"Stressed Out" part 4:
The Fear of Failure
by Greg Hanson
Sunrise Wesleyan Church
May 20, 2007


Today, we’re continuing our message series called “Stressed Out”, and so we’re going to spend this morning talking about the fear of failure… because for many of us, that can be a great source of stress.

In fact, failure is something that we all deal with. 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. We can fail to live up to a promise, we can fail to achieve our goals… we can fail in a variety of ways. Sometimes in small ways, sometimes in pretty big ways. We all face it. And 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.

We all fail. But the truth is, 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. We’ve actually talked about some of this stuff before, but it’s been a few years and I thought we could revisit the topic of failure this morning.

So here’s what we’re going to do… I’m going to give you four facts about failure, and then we’re going to look at some ways to overcome failure. Okay? Let’s go…


Four Facts about Failure:


A. We have all failed (and will continue to).

“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.

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. And besides, even He was seen as a failure by those around Him at the time. We have all failed. Here are some of the more famous people who have failed…

[VIDEO – BluefishTV.com – Famous Failures]

Those people had failures, and so have you. 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.

Who are the great people of the Bible? Abraham, Sarah, Jacob, Joseph, David, Ruth, Esther, Noah, Moses, Peter, Paul… they’re the people we look to as examples of how to live successful, God-honouring lives. And yet, if we had the time I could take you through how each one of them failed at some point.

James 3:2 (NLT)
Indeed, we all make many mistakes.

John 16:33 (NLT)
“Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”

So understand, when you fail, it doesn’t mean you are a failure. We all fail, but we’re not failures. It’s just a part of living.


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.

One of my favorite sayings is this:

Behold the turtle – He makes no progress unless he sticks his neck out.

Babe Ruth is recognized as one of the best baseball players of all time. Maybe THE best. He hit 714 home runs… more than anybody else until Hank Aaron came along decades later. But do you know he also had 1330 strikeouts?

Or if you’re a football fan, how about Terry Bradshaw. He was the great quarterback that won four Super Bowls with the Steelers. But he also threw more incomplete passes than 99.9% of everyone else who ever played the game.

How about Wayne Gretzky? He holds every major scoring record in the NHL. He even set a record for holding the most records. Yet even in his prime his shooting percentage was only about 20%. That means he scored once for every five shots he took. Which, understand, is a great percentage. But it also means he failed on 80% of his shots. If he failed that much, why didn’t he give up? Because of his theory that you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. He’d rather take the shot and risk failure than never take a shot at all.

That reminds me of what Thomas J. Watson, the founder of IBM, said…

“The way to succeed is to double your failure rate.”
~ Thomas J. Watson

Because if you want to accomplish anything of worth, you’re going to experience failure from time to time.


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.

I find myself doing that. Even seemingly insignificant failure and mistakes come to mind every once in a while, and I just beat myself up over it. I wonder how I could have been so stupid.

It’s happening to you right now, isn’t it? You’re remembering something that happened 15-20 years ago that really doesn’t matter. But you find yourself beating yourself up over it anyway.

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 and every one 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 even be consequences to your failure, but you yourself are not a failure.

Now, I know that for a number of people this is a major struggle. You may have convinced yourself that you are a failure. But you’re not. And you 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.

Let me ask you something. How many of you know at least one person named Peter? Put up your hand. One of my best friends is named Peter.

In fact, let me give you 10 seconds to think of as many Peter’s as you can. Just to yourself, think about how many Peter’s you know.


How many thought of at least 2 Peters? 3? 4...

In the Bible, Peter was a disciple who followed Jesus. When Jesus was arrested and was taken away to be tried and eventually executed on a cross, Peter followed at a distance. He loved Jesus, and didn’t want to let the people take Jesus away. But he was also scared of what might happen to him if people found out he was a friend of Jesus’. In fact, when confronted by someone who thought they recognized Peter as one of the disciples, Peter denied he even knew Jesus and then ran away and cried because he had denied even knowing the most important person in his life. He failed miserably.

But then Jesus rose from the dead. And in one of their conversations, Jesus asked Peter if he loved Him. In fact, Jesus asked Peter that question three times, and all three times Peter assured Jesus that he did. So Jesus forgave him, and trusted him to be a leader in the early church. Peter had failed, but he moved on past that failure and became a hero of the faith.

[Peter’s betrayal – John 18:15-27; 21:15-19]
[Judas’ betrayal – Matthew 26:14-25; 27:1-10]

Now let me ask you another question. How many of you know at least one person named Judas? Anyone?

Not as popular a name, is it? Why is that? I mean, both Peter and Judas betrayed Jesus. Both of them betrayed their relationship with Him. What’s the difference? The difference is that after Judas betrayed Jesus and handed him over to be arrested and eventually killed, Judas was overcome with guilt and went out and hanged himself. Peter, on the other hand, was also overcome with guilt but he came back to Jesus and was forgiven.

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. He made the choice that his failure would be final. But I have absolutely no doubt that he could have moved beyond that failure. If Judas had hung around (maybe not the best choice of words), Jesus would have forgiven him.

Peter also recognized his failure, but he discovered that it didn’t have to end that way. And today, I know a lot of people named Peter. I can’t think of one person named Judas.

In the 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

So if failure doesn’t have to be final, how do we move beyond it?


Moving Beyond Failure:


1. Admit that you have failed

You’ve all heard about the Apollo 13 mission that launched back in 1970 and was supposed to land on the moon. And you know that just two days after the launch, the astronauts ran into some pretty serious problems when the space craft was crippled by an explosion. Forget the mission… their very lives were in danger. So what was that famous message they sent back to earth?

“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 work itself 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.

If you’ve got a problem… if you’ve failed… the first thing you need to do is admit something’s wrong.

Proverbs 28:13 (NLT)
People who cover over their sins will not prosper. But if they confess and forsake them, they will receive mercy.

In Alcoholics Anonymous they recognize the problem of denial. They know that it prevents people from overcoming their failures. So the first thing they insist people do is admit their failure. They get people to stand in front of others and introduce themselves by saying, “Hello. My name is ______, and I’m an alcoholic.

You see, people fail in direct proportion to their willingness to accept excuses for their failure. If you always seem to be able to come up with an excuse or if you’re always blaming others, and if you never actually take responsibility for your own failures, then you’ll never be able to move beyond them.

“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 failures.


2. Accept God’s Forgiveness and Forgive Yourself

Obviously if your failure is sin, you need to accept the forgiveness of God if you want to move beyond it. We talk about that a lot here. That’s the whole message of the Bible – Redemption… receiving the forgiveness of God and being restored into a right relationship with Him.

And I should mention, too, that when you fail someone else you should seek their forgiveness. We talk a lot about that, too.

But you also have to forgive yourself. Because if you don’t, you’ll never be able to move beyond it. You’ll always be tied to that failure. You’ll be in bondage to it for the rest of your life.

When Shera and I were in Halifax a couple weeks ago, we went to see the new Spiderman movie at the IMAX theatre. Now that’s the way to see a movie. This time around, Peter Parker plans to propose to Mary Jane. And he talks to Aunt May about who gives him some great advice on what it takes to be a good husband and then gives Peter the engagement ring that Uncle Ben had give to her when he proposes. And she told Peter to give it to Mary Jane when he proposed to her.

Well, I don’t want to ruin the movie for you, so let me just say that things don’t go exactly as planned and Peter messes up. And he really hurts Mary Jane. And then it’s Aunt May to the rescue. Take a look at this scene from the movie…


Aunt May said that forgiving yourself is the hardest thing to do. And maybe she was on to something there.

Proverbs 24:16 (NLT)
The godly may trip seven times, but they will get up again. But one disaster is enough to overthrow the wicked.

Yes, God will help you up. But you need to decide to get up, too.

Do you remember this?

[VIDEO - Play “I’ve Fallen and I can’t Get Up” commercial from http://www.retrojunk.com/details_commercial/1087/]

I think too often that’s how we feel when we fail… “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.” But the truth is, when it comes to failure, “I’ve fallen and with God’s help I can get up.” But to do that, I need to forgive myself first.


3. Keep Failure in Perspective

Here on the screen you see what is perhaps the most famous scene of all time from one of the greatest movies of all times… King Kong standing on top of the Empire State Building in New York. What a terrific scene that was as Kong swatted away at the airplanes.

But do you know how tall King Kong was? You probably do. You’ve probably heard that the model that was used for King Kong was only 2 feet tall. But on the screen, he looked 24 feet tall!

Sometimes we look at our failures like that. In reality, they may be very small. But we treat them like they’re giant, insurmountable failures.

You see, when you’re flat on your face, a molehill really does look like a mountain. And when you’re right in the middle of your failure, it may seem devastating. And you might think you can never recover.

You need to remember…

1 John 4:4 (NLT)
… the Spirit who lives in you is greater than the spirit who lives in the world.

You need to be reminded of the words of Jesus when He said…

Mark 10:27 (NLT)
“Everything is possible with God.”

You need to remember that the God you serve is the same God… (who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think)

Ephesians 3:20 (NLT)
Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.

He’s the God who makes the impossible possible. That’s the perspective you need to gain. That’s the perspective that will help you move beyond failure.


4. Learn What You Can and Press On.

It’s nice to have mountaintop experiences, but the truth is you grow in the valleys. You learn the most from your mistakes. You take what you can, and then you press on.

Philippians 3:12-14 (NLT)
I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.

Paul basically admitted that he wasn’t perfect. He still had failures in his life. But he pressed on with the goal of becoming the person Jesus meant for him to be.

Pop quiz… who invented the electric light bulb? If you said Thomas Edison, you’re wrong! It was actually the bright idea of two Canadians in 1874. (Henry Woodward and Matthew Evans.) But Thomas Edison is the one who bought the patent from them and improved it enough to make it a commercial success. But Edison said he also had 10,000 failures before he learned how to work the light bulb. But didn’t just see them as failures; he saw it as learning 10,000 ways it didn’t work. He said…

“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. Learn from it and press on.

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.

If you’re dealing with a failure or difficulty in your life and you want to admit it and ask for support through prayer so that you can move beyond it, then raise your hand.

The greatest failure of all is living a life apart from Jesus Christ. If that’s where you’re at and you want to transform that failure into victory this morning by beginning a personal relationship with Him, raise your hand.




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