Leadership Principle No. 6–Learn from your failures and go forward.

I invited Adam to lunch with me, planning to speak to him about his relationship to Christ. His wife Christa appeared to be an active Christian and their two daughters were full participants in our church’s youth program. Perhaps Adam just needs a little encouragement, I thought.

After he agreed to meet me, I asked Adam to choose the restaurant. “How about Jimmy C’s,” he said, and had to tell me where it was. I was new to the New Orleans area and hardly knew one restaurant from another in this city noted for great eating. We would meet at noon on Thursday.

We greeted each other, were seated in a booth, and gave our orders to the waiter. I went straight to the subject on my mind. “Adam, can I ask you about your relationship to Jesus Christ?” He was friendly and open and did not mind at all telling me his thoughts. Somehow along the way, he had studied under humanist teachers and they had provided a steady diet of atheistic reading for his young vulnerable mind, and it was my assignment, it appeared, to try to counter some of that.

The waiter brought our lunch, I said a short blessing, and we dived in. That’s when the young woman showed up at our table.

She was dressed–or not dressed would be closer to the truth–in a flimsy, see-through shortie pajama thing that showed far more of her than it ought. I would not have been more stunned than if she had walked down the aisle of my church dressed like that in the middle of my sermon. Glancing around the restaurant, I saw she had company. Other attractive young ladies were similarly unclad and were visiting at the tables and chatting with diners.

Adam and I had visited Jimmy C’s on the day of their weekly lingerie show.

It’s hard to witness to a fellow whose eyes are straying and whose mind is on other things, particularly while you yourself wish you were anywhere on the planet but here. That was my task, I did it as well as I could, I can’t think of any thing I could have done differently, and when the meal was over, we parted amicably and I drove back to the church office.

My preacher friends have had a big laugh at that scenario, but at the moment, it was a nightmare.

I never made that mistake again. In the future, I knew a little about a restaurant before making a reservation to take a friend there.

It would be easy to obsess over that embarrassment. If my mind were unhealthy, I’d probably attribute Adam’s failure to believe in Christ to “what the devil did that day.” But in addition to not liking to give the devil credit for what is not his, I refuse to dwell on that. Christians need to remind ourselves from time to time that our three foes–the unholy trinity they’re called–are the world, the flesh, and the devil. I think I’m safe in saying a lingerie show is all about the flesh.

In fact, I sometimes share the tale with my friends and we laugh at it. Any preacher can easily imagine himself in the same predicament. And whatever Adam has done about his salvation–he long ago moved from this area–he cannot blame anything on the distraction caused by those models that day.

“Don’t Park Here” is the title of a paperback book Karen Baxter gave my wife in 1974. I’m not sure what use Margaret made of it, but I’ve dog-eared it and built a dozen sermons around its concepts. The point author C. William Fisher was making was that we should not camp out at the point of our handicaps, failures, fears, sufferings, or resentments. Repent of it, learn from it, accept the Lord’s mercy, then get up and get back in the game.

In the chapter on “parking by your failures,” Fisher tells of a woman who parked by a broken marriage and never recovered, a pastor who parked by a failed pastorate and left the ministry, a writer who parked by a rejection slip and never penned another word, and Christians who park by failures to live up to the Lord’s expectations and walk away from the church.

Garson Kanin, the playwright, said, “If you want to succeed, you must prepare to fail.” It seems to be one of the rules of success, that somewhere along the line you must fail. My own observation is that one learns far more from failure than he ever does from success.

The legendary author of Westerns, Louis L’Amour, collected several hundred rejection slips before making the first sale of a short story. In his later years, he would speak of the lessons he learned from all those failures. Had he been a success too early, he would have quit learning and growing. Each rejection made him try that much harder.

Someone has called failure “God’s back door to success.”

Everyone fails. Not only does God know that about us, but He made plans for our failures from the beginning. In Exodus 20 where He gives the 10 Commandments, immediately afterward He instructs Moses on the plans for altars. Altars are to be made of dirt or stone, He said, and not prettied up by the hammer and chisel. An altar is an ugly place, a place of death, where our sins are atoned for. I surmise that most people read that chapter and rush right on by without considering why God put those two instructions back to back. The juxtaposition of these two sections–the commandments and the altar–is fascinating. It means that God was building into the system a means for our forgiveness even from the first.

First, God gave us His standard. These are my commandments. “Do these and live.” Then, He gave us the way back into His fellowship when we failed. What a gracious Lord!

“He himself knows our frame,” David said in Psalm 103. “He is mindful that we are but dust.” God was under no illusions about what Jesus’ death on the cross was buying. He wasn’t getting much for the price He was paying and He knew it. “We are but dust.” “We have this treasure in earthen vessels,” Paul said in II Corinthians 4.

One wonders if the angels in Heaven shook their heads when they found out the cost that would have to be paid for the redemption of mankind. “Too much,” they might have said. “They’re not worth it.”

The love of God has always been a wonder, even back in the dim origins of time. Nothing speaks of the love of God better than His forgiveness for those who refuse to live according to His standards.

There are two extremes to be avoided in this matter, as there are with practically every other issue on the planet. We can be blase’ about our sins. “Well, I’m just human. We all sin.” A popular, but shallow spiritual song from the 1950s had this line in it: “Though it makes him sad to see the way we’ll live, He’ll always say, ‘I forgive.'” This goes by the name of cheap grace.

The other extreme is that God is so harsh, He would never forgive sin. Once we have failed Him, it’s all over and we can quit trying to please Him.

Both are lies from the father of lies, Satan himself.

“Pastor,” Thea said, “One of these days, I need to talk to you about something.” I was the new, fresh-from-seminary pastor of Thea’s church and had already heard the gossip about her. Before I knew what was happening, my secretary had blurted out that a year earlier, Thea had had an affair with a man she worked with at the department store. “She doesn’t think anyone knows,” the secretary assured me. I thought to myself, “Leave it to you and soon everyone will know.”

“Anytime,” I said, “I’m here to do anything I can for you.”

Thea was in the hospital with a bleeding ulcer and was in great pain. I pulled a chair up to her bed and made small talk until she decided to pour out her heart and tell me the awful tale of her sin. She would have died had she known I already knew about it.

At the end, I said, “Has God forgiven you for this?” She said, “I really believe He has.” She hesitated a moment and said, “I just can’t forgive myself.” I said, “You have higher standards than God, is that it?” She reacted quickly. “The very idea–why would you say such a thing?”

I said, “Sure sounds like it to me. Oh, sure, God can forgive me. But I have higher standards. I can’t let myself off that easy.”

She said, “Then tell me what to do.” I said, “Believe that Jesus Christ paid the penalty for that sin on the cross, the same way He did all the rest of our sins and failures. And He says, ‘Their sins and iniquities I will remember no more.’ He says, ‘As far as the east is from the west, so far have I removed their transgressions.’ So, now, it’s time you started believing Him and got up off the floor and got on with your life.”

One year later, I received a note in the mail. “It was a year ago,” Thea wrote, “that you told me just exactly what I needed to hear. I am a healthy person today. Thank you.”

Repent of it. Learn from it. Then put it behind you and go forward.

Everyone fails. Just don’t park there.

The former all-pro defensive end for the Cleveland Browns football team, Bill Glass, used to tell of a lesson he learned as a junior high kid. “When I first starting playing football,” he says, “I thought when you got knocked down, that was a good time to get some rest. But I soon discovered that you get stepped on and fallen on if you’re on the ground. Then I noticed that in college and pro ball, most of the tackles are made by players who were either knocked down and got back up or knocked off balance and kept on going.”

Glass is an evangelist now and uses that lesson for a principle about life. “When the devil knocks you down with temptation, he wants to keep you on the ground. He plays on your guilt by saying, ‘Some Christian you are. What if the people at church could see you now. What would they think?'”

He goes on to point out that Scripture gives us I John 1:9 as a means of getting back to our feet. “If we confess our sin, He is faithful and just to forgive our sin and to cleanse us of all iniquity.” So, Glass urges, when you get tripped up, don’t stay there. Get up, confess your sin, and believe the Lord that He has forgiven you. Then get back into the game.

It’s great advice from one who knows.

3 thoughts on “Leadership Principle No. 6–Learn from your failures and go forward.

  1. Thanks, Joe. I needed to think clearly about this business of “I can’t forgive myself.” Your answer to Thea was very honest, and very powerful, and yet it could be very gracious too.

    I’ve got a man in my church whose “unforgiveable sins” stem from two tours of duty in Iraq. We can talk about military life at great length, and he’s still in the military. But we can’t get past the forgiveness issue.

    Great blog. I drew something from this article that was a long way from the topic. Praise Jesus!


    Hudson Valley, NY

  2. Joe, the next time you witness to someone, go someplace where YOU control the environment….not a public restaurant in Sin City. Even the Pastor of Bourbon Street succumbed to the temptations years ago.

    H.A.Thompson, Charlotte NC

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