You 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.


Four Facts about Failure:


A. We all fail.

“We are all failures -- at least the best of us are.”
~ 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 Him.

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 devastating.

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 us.

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 Forget

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 final.

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 named Judas.

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.


Moving From Tragedy To Triumph:


1. Admit You Have a Problem


“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 Israel.

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 meet.”

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 Problem

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 possible.

“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. Proverbs 27:12

    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.” Proverbs 18:18

    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 end.
  • 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. Proverbs 15:19

    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. Proverbs 14:12

    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 Perfection.

    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 perfection.

    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 accomplishment.
  • 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 your cow.”
    ~ 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 Problem

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 out.

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 you.


5. Reach Out and Accept God’s Miracle

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 God’s hands.”
~ 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 morning.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.




Copyright © 2004