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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.]
Let us also look at another great example. Consider the life of Moses. He was born as an Israelite but raised in the house of Pharaoh.
Exodus 2:13 and 14
(13) The next day he went out and saw two Hebrews fighting. He asked the one in the wrong, “Why are you hitting your fellow Hebrew?”
(14) The man said, “Who made you ruler and judge over us? Are you thinking of killing me as you killed the Egyptian?” Then Moses was afraid and thought, “What I did must have become known.”
You see, the day before Moses saw an Egyptian beating up on a Hebrew, and he struck the Egyptian, killing him, not only killing him but burying him in the sand. Well, all of a sudden, he is there trying to intervene between two Hebrew brother’s fighting, and the next thing that you know, one of them has turned on him.
When Pharaoh heard of this, he tried to kill Moses, but Moses fled from Pharaoh and went to live in Midian, where he sat down by a well.
Wow, put yourself in Moses’ shoes. How successful would you feel at this point? Having to go from the position of the guy riding in the chariot, living in Pharaoh’s house, clothing, wealth, food, all of that at your feet, and servants waiting on you, and what are you now? You are a murderer, and you are sitting down by a well as a fugitive from your homeland. It does not sound too successful to me. That perspective had to change. Moses had to change. God did work with Moses, and you know how God called Moses in the burning bush. It is a beautiful record in Exodus where God works with Moses, and He tries to build Moses’ heart. God tries to build Moses and get him off his failure from thinking that he is nothing but merely a forty year wanderer in the wilderness following sheep to all of a sudden a man who is going to lead God’s chosen people out of Egypt.
The LORD would speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks with his friend.
Wow, that is invigorating to me. This is a guy who is a murderer; a man who has spent 40 years walking through the desert. He had to change his thinking. He had to fail forward. He had to wrap his mind around what God was calling him to do. He was a man that the Word of God declares that God knew him “face to face as a man speaks with his friend.” That is failing forward!
This is a wonderful example of what God is trying to tell us about how we need to do the same thing. We need to fail forward. When adversity, when defeat, when the obstacles of life come your way, you cannot become immobile with them. We have got to go to God, and we have got to fail forward.
In 1 Samuel 9:1 is the record of a man named Saul. This is a record of a man who started off as a great winner but became a loser. Some of these other people about whom we have talked, Rahab for example, started off as a loser, but the Word of God testifies that she was a great winner, or Moses who started off as a winner, became a loser, and then turned around and became a winner again. Now, we have Saul.
1 Samuel 9:1 and 2
(1) There was a Benjamite, a man of standing, whose name was Kish son of Abiel, the son of Zeror, the son of Becorath, the son of Aphiah of Benjamin.
(2) He had a son named Saul, an impressive young man without equal among the Israelites– a head taller than any of the others.
This is not some loser. This is an impressive young man that the Word of God would say that he is “without equal.” That is not where Saul ends up, unfortunately. Because of the insecurities of Saul’s heart, because of his fear, because of his jealousy and envy of a young man named David, he loses his entire ministry.
1 Samuel 18:8
Saul was very angry; this refrain galled him. “They have credited David with tens of thousands,” he thought, “but me with only thousands. What more can he get but the kingdom?”
See how Saul’s heart had turned. This is a man that was without equal among the Israelites. God did not choose Saul because he was a loser. He chose Saul because he saw the potential in this man, but Saul just lost it. He did not know how to fail forward.
1 Samuel 18:9-12
(9) And from that time on Saul kept a jealous eye on David.
(10) The next day an evil spirit from God came forcefully upon Saul. He was prophesying in his house, while David was playing the harp, as he usually did. Saul had a spear in his hand
(11) and he hurled it, saying to himself, “I’ll pin David to the wall.” But David eluded him twice.
(12) Saul was afraid of David, because the LORD was with David but had left Saul.
Saul lost it. Saul did not know how to fail forward. He did not know how to take his defeats. Okay, so what if David had killed tens of thousands and Saul only his thousands. Was that a reason or justification to try and kill David? No. Saul needed to grab a hold of his mind. The fact of the matter was that God had chosen Saul, which was a bigger testimony than the tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands a man named David would have killed.
1 Samuel 19:1
Saul told his son Jonathan and all the attendants to kill David.
Can you imagine starting off like this? David is already anointed and had the oil poured on his head. This is a little bit of a defeat. David got to start a lot of his public life with the great success of killing Goliath. David did slay Goliath in front of all of the armies of Israel. Remember David as a young man, the record even says that he carried the guys head for a number of days. He was pretty satisfied at that success. How would you feel if the king of your country was trying to kill you? We already read how Saul had tried to pin him twice against the wall with the spear.
I will not go through the whole record of David’s life, but please, do take the time to examine it because you will find that he was an adulterer and a murderer. A child of his died as a result of his sin. He took a census in disobedience to God’s directive, and people died as a result of that. The record of the Word of God was also that he was an over-indulgent father. He was a man of blood and a man with a hot temper. Remember when he was on his way to kill Nabal because he had refused to feed him and his army. But what is the real testimony of David? In spite of his adultery, his murder, in spite of his sin, in spite of his being an over-indulgent father, being a man of blood, and all of the other negative, nasty things that we know of David’s life, the testimony of the Word of God was that he was “a man after God’s own heart.” Why? It was because David, in spite of his sinfulness and in spite of his unrighteousness, did do the righteous thing of falling before the Father and of confessing his sin. He was a man who knew how to fail forward.
Let’s take a look at Jesus Christ.
Did Jesus Christ’s life look like a success? He starts his ministry being tossed out of his hometown synagogue and was then led to a hill where they were going to toss him off a cliff. It would have killed him. Jesus was openly ridiculed. He was without any honor in his hometown. He was beaten, flogged, and crucified. He was murdered. He was falsely accused. Remember, the people walked by him saying, “If this be the Son of God, let him come down off that cross.” Even after his death, Jesus was buried in another man’s grave. It does not look too successful to most of us. It did not look successful to them in those days either. Yet in Luke, talking about the road to Emmaus, there is a beautiful record.
Luke 24:25 and 26
(25) He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!
(26) Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?”
Did Christ not have to deal with adversity and then succeed? Did Christ not have to suffer defeat and then succeed? Did Christ not know how to fail forward? His death looked like a failure to his followers. It looked like the Devil defeated God, but from God’s perspective, it was the summit of success. Jesus’ death opened wide the door for all mankind’s repentance and permanent redemption. It is what ushered in the greatest thing that God has done for mankind, the Sacred Secret. That is what I call failing forward. God, again, lets it look like He is being defeated, but He fails forward.
Let’s consider the life of the Apostle Paul. I love Paul. He is a great inspiration to me. I want this teaching to be an encouragement to you as it has been to me.
2 Corinthians 12:7
To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.
This does not sound too successful.
2 Corinthians 12:8-10
(8) Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.
(9) But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.
(10) That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
For when I am weak, when I fail, when I am defeated, when I am confronted with adversity, insults, hardships, persecutions, difficulties, weakness, he says, “Then I am strong.” This is a man who knew how to fail forward! I cannot even imagine the suffering that Paul had to endure in his life, yet he was able to pick himself up. What does the Word of God say, “A righteous man though he falls seven times gets up”? Paul was righteous, and all these other people. Think of Job. He lost everything, all the material possessions, his wife, his family, and everything, yet it says that God restored it to him again double. How about the prophets of the Old Testament? Isaiah and Jeremiah, these guys were persecuted. They were pursued. Read the record in Hebrews of the great men and women of faith and all the things that they had to go through. They learned to fail forward.
We have got to learn to persevere. We have got to learn to look adversity in the face and use it as a friend. We need to use it to encourage us and use it to inspire us to succeed.
2 Corinthians 6:4 and 5
(4) Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses;
(5) in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger;
This does not sound too much like a wonderful and abundant life to me.
2 Corinthians 6:6, 9 and 10
(6) in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love;
(9) known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed;
(10) sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.
This is a man who has mastered the art of failing forward.
2 Corinthians 11:23-30
(23) Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again.
(24) Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one.
(25) Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea,
(26) I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers.
(27) I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.
(28) Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.
(29) Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn?
(30) If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.
Wow! Can you imagine? Forty lashes minus one and receiving that five times from the Jews. Three times being beaten with rods, being stoned, and being shipwrecked, this is unbelievable to me, but this is a man whose testimony of his life is a phenomenal success. Never judge your life by isolated situations or instances. Let God write the testimony of your life. Be a righteous person and get up and keep moving. Do you have things that have been unsuccessful in your life? So what, so have I, so have we all! If you have not had them, then you are not living.
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