Asked for It Part 1
From Tragedy to Triumph
by Greg Hanson
Sunrise Wesleyan Church
August 1, 2004
Main Passage: 2
Kings 6:1-7 (NLT)
This is the first week in our “You Asked for
It” series. A couple of months ago, I provided you with slips of paper
that you could use to request for me to speak on a specific topic or
passage on a Sunday morning. And it’s no surprise that the topic we’re
going to discuss today was one of the requests.
Because failure is something that we all deal with. In fact, if I asked
you to make a list of your top ten fears, I’m pretty sure that the fear
of failure would be someplace on that list. None of us wants to be seen
as a failure, none of us wants to experience failure, none of us wants
failure to define our lives.
So this morning, what I want to do is look at four facts about failure,
and then I want to give you five steps to help you turn the failures in
your life from tragedy to triumph.
Before we get into that, though, I think it’s important to recognize
that failure takes many forms.
What are some areas of life where it’s possible to fail?
We can fail in school, we can fail at a project at work, we can fail in
a relationship, we can fail in our family responsibilities, we can sin
and fail morally. There’s a variety of ways that we can fail, and
there’s no way that we can talk about all the possibilities in depth
here this morning. So what I’ve chosen to do is talk in general terms
about failure. And regardless of where you’re coming from and what
circumstances you’re in, I think you’ll find something this morning
that can be encouraging and useful for you. Okay? Let’s go.
Facts about Failure:
A. We all fail.
“We are all failures -- at least the best of
~ J.M. Barrie, British Playwright, May of 1922
That’s how J.M. Barrie, the British playwright, described us in May of
1922. And you know I think he was on to something. You see, we all have
something in common. We’ve all failed. We’ve all experienced tragedy.
We’ve all had hard times. We’ve all had big dreams only to have those
dreams die. Some of us have lost what mattered most to us and we’ve
been left asking the questions, “Why, Lord? Why me?”
Every one of us here this morning has experienced failure. In fact,
there’s only ever been one perfect person on the planet… and we killed
Think about relationships you’ve been in, or jobs you’ve had, or
classes you’ve taken, or goals you’ve set out to achieve. I’m sure that
all of us can identify at least one if not many examples of failure in
our lives. I know I can. In fact, you’re probably already thinking
about one failure in your life that you found to be particularly
Even the people we see as being super-successful face it. Just a couple
years ago, Halle Berry won an Academy Award. This summer, she’s in Catwoman
which is doing pretty poorly at the box-office and is universally
panned by the critics. Arnold Schwartzenegger, now the governor of
California and one of the biggest movie stars of all time, once starred
in Hercules in New York. Have you seen Hercules
in New York? Don’t.
Paul Martin, now our Prime Minister, was defeated as a candidate for
the Liberal leadership in 1990. Chuck Colson, now one of the leaders in
the Christian Church went to jail as a result of Watergate. Bill
Clinton has been highly successful in several ways, and has failed in
several ways, too. Babe Ruth set records for home runs and strike outs.
Brad Richards will bring the Stanley Cup to PEI later this week. He won
it and the Conn Smythe Trophy this past June in just his fourth year in
the league as a member of the Tampa Bay Lightning. Of course, that
means he’s failed three times.
We all fail. That’s a fact. None of us is perfect.
B. The more we attempt the greater
the chance of failure.
“The world is divided into two categories:
failures and unknowns.”
~ Francis Picabia, French Painter/Poet
To enter into a marriage, you risk failure. To apply for a job, you
risk failure. To invest for your future, you risk failure. To raise
children, you risk failure. To help build a new church, you risk
failure. To share your faith, you risk failure. To step out and do
something great for God, you risk failure. Anytime you step out in
faith, you risk failure. Everything in life that’s worth doing involves
some risk of failure. The person who never risks failure never attempts
anything of value.
Thomas J. Watson, the founder of IBM, said…
“The way to succeed is to double your failure rate.”
~ Thomas J. Watson
And in his book, Walking the Leadership Highway Without
Becoming Roadkill, Jim Buchan writes…
“The secret of life is not avoiding all failure, but in learning how to
get up once you have made a mistake.”
~ Jim Buchan
C. Failure has a way of consuming
Ever notice that the things you’ve done
wrong seem to have more power in your life than the things you’ve done
right? You tend to dwell more on failures than successes. Regrets come
to mind long after accomplishments are forgotten. [Psychologically,
this is called the Zeigarnik Effect. (Just wanted to impress you with
my vast knowledge of useless information.)] Psychologist Perry
Buffington describes it this way…
“Failures take on a life of their own because the brain remembers
incomplete tasks or failures longer than any success or completed
activity… When a project or a thought is completed, the brain places it
in a special memory. The brain no longer gives the project priority…
But failures have no closure. The brain continues to spin the memory,
trying to come up with ways to fix the mess.”
~ Perry Buffington, psychologist and author in Forgive or
The progression of this mindset can have a devastating effect. The
longer you dwell on your failure, the more likely you are to move from
saying, “That was a failure” to saying “I am a failure.” That’s a
pretty major change. And it ripples through every area of your life.
Your feelings of incompetence keep you from trying or achieving
anything new, they damage your relationships and can lead to an
unhealthy or even dysfunctional family, and they taint your perspective
of who you are and what God can do through you.
Hear this… you may have failed, but you are not a failure. As
believers, we are called ambassadors of Christ, children of God, a
royal priesthood. God sees each of us as being important and very dear
to Him. In His eyes, we are anything but a failure. Even if you’re not
a believer, Jesus loves you and cares so much for you that He died so
you could live. You may have failed, and there may be consequences to
your failure, but you yourself are not a failure.
Failure can consume you. But thankfully, that is not the way it has to
be. Now, I know that for a number of people this is a major struggle.
For some who have been in bondage to feelings of failure for a
prolonged period of time, some counseling may be in order. And there’s
nothing wrong with that. But for all of us, we need to realize that it
is possible to move beyond failure. Failure does not have to be final.
D. Failure does not have to be
On the night Jesus was arrested, two of His
disciples failed in major ways. Judas is the one who betrayed Jesus and
handed him over to people that would have Him killed. Later that night,
Peter felt scared that if people knew that he was one of Jesus’
disciples they would arrest him, too. So he betrayed Jesus by denying
that he even knew the man. Not just once, but three times. Two of
Jesus’ closest friends, both of them betrayed Him. Both of them failed.
But that’s where the comparison ends. Judas and Peter responded to
their failure in very different ways. Judas recognized his failure and
went out and hung himself. He eliminated any possibility of moving
beyond the failure and making things right. I have absolutely no doubt
that Jesus would have been more than willing to forgive him, but Judas
gave himself over to his failure. If he had hung around (maybe not the
best choice of words), Jesus would have forgiven him.
Peter, on the other hand, experienced the forgiveness of Jesus and
became the leader of the early Church. Judas allowed his failure to
become final. Peter discovered that it didn’t have to be that way. And
today, I know a lot of people named Peter. I can’t think of one person
So if failure doesn’t have to be final, how do we move beyond it? Let
me give you some steps that can help you move from a position of
tragedy or failure in your life to a position of triumph where you are
serving God and serving others and living in freedom.
From Tragedy To Triumph:
1. Admit You Have a Problem
VIDEO CLIP – APOLLO 13
“Houston, we have a problem.”
~ Jim Lovell, Apollo 13
That acknowledgement was the first step in Apollo 13 returning to earth
safely. The astronauts could have sat in their little command module
and hoped it was a computer glitch. They could have reasoned that
everything would have worked out. They could have decided they could
handle things on their own and they didn’t need any help from those
eggheads in Houston. But if they had taken that approach, they would
have used up all their oxygen, never gotten the ship back on course,
and would have died in the outer atmosphere. Those five simple words…
“Houston, we have a problem”… literally saved their lives. That
admission brought them safely back to earth in what has since been
called NASA’s most successful failure.
Lynn read a passage for us earlier from II Kings. Let me give you a bit
of background for the event she read about. Elijah had been Israel’s
top prophet, the top spokesperson for God. The Bible tells us that at
the end of his life, Elijah was taken up into heaven leaving his
apprentice—Elisha—behind. Elisha had trained under Elijah, and now he
was left behind to take Elijah’s place as the leading prophet in
Now, the prophets of that day were trained very much like pastors are
today. They would essentially go to school and study under the
apprenticeship of a great prophet. And with Elijah no longer around to
do the training, Elisha was seen as being the prophet of the day. All
the other prophets saw something in Elisha that they didn’t have and
they wanted to be like him. So more and more of them came to train
under Elisha and quickly maxed out their available space. So a group of
them came to Elisha with this solution…
2 Kings 6:2 (NLT)
Let’s go down to the Jordan River, where
there are plenty of logs. There we can build a new place for us to
Elisha agreed, so they went down the river Jordan and they began to cut
lumber to build a place to meet and study. And then we get to kind of
an odd passage about how one of the prophets dropped an iron ax head
into the river. And not just any old ax head… it was a borrowed ax
head. In that day and age, an ax head would have been very
expensive—more than any simple prophet could have afforded—and in order
to make amends the prophet would have had to essentially work off the
cost of the ax head by working as a bondservant or a slave.
Did the prophet-in-training try to cover up the problem? Did he hope no
one would notice? Did he try to figure things out by himself? Did he
hide his failure? No. He immediately called out to Elisha…
2 Kings 6:4 (NLT)
“Ah, my lord. It was a borrowed ax!”
The man acknowledged there was a problem, recognized that he needed
help, and Elisha came to the rescue.
If you’ve got a problem, the first thing you need to do is admit
something’s wrong. Denial is a terrible thing. And no, I’m not talking
about that river in Egypt. The Nile River is one of the largest in the
world and flows freely through much of Africa. But denial is one of the
biggest problems in the world and it flows freely even among
Christians. It’s a terrible thing: acting like nothing is wrong when
everything is wrong.
In Alcoholics Anonymous they recognize the problem of denial. They know
that it prevents people from overcoming their failures and trials. So
the first thing they insist people do is admit their problem. They get
people to stand in front of others and introduce themselves by saying,
“Hello. My name is ______, and I’m an alcoholic.
Proverbs 28:13 (NLT)
People who cover over their sins will not
prosper. But if they confess and forsake them, they will receive mercy.
People fail in direct proportion to their willingness to accept excuses
for their failure.
If the man in this story hadn’t admitted that he had a problem and
brought it to the attention of Elisha, that ax head would still be at
the bottom of the Jordan River and this miracle would have never
happened. But he admitted he had a problem and he was willing to do
what it took to fix it.
“He who is good at making excuses is seldom good at anything else.”
~ Benjamin Franklin
If you’ve got a problem, don’t make excuses, don’t ignore it, and don’t
try to pan it off on someone else. Admit your problem.
2. Identify the Source of the
When the junior prophet called for Elisha to
help, Elisha asked, “Where did it happen? Where is it? Where is the
problem? Show me where the ax head fell into the water so I can do
something about it.”
You need to identify where your failure began. Is it the result of
misplaced priorities? Is it bad information? Can you pinpoint one
mistake you made? Was it the result of something beyond your control?
Or was it the result of sin? You need to identify the cause of the
failure so you can learn from it and so you can correct it if at all
“If you ruthlessly deal with your sins, the roots of many failures will
vanish. The blessing of God will be released, which brings the only
true and lasting success.”
~ Jim Buchan
Rick Warren writes identifies five primary reasons for failure. There
are other reasons, too, but these are five of the primary ones that are
within our control...
[Due to time constraints, we included this list in our bulletin and
encouraged people to read it on their own later.]
Primary Reasons for Failure
By Rick Warren
Although the reasons for failure are
numerous, there are five common causes:
- When we don’t plan ahead.
As the old saying goes, “If you fail to plan, you’re planning to fail.”
Proverbs 27:12 says, “A sensible man watches for problems ahead and
prepares to meet them.” Remember, Noah had to start building the Ark
long before it started raining!
- When we think we’ve “arrived.”
Remember the lesson of the whale: Just when you get to the top, and you
start to blow - that’s when you get harpooned! Proverbs 18:18 says,
“Pride leads to destruction and arrogance leads to downfall.” In other
words, the man who gets too big for his britches will be exposed in the
- When we are afraid to take
necessary risks. Proverbs 29:25
The fear of failure can cause failure. We worry about what others will
think of us if we fail so we don’t even try. Fran Tarkenton says, “Fear
sets you up to be a loser.” We fail to take advantage of golden
opportunities. “The fear of man is a dangerous trap.” Proverbs 29:25
- When we give up too soon.
Many times, success is just around the corner. Remember, the game is
often won in the final seconds. If at first you don’t succeed- you’re
normal! Keep on keeping on! The value of a postage stamp is found in
its ability to stick to one thing until it gets there. “A lazy fellow
had trouble all through life.” Proverbs 15:19
- When we ignore God’s advice.
The Bible is our owner’s manual for life. It is filled with practical
instructions and guidelines for work, home, finances, relationships,
and health. When we fail to follow these, we’re asking for trouble
“There is a way that SEEMS right to a man, but in the end it leads to
death.” Proverbs 14:12
3. Keep Failure in Perspective
When you’re flat on your face, a molehill
really does look like a mountain. When you’re right in the middle of
your failure, it seems like the biggest thing in the world. And what
you need to do is get some perspective. Let me give you some
perspectives on failure…
Perspectives on Failure:
- Strive for Excellence, not
A lot of us feel like failures because we’re expecting perfection. I
hope you want to do your very best at everything you do. That’s
commendable. But you need to recognize that there are limits. Doing
your best is striving for excellence. Doing the best is striving for
I have my two young nephews visiting this weekend. Last night, one of
them (Josh) coloured a picture for me. Josh is ____ years old. Here,
take a look at what he did. I think what he did is excellent. It’s the
very best he could have done. Could I have done it better? Well,
probably not, but that’s another story. The point is, there will always
be room for improvement. You will never reach perfection. But you can
reach excellence. You can aim for perfection and be bummed out all the
time, or you can aim for excellence and take satisfaction in your
- Recognize your Limitations.
You control what you put in to the situation. The results are often out
of your hands. Sometimes the results aren’t what you would have liked,
but that’s life. Don’t automatically accept the blame for things that
are out of your hands.
- Learn What You Can and Move On.
It’s nice to have mountaintop experiences, but the truth is you grow in
the valleys. You learn the most from your mistakes.
“Don’t call it a failure. Call it an education!”
~ Thomas Edison
So learn what you can and then move on. I want to give you permission
this morning to leave your failure in the past. You don’t have to live
in bondage to failures and disappointments that happened long ago. Let
go of them and move on. It doesn’t have to be the end for you.
There’s an old Texas saying;
“It doesn’t matter how much milk you spill as long as you don’t lose
~ Texas Saying
So what if you’ve spilt some milk. Don’t cry over it. Move on.
Philippians 3:13-14 (NLT)
…I am still not all I should be, but I
am focusing all my energies on this one thing: Forgetting the past and
looking forward to what lies ahead, I strain to reach the end of the
race and receive the prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is
calling us up to heaven.
- Realize It’s Okay to Fail.
Everyone fails, it’s part of life. But it bears no reflection on your
worth as a person, and in no way does it limit what God can do through
you. If you fail at one thing, try something else.
“When we give ourselves permission to fail, we at the same time give
ourselves permission to excel.”
~ Eloise Ristad
“Fall seven times. Stand up eight.”
~ Japanese Proverb
4. Apply the Cross of Christ to the
Elisha threw a stick in the water. That was
his solution. He threw a stick in the water and the ax head floated to
the surface. I don’t know about you, but that sound like a weird
solution to me. A stick makes the ax head float? Right. I guess that’s
what makes it a miracle. And that miracle turned the tragedy of the
lost ax head into triumph and a time for rejoicing.
It has been suggested that there was some symbolism involved in Elisha
throwing the stick into the water. The symbolism is that the stick was
looking ahead to the cross of Christ. The message is that we may apply
the cross of Calvary to our difficulties and our problems and Jesus
will help us triumph over them.
I’ve had the opportunity to travel to Cincinnati a few times over the
past few years. And as you get close to the city, there is an area
where there are a number of huge crosses towering over the interstate.
I don’t know who put them there, but I know part of the message they
were trying to convey. As people would drive by on the highway, with
all of their bitterness and all of their trials and with all of the
failures in life, somebody somewhere said, “If you will just look to
the cross, you will be able to tower over those wrecks of your life.”
What difference does the cross of Christ make in your life? How have
you applied it to the difficulties in your life? The cross can make the
difference if you’ll only look to it.
In the Bible, in the book of Numbers, chapter 21, the children of
Israel were marching through the desert under the leadership of Moses.
But they grew impatient. And they started to complain. They grew bitter
against Moses and against God. Their attitudes were leading them away
from God and causing them to make poor decisions. It was a failure in
their lives. And it gave root to other problems as well. Until finally,
in order to reshape their attitudes, God caused poisonous snakes to
bite many of the people. The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned
when we spoke against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will
take the snakes away from us.” Moses prayed for them and God directed
him to make a snake out of bronze and place it on a pole. He said that
anyone who looked at the snake would live. And that’s the way it turned
The people admitted they had a problem by saying that they had sinned,
they identified the source of their problem by acknowledging their sin,
and then they looked to that pole holding the bronze snake. That pole
symbolically pointed ahead to the cross of Christ which, when we look
to it, is able to take upon itself our difficulties, failures and
tragedies and set us free. It provides forgiveness for sins and
salvation. And it enlivens our relationship with God.
What is your tragedy? What is your need? Take it to the cross. Allow
the cross of Jesus Christ that towers over the affairs of life to save
5. Reach Out and Accept God’s
Elisha said to the man, “reach out and take
it.” And the prophet reached out and retrieve the ax head. It was a
miracle that turned tragedy into triumph. The purpose of the miracle
was to show that school of prophets what God could to. And the purpose
of the miracle in the midst of our failures today is to help us serve
Him triumphantly in spite of the difficulties.
If you and I are going to live triumphantly, we’re going to have
failure. Difficulty is a part of living for God. Jesus said,
John 16:33 (NIV)
“In this world you will have trouble. But
take heart! I have overcome the world.”
Leave it behind. Don’t be bound by any failure. Triumph is possible
this morning if we will turn to Christ and let Him help us.
“In a miracle of grace, even our personal failures can become tools in
~ Philip Yancey
It’s your response to failure that determines if it will become a
tragedy or a triumph.
I ask you this morning to make the right choices. Allow God to take
those difficulties in your life, those failures in your life, those
tragedies in your life and turn them to triumph.
I’m going to ask you to close your eyes. I’m
want to give you an opportunity to respond to what you’ve heard this
- If you’re dealing with a failure or
difficulty in your life that is headed for tragedy and you want to
admit it and ask for support through prayer so that it can wind up
being a triumph, then raise your hand.
- The greatest tragedy of all is a life
apart from Jesus Christ. If that’s where you’re at and you want to
transform that tragedy into triumph by beginning a personal
relationship with Him, raise your hand.