. So even if you feel spiritually dry and disconnected, God desires you to return to him and sees you as His son or daughter.

Craig Sager, the beloved sports sideline reporter who passed away in 2016, discussed his passion and perseverance even in a trying time as he was dealing with cancer treatments. When he accepted the Jimmy V Perseverance Award, he said, “I will continue to keep fighting sucking the marrow out of life as life sucks the marrow out of me. I will live my life full of love and full of fun. It’s the only way I know how.”

It is easy to get so caught up in your struggles and doubts that you don’t feel like you want to live with passion when troubles come your way, but the words of Jesus ring   true and provide encouragement in those moments: “In this world you will have   trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33, NIV).

Lastly, let us take advantage of every moment we have to live, per the words of Sager:

“Time is something that cannot be bought, it cannot be wagered with God, it’s not in          endless supply. Time is simply how your live your life,” he said. “The way you think            influences the way you feel, and the way you feel determines how you act.”

  1. Elwell, W. A., & Beitzel, B. J. (1988). Wilderness. In Baker encyclopedia of the Bible (Vol. 2, p. 2141). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.
  2. Elwell, W. A., & Beitzel, B. J. (1988). Wilderness. In Baker encyclopedia of the Bible (Vol. 2, p. 2141). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.

The Power of Rejection

Rummaging through old items in my room today, I came across a number of things that evoked memories of different moments of my life; among those are the following: a letter I received from then-President Bill Clinton in 2000, a handwritten copy of the Ten Commandments I used likely once when reciting them at a youth meeting, a thank you card I received from the UCO president while I was a journalist there.

But there are 2 items in particular that stand out that have special meaning, one that speaks of the power of failure/rejection and another that speaks of the grace of  God. The second item will be my next posting.

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I have in my position a letter I received years ago. I was in college at the time and not living at home, so I did not get the letter until I came home one weekend. And upon arriving home I saw this letter waiting for me. I saw that it was from the company I had applied to and immediately hope built inside of me.

The excitement of possibly starting a new position in this great company was rising inside me. The rush of going to work there the first day, settling into my desk, became the overwhelming thought of the day. That position was a role that involved a lot of movement and interaction with senior staff, and the thought was exciting to say the least. But before I could go further, I had to open the letter, just to be sure.

Inside the envelope was a brief letter informing me that the position I had applied for had been filled. My immediate reaction was one of utter disappointment, but it was my next reaction that was more significant. In the emotion of the moment, I considered how ridiculous it was for me to think I was qualified for that position. What audacity did I have to think I was capable for that job?

As these thoughts were going on inside my head, I realized I had to decide what to do with the letter, and I basically had two options: throw it away, or keep it. In that moment, I made a surprising decision (upon reflection) and decided to keep it.

Till this day and into the future, I will refer to that letter of rejection to serve as a token of the many failures that led me to the place of ultimate success God leads me to. When I see that letter, I am reminded of all the failures and rejections of my life thus far and how they all played a part as to where I am today.

I was not selected for that job, but because of not getting that job I gained other valuable experiences that helped shape who I am today. EVERY experience you endure in your life shapes who you are and become. Your greatest failures and rejections are opportunities for growth and development that you would never get otherwise. 

In the words of American poet and author Maya Angelou, “You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.” 

You may want something so bad, a dream you want oh so badly to be fulfilled, but it may not happen in the timing and season you would prefer. When that occurs, what is your next reaction? For most of us, it is frustation, fear of the next step.

But for the redeemed child of God, there is but one source of hope, as expressed by the writers of Psalm 42 (v. 11, NIV84):

“Why are you downcast, O my soul?
    Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
    for I will yet praise him,
    my Savior and my God.”

—-

My disappointment from that rejection letter is the same as it was on that day, but the strength I gained from dealing with that rejection only made me stronger in subsequent rejections. The power of reflecting on those failures when great successes do occur is important to understand. It is important to recall from where you came and what experiences shaped you on your journey to success. Every rejection I endure is part of a journey to the great success God has in store for me. But I must wait patiently for that moment, and in the meantime, dwell on the words of the prophet Habakkuk (3:17-19, NIV84):

“Though the fig tree does not bud
    and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
    and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
    and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
    I will be joyful in God my Savior.
The Sovereign Lord is my strength;
 he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, 
he enables me to go on the heights.”

Trusting in God or yourself?

Many of the lessons contained in the Word, especially in the history of Israel, are embedded in the lives of the rulers mentioned. From their successes and failures, timeless lessons are taught about the key to true success. This is a quick look at two kings of Judah and their legacies that still speak to us today.

2 Chronicles 17 introduces the fourth king of Judah, Jehoshaphat. The author of the Chronicles presents Jehoshaphat in a favorable light from the beginning, saying in verses 3-4, “Now the Lord was with Jehoshaphat, because he walked in the former ways of his father David; he did not seek the Baals, but sought the God of his father, and walked in His commandments and according to the acts of Israel” (NIV).

The reign of Jehoshaphat is similar to that of his father Asa; their reigns featured reform, building programs, and large armies. Jehoshaphat recognized that the source of his strength and success was God and that the only way he could succeed by seeking Him and removing evil things that were dishonoring God. And for Jehoshaphat, this did not change over time.

2 Chronicles 26 introduces the tenth king of Judah, Uzziah. He became king at the age of 16. From his early days, he sought the Lord and that led to his success (v. 5). The Chronicler states it this way: “…As long as he sought the Lord, God gave him success” (v. 5b, NIV).

Many in their journey toward success reach this point of favor with God. They reach a point of trusting God and things begin to work in their favor. However, the tragic legacy of the life of Uzziah is his downfall. People today know Uzziah for his downfall rather than his initial success.

Verses 6-15 of chapter 26 describe the great deeds of Uzziah’s reign, going to multiple battles, rebuilding towns, and even creating devices for soldiers to shoot arrows and hurl large stones from towers and corner defenses.

But then the heart of Uzziah’s legacy is found in 26:16, “But after Uzziah became powerful, his pride led to his downfall. He was unfaithful to the Lord his God, and entered the temple of the Lord to burn incense on the altar of incense” (NIV). He received leprosy immediately after going in to burn incense when that was not his duty.

Whatever success he had achieved to that point was made mute by the fact that his pride got the best of him. He became so proud that he became unwilling to follow the established laws that established Aaron and his descendants as the ones to burn incense on the altar. It is possible to come to a point in your pride and accomplishments that you show disregard for the basic rules and in the process dishonor God and your heart moves away from trusting God completely for direction.

King Uzziah had a sad ending, having leprosy until the day of his death, living in a separate house, and being banned from the temple. Jehoshaphat, on the other hand, lived such a life of trusting God that the author of the Chronicles spent a substantial amount of time on his life. What an honor for one’s life to be featured so heavily in a lasting manner that still impacts lives for the better today.

At the end of Jehoshaphat’s reign, “…the realm of Jehoshaphat was quiet, for his God gave him rest all around” (2 Chronicles 20:30, NIV)

What do you want your life to look like, a life of rest having fulfilled the purpose of God or one that is living with the ills that this world brings like Uzziah? For every person there are different versions of leprosy, most definitely including myself.

When you look at your life today, are you trusting God for every detail or is your pride and reliance on yourself too high? When you focus on your accomplishments as Uzziah did, your focus will move from the God who sustains you to a false belief that you yourself brought about your success. And that will take you on a journey away from the heart of God.

Gut check: Where is your trust and focus today?

When It All Finally Makes Sense

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The scene was very emotional for Egypt’s second-in-command. His life had been a seemingly random order of events, ranging from terrible to great moments. Yet now, after all the highs and lows of his journey, everything suddenly made sense. I pick the story up in Genesis 45:4:

“Please, come closer,” he said to them. So they came closer. And he said again, “I am Joseph, your brother, whom you sold into slavery in Egypt. But don’t be angry with yourselves for selling me to this place. It was God who sent me here ahead of you to preserve your lives. This famine that has ravaged the land for two years will last five more years, and there will be neither plowing nor harvesting. God has sent me ahead of you to keep you and your families alive and to preserve many survivors. So it was God who sent me here, not you! And he is the one who made me an adviser to Pharoah-the manager of his entire palace and the governor of Egypt…” (Gen. 45:4-7, NLT).

I can only imagine Joseph’s internal reaction to this moment. In the previous chapters, there are moments when Joseph can only hide from his brothers and cry, while acting as if he did not know them. He was beaten and hurt by his brothers, sold into slavery, tempted by Potiphar’s wife … yet at this moment Joseph knew that everything he went through was to get him to that point where he was a key player in the grand design of God to preserve Jacob’s family and His chosen people.

In this first month of 2012, you may not understand what is happening in your life or why it is happening, but you can be sure of one thing, God has a grand design and purpose for it all. One door may shut and another may open, but God is behind it all. It may be utter chaos all around you, but in the midst of chaos there is calm, originating from God’s presence. Every setback, every trial, every step in your journey…let God reveal Himself to you through every moment. In your education, in your church life, in your career, nothing may make sense, but God has a plan, and if you can trust nothing else, you can trust in God.

Joseph finally understood. So can we.

Where We Are, Where We’re Going

Recently, I was in the Starbucks located in the Nigh University Center of UCO in Edmond, Okla. I graduated in 2009 from UCO and often visit the school when an opportunity arises. I had given my order on this day and was waiting for my order toward the other end of the coffee place. As I stood there looking at the wall in front of me, a memory from before the existence of this Starbucks came flooding in:

We (our whole UCO crew) were in the beginning years of our UCO experience and getting to know each other better. We had started a tradition of throwing surprise birthday parties for people in our group, and one party in particular was thrown in this exact area where this Starbucks now stands. Except back then there was this really comfortable red couch and a chest/coffee table thing we stored our stuff in. We sat there so often and laughed and made stories up and ate lunch and threw random food events, memories that will last a lifetime. But for this particular party, which was for Ben Paul, someone had brought in a bunch of silly string and put a lot of it on Ben.

And somehow in the course of that birthday party, some of that silly string ended up stuck on the brick wall. Time went on, and that silly string remained on that brick wall. I remember constantly noticing it on that wall and wondering if it would ever be taken down months after. The couch disappeared after someone (a professor, I heard) complained that there were people sleeping there. Thus, the couch was removed and more chairs/tables were brought in instead. We often discussed missing the couch. As time went on, more parties were thrown, including a huge surprise party for one person, and just a lot of great memories that will never disappear. Also, eventually, the silly string came down, of course (I forget when).

But here I stand in 2011, in that same physical place. In the place of that brick wall, there is a shiny Starbucks wall that never gives the impression of the old “Lakeside Cafe” that once existed there, a place where our group back then made great memories.

But I learned something in that moment. Your life may be filled with great seasons, where you meet some amazing people and make amazing memories. You’ll have great moments that will make no sense to people when you tell them about it later, and the humor of it will be gone, but you know that you just had to be there to really enjoy that moment for what it was worth.

But then at some point, the silly string comes down. The comfortable, cozy seasons of life will not last forever. And you must face reality.

And part of understanding reality is understanding that God has a great purpose for your life, and you must focus on fulfilling that and not wasting your time on things that won’t last.

And the greatest lesson you learn may be that even though you fall into the lowest of lows (that you think is the lowest of lows for you), God will use your experiences to raise you up higher than you ever expect Him to, if you humble yourself before Him. I was standing on a balcony on the campus recently and had an overall view of the campus. As I stood there, I saw all the locations where I had different experiences. And I realized that through every one of those experiences, whether they were good or bad or even devastating, God had a grand purpose, and because of Him only, I am where I am today, despite those bad experiences that I thought would hold me back.

I say all this to make two points, partially to soon-to-be graduates:

-Enjoy where you are in life now; don’t rush it, and just enjoy it to the full extent. Let God use you where you are, and be open to being transformed by Him. But also know that the “silly string” phase of life comes to an end, in some ways. Not to say that life can’t still be enjoyed as much, but the focus of life changes with more education, jobs, marriage, children, etc. So enjoy being where you currently are, but also be aware that at some point, these things will come to an end and you will move on to something greater, part of the plan of fulfilling His great purpose for your life.

-Even though you think you have completely screwed up and ruined any chance you may have had for success, know that NOTHING surprises God. God knows and loves you, and He knows exactly what you will go through. And as a result, He will give you the strength to make it through and use what you go through to make you stronger in the end. Simply believing that He has it all under control will make things so much better.

To add on to this story, today me and Ben work close to each other in Oklahoma City. God has been faithful in so many ways to both of us, and it is no doubt b/c of the mercy of God that we have all we do. It shows that God knows what He’s doing, so we just need to trust Him.

Until next time!