Is Failure an Option?
The answer to this question is an absolute maybe. Or if you prefer, Yes and No!
Failure is a fact of life. If you have been reading the back page of the bulletin for the last two weeks you have seen may quotations on the subject of failure. Your pastor has often said, “The only failure I can’t accept is the failure to try.” That indicates of course that he expects failures and thinks they are OK. But, are all failures OK? Who gets to decide what is a failure and what is not a failure? Is there an objective standard for determining what is a failure and what is not a failure?
Let’s take a look at what the dictionary defines as a failure.
1. The condition or fact of not achieving the desired end or ends: the failure of an experiment.
2. One that fails: a failure at one's career.
3. The condition or fact of being insufficient or falling short: a crop failure.
4. A cessation of proper functioning or performance: a power failure.
5. Nonperformance of what is requested or expected; omission: failure to report a change of address.
Now speaking for myself, each of those definitions has applied to me at one time or another. Who hasn’t heard the old saying, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” But what if you don’t have a second chance? And if we say failure isn’t an option does that mean we can’t fail? No, it simply means we don’t find failure as being an acceptable option. It is important for us to remember that in an absolute sense failure is always an option for you and me. It’s also important to remember that to God who never fails, failure is not an option in any meaningful way. Let’s look at a few of those quotations about failure.
Failure is the opportunity to begin again more intelligently. Henry Ford
Any man may make a mistake; none but a fool will persist in it. Cicero (106–43 B.C.)
Failure is not falling down; it is remaining there when you have fallen.
I'd rather attempt to do something great and fail than attempt to do nothing and succeed. Robert Harold Schuller (1926– )
This is more in line with what I meant when I said “The only failure I can’t accept is the failure to try.” But there is another aspect to failure that is meaningful to us when we have faith and trust in God. Hear some more quotes.
A failure, within God's purpose, is no longer really a failure. Paul Tournier (1898–1986)
Failure is an invitation to have recourse to God. Antonin Dalmace Sertillanges
It's the nature of God to make something out of nothing; therefore, when anyone is nothing, God may yet make something of him. Martin Luther (1483–1546)
You probably know of Charles or “Chuck” Colson. Here is what a Wikipedia article says about him.
“Charles "Chuck" Wendell Colson (born October 16, 1931) is a Christian leader, cultural commentator, and author of at least 20 books, including several that have been recognized with ECPA Christian Book Awards.
“As former Special Counsel for President Richard Nixon from 1969 to 1973, he is noted for being the first member of the Nixon administration to be incarcerated for Watergate-related charges. He was commonly named as one of the Watergate Seven, but was never charged with, or prosecuted for, any crime related to the Watergate break-in or its cover-up, although he did plead guilty to obstruction of justice in another case. He converted to Christianity in 1973, and the following year served seven months of a one-to-three year sentence in the federal Maxwell Prison in Alabama.
“Colson's later life has been spent working with his non-profit organization devoted to prison ministry called Prison Fellowship. Colson is also a public speaker and author. He is founder and chairman of the Wilberforce Forum, which is the "Christian worldview thinking, teaching, and advocacy arm of" Prison Fellowship, and includes Colson's daily radio broadcast, BreakPoint, now heard on a thousand outlets. The ministry conducts justice reform efforts through Justice Fellowship.
“Colson has received 15 honorary doctorates and in 1993 was awarded the Templeton Prize, the world's largest annual award (over $1 million) in the field of religion, given to a person who "has made an exceptional contribution to affirming life's spiritual dimension". He donated this prize to further the work of Prison Fellowship, as he does all his speaking fees and royalties.”
And now here is a quote from him
When the frustration of my helplessness seemed greatest, I discovered God's grace was more than sufficient. And after my imprisonment, I could look back and see how God used my powerlessness for his purpose. What he has chosen for my most significant witness was not my triumphs or victories, but my defeat. Charles Colson (1931– )
The point, I think, is this: We must always look for God’s direction in our lives and never count ourselves out. The Bible is full of men who failed, but the great men that failed were men after God’s own heart. Men who sought God and submitted to Him and in spite of their failings God did great things through them. God is not a respecter of persons. What He has done for others He will do for you.
There are a lot of failures that are acceptable, perhaps even helpful. We can readily admit that those failures are an option. Here is a case where I strongly believe that failure is not an option, that is to say it is not acceptable. From this failure there is no second chance. Simply put, it’s a failure to hear these words from my Master, our Lord Jesus, “Well done, good and faithful Servant!” “Come and share your Master’s happiness.” To fail to spend eternity in the presence of my Lord is not something I can contemplate for long. I will do whatever I must. Failure is not an option!