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Falling Forward
By Tom Brown

            There was a pastor I know who became a great success in the ministry. He had won hundreds of souls, built a large congregation, and showed promise of doing even more. He was a great teacher and was personable, people liked him, his conduct was becoming of a minister, yet, like so many ministers in our day, he succumbed to sexual temptation.

            It looked like his ministry was over. The passage in Ecclesiastes 10:1 haunted him: "As dead flies give perfume a bad smell, so a little folly outweighs wisdom and honor." It did not seem fair that all the good work he had done was going to be outweighed by this one act of indiscretion. Everything he worked for was about to be destroyed. He thought of handing in his resignation…and then, a parishioner in his church had a dream. She dreamt of the pastor. He was preaching real well behind the pulpit, and then he fell forward off of the platform, landing in the seats of the congregation. The woman was excited about the dream and told the pastor, “God showed me that you fell forward, not backward.” This dream encouraged the pastor to continue in the ministry. Now his ministry is bigger than ever before, and he has become an even better minister.

            You too may have failed, and you think that God could never use you again. You feel like He is about to throw you onto the junk heap of failures. But listen, God is not through with you! Consider Proverbs 24:16: "for though a righteous man falls seven times, he rises again, but the wicked are brought down by calamity." Let Palms 37:23-24 encourage you: "The steps of a good man are ordered by the LORD: and he delighteth in his way. Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down: for the LORD upholdeth him with his hand." (KJV)

            These passages prove one thing: even righteous, good people fall down, but they always get back up. In fact the passage says that a righteous man falls seven times. He doesn’t just make one mistake, but many.

In our disposable society, we are quick to throw away people who have fallen. We see no use for them: "They had their chance, now they blew it." We are like the people who are ready to throw stones at the woman caught in adultery. We feel it is our duty to destroy such failures. But we should be careful, because we are all in some ways failures. This is why Jesus said, “He who is without sin, cast the first stone.” It was Jesus way to show men their own folly. How dare they stone a woman when they too have sinned?

According to the passages we read, it is possible for a good man to have his steps order by the Lord while at the same time his foot slips and he falls. But the difference between a good man versus and evil one is that he never stays down. An evil man, on the hand, never repents. He continues the same course. If you consider yourself a true child of God, the righteousness of God, and a new creation—then you will arise, you won’t stay down.

You will fall forward!

Response to Failure

John Maxwell, who is an expert on leadership, says that the most important quality for success is not one’s family background, or wealth, or opportunity, or surprisingly not even high morals, for we all know of scoundrels who have been high producers. He believes the difference between average people and achieving people is their perception of and response to failure.

As one old preacher said, “God uses only failures, because there aint’ any other kind to use.” All of us have failed—some royally, others not so grand, but we all make mistakes. It is the response to our mistakes that show the kind of people we are.

My son Justin took skiing lessons. The first thing they taught him was “how to fall.” They knew as hard as he tried to ski that he was going to fall many times. It was inevitable that the better he wanted to get, the more falls he would have to endure. The instructors taught him how to fall because he did not want him to break anything or quit because of discouragement.

            The same can be said of the Christian life. Do not think for a moment that your failure in life—whether it is a broken marriage, drug addiction, or some other moral failure—means that your life is over. Peter denied the Lord and later repented and became the chief apostle. On the other hand, Judas betrayed Christ and took his life. One man confronted his failure and became great, and another gave up and was buried by his failure!

             Babe Ruth was not only the homerun king, but he was the strikeout king as well. The truth is we do not remember him for his strikeouts but for his homeruns.

It is your response to failure that is more important than the failure itself.

King Midas

The legend of King Midas shows how failure is not something to be avoided at all costs. The King was fearful of poverty and failure and wanted to be able to turn everything into gold, and so his friend, Dionysos, granted his wish. He woke up and touched his bed and it turned into gold. He walked the courts and touched his palace gates and they turned to gold. Eventually he was hungry and went to eat, and when he reached for an apple, it turned into gold. His whole meal turned to gold. Finally his daughter joined him for breakfast and when he hugged her, she turned to gold. He lamented his wish. He wanted everything to go back to normal, and eventually he got his wish.

We often are like King Midas. We do not want to experience anything except success. Failure must be avoided at all costs. Sometimes we discover how we have injured and hurt others because of our own perfectionism. Do the people around us cringe in our presence because we are a hard taskmaster?

The real tragedy is when the hard taskmaster fails. Sometimes he cannot forgive himself. He becomes ashamed. So shameful does he feel that he cannot move on.

David Brinkley asked columnist Ann Landers what question she most frequently received from readers. She told him, “What is wrong with me?”  This question hits at the heart of the matter. We all know ourselves much too well. We know our imperfections, our failures. Surely if people knew who we really are, then they will not like us. Failure scares us, and yet, it should not.

Falling is a fact of life. Before you ever walked, you fell many times. A parent does not scold the child for falling, but puts the child back on his feet and says, “Try again.”

God does not bury us because we have failed. No! King David knew failure. But he also knew the God who “stoops down to make me great” (Ps 18:35). The word stoop is the Hebrew word meaning: gentleness—condescension, human and subjective (modesty), or divine and objective (clemency). This is redemption. God descended to our level in order to provide clemency for us. God knew we would never rise to His level, so He stooped to our level. God knows how weak we are! Yet, He chose to save us and use us for His glory.

Failure from God’s Perspective

            We need to see failure from God’s perspective, not from our own.

1. God sees that failure is unavoidable.

As much as we try to avoid it, failure happens. The Bible says, “All have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory.” Despite the inability to avoid sin, God does not see us as sinners. He calls us “the righteousness of God” (2 Cor 5:21).

            People may view our sin, but we are “blameless in his sight” (Ep 1:4). God has different eyes than we humans. He sees things different. What this means is that God will not label us as sinners. Harsh religion will try to pin you with a label—addict, adulterer, and divorcee—but Christ will never see you that way when you change. He sees you as forgiven, as a new creation, and a child of God.    

There are only two people whose views matter: God and you! What others think does not count. Historians may view someone in a certain way, but they do not have the final word. God has given His Word, and it is up to you to accept His Word about you. If you have truly repented then you accept God’s total forgiveness and move on. Let the critics gossip and write about you, but you will silence them with your actions. There is no stigma attached to you because of failure.

2. God sees failure as a friend.

NBA coach, Rick Pitino, agrees, “Failure is good. It’s fertilizer. Everything I’ve learned about coaching I’ve learned from making mistakes.” The best coaches are the experienced ones. Why, because they know what does not work, and they learned it firsthand.

I used to coach youth football. When I first started, I thought I knew what would work. I soon learned how little I knew. But eventually I discovered through trial and error what worked, and thus our team became good.

It is interesting to note that the people who dropped their stones first were the older ones (John 8:9). The young people had not learned enough from their mistakes to be tolerant toward those who failed. It took more time for them to be willing to drop their rocks and not stone the woman. Even today, you will notice that the most intolerant, religious fanatics are mostly young people. How many elderly men become suicide bombers? Young people have not been through enough failures to be compassionate on those who have failed.

Most of the things we have learned have come from our mistakes. Without our mistakes we may possibly never learn. Many of the great Psalms in our Bible were written specifically because David had learned from his mistakes. Experience includes failure, and failure becomes a great teacher, not an enemy.

A reporter asked Thomas Edison how he felt when his experiments failed, “Son, every failure is just one step closer to finding the answer.”

3. God also does not see failure as irreversible and final.

In my state of Texas we have a saying, “It doesn’t matter how much milk you spill so long as you don’t lose the cow.” Another similar saying, “Don’t cry over spilt milk.” The thing you cannot lose is your self esteem and confidence in God’s love for you. You must believe in a God-of-another-chance. He really does give people chances to make up for what they did. You must believe that God really wants you to make it.

Sergio Zyman was the “mastermind” behind New Coke. His campaigned was one of the great failures in marketing. He left the company and got rehired because ultimately the action ended up being positive. Because of his failure with New Coke, Coca-Cola Classic was born. Without the first failure, there would not have been the great success of the new campaign.

You see, God can turn your failures into ultimate success. He can turn your test into a testimony; your mess into a message.

So you have fallen! Join the club. We all have! What you do with your failure will prove the kind of person you truly are. I encourage you to move forward, learn from your mistakes, and be a better person from it.

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