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[The following article is an edited transcription of the June 2005 Tape/CD of the Month, Failing Forward by Dan Gallagher.]
Another lesson that we can take away from God’s Word is that the Bible really is a book about losers. Again, I am not trying to be sacrilegious here! It is however a book about losers. Some of those losers stay losers. Some of the winners become losers, but some of the losers have become great winners. That is what we want to look at.
Let’s look at some of the records of the men and women of the Bible and see specific examples from their lives what we can glean—examples of how to fail forward. Genesis 37 is about Joseph and his brothers.
Genesis 37:19 and 20
(19) “Here comes that dreamer!” they said to each other.
(20) “Come now, let’s kill him and throw him into one of these cisterns and say that a ferocious animal devoured him. Then we’ll see what comes of his dreams.”
Can you imagine? I cannot. I have seven brothers and sisters. I was raised in a great family, and all of my brothers and sisters loved each other a lot. We still do. We fight for each other. I cannot imagine how my heart would be pained to think about how my brothers or sisters would be, not only jealous of me or want to do me harm, but that they would want to kill me. Fortunately, because of Reuben’s intervention, they merely threw him in a cistern and sold him off to slavery. Now, that is a little bit of a defeat. That is a little adversity. I do not think that many of us can say that we have endured that type of thing.
Genesis 37:23 and 24
(23) So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe– the richly ornamented robe he was wearing—
(24) and they took him and threw him into the cistern.
Shortly there after along comes a Midian caravan. They pull Joseph out and sell him into slavery with the intent that they would never see their brother again. Joseph’s heart must have been broken knowing that God had called him. Joseph had dreams. He had revelations. God had revealed to him prophetic images of what his life was supposed to mean. This one certainly was not lining up to it—in chains and shackles, being led away by a Midian caravan off to Egypt. Shortly after arriving in Egypt, he is sold. He ends up working for a man named Potiphar. Everything seems to be going well, and he is elevated to the head of Potiphar’s household. This is not bad for a slave, but still it is something that I would not consider as the ideal life, nor do I think you would either, but Joseph was doing the best that he could. He was trying to fail forward.
In Genesis 39, Potiphar’s wife comes along and falsely accuses Joseph of trying to seduce or rape her.
Genesis 39:19 and 20
(19) When his master heard the story his wife told him, saying, “This is how your slave treated me,” he burned with anger.
(20) Joseph’s master took him and put him in prison, the place where the king’s prisoners were confined.
Again, this is another defeat, more adversity. What a horrific way to live life. First as a slave, and not only that, now you are falsely accused and thrown into prison.
Joseph spends quite a bit of time in prison, and along comes a couple of the Pharaoh’s servants, the chief cupbearer and the baker. They are thrown into prison with him.
Not only was Joseph thrown into prison, and yes, he does get elevated in prison, but while he is in prison, he gives the interpretation of two dreams, and all he asked of these two men is, “Just don’t forget me. When you get out and you are restored to your position, don’t forget me.”
The chief cupbearer, however, did not remember Joseph; he forgot him.
When two full years had passed, Pharaoh had a dream:
Well, I really think that after two years have gone by that this is considered forgetting this poor guy Joseph. This is not some “club fed.” This is the most wretched place on the earth. It is a pit. It is filled with vermin and feces. It is a hole in the ground even though Joseph may be the head of the dung heap. Two years go by, and Joseph still has a great attitude.
You know this story. Joseph goes from being a prisoner to being the second in command of all of Egypt – all in the very same day. I want you to see Joseph’s perspective because this is powerful.
(1) Then Joseph could no longer control himself before all his attendants, and he cried out, “Have everyone leave my presence!” So there was no one with Joseph when he made himself known to his brothers.
(2) And he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard him, and Pharaoh’s household heard about it.
(3) Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph! Is my father still living?” But his brothers were not able to answer him, because they were terrified at his presence.
At this point, Joseph’s brothers had no idea who this Egyptian standing before them was.
Genesis 45:4 and 5
(4) Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come close to me.” When they had done so, he said, “I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt!
(5) And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you.
What a perspective! That was a man who learned to fail forward.
Genesis 45:6 and 7
(6) For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will not be plowing and reaping.
(7) But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.
That is failing forward. What a wonderful example that Joseph gives us. I think God wants us to take away a lesson. He wants us to know that no matter what we are handed in life, we can fail forward because God is always working in all situations for our good (Rom. 8:28).
One of the greatest problems that people have with failure is that they are too quick to judge isolated situations in their lives and label them as failures. You have to realize that failure is the price that you will pay for success. Only one real definition of failure exists. Albert Hubbard once said, “A failure is a man or woman who has blundered but is not able to cash in on his experience.” What you have to tell yourself is not that you are a failure but that you merely failed at doing something. A big difference exists between these two.
In Joshua 2:1 we see the story of Rahab:
Then Joshua son of Nun secretly sent two spies from Shittim. “Go, look over the land,” he said, “especially Jericho.” So they went and entered the house of a prostitute named Rahab and stayed there.
This is a prostitute, a woman of ill repute. It is still the same as what prostitutes are today. They sell their bodies. This is a woman who is a prostitute, and this is where the spies go to live. That is not the end of the record concerning Rahab. In Matthew 1:5 and 6 is the record of Jesus Christ’s lineage.
Matthew 1:5 and 6
(5) Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab, Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth, Obed the father of Jesse,
(6) and Jesse the father of King David.
Because of her righteous act, Rahab the prostitute, is in the Christ line. That is what I would consider as the proper perspective, not that this woman was the prostitute. That may have been where she mentally lived, but from God’s perspective, because of Rahab’s righteous acts, God included here in the lineage of Jesus Christ.
In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction?
That is failing forward. Do not let isolated situations define you as being a failure. Do not be too quick to judge. Let us not be too quick to judge Rahab because God’s perspective was not that she was a prostitute but because of the righteous act that she did, she is considered righteous, for she is included in the Christ line.
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