"Stressed Out" part 4:
The Fear of Failure
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
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
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
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
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…
[VIDEO: SPIDERMAN 3 – “DID YOU EVER PROPOSE” SCENE]
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
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
3. Keep Failure
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
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
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
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
~ Texas Saying
So what if you’ve spilt some milk. Don’t cry over it. Learn from it and
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.