On the 4th of July we celebrate the founding of our nation and remember some of the strong leaders who helped form it. There was Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and of course the man known as the father of our nation, George Washington. While Washington was a successful general and politician, he also failed many times and in many areas of his life. He failed in romance, being rejected twice by the same woman. He failed in politics and was only able to get votes when he ran for office in VA in 1758 because he provided people with rum, wine, brandy and beer, and he failed as a military leader.
At the beginning of his military career, Washington was put in command of a force and told to hold ground on the frontier against the French. He built a fort in a creek bottom but it was a poor location that he was soon surrounded by the French who not only forced him into surrendering but also into signing a false confession saying his forces had assassinated a French official. After this failure, Washington was demoted and relieved of his command. We don’t remember a lot of this history because these failures did not define Washington; he overcame them and moved forward.
Our nation is full of people who overcame failure to become great.
Thomas Edison failed in his many attempts at the light bulb and the phonograph.
Abraham Lincoln failed in many of his early attempts in business and politics.
Henry Ford’s first automobiles failed.
Walt Disney’s first cartoon production went bankrupt.
Stephen King had his first book rejected 30 times.
In 1985 Steve Jobs was fired from his own company, Apple.
Oprah Winfrey was fired from a TV reporting job and told she was not suitable for television.
Of course the reason we know these people is because they overcame their failure and the same is true of Moses.
This summer we have been learning from Moses how to overcome many things in life and while we see a lot of success in Moses life, Moses also failed in some pretty significant ways and those failures could have defined his life and defeated him completely, but they didn’t. In overcoming his failures Moses continued on in faith to lead God’s people to the Promised Land. Overcoming failure is possible and if we can learn how to do this, not only will we be able to continue on in faith but we will be able find the fullness and power of life that God has for us.
Moses first experienced failure as a young man and we see this in Exodus 2:11-15. Moses always had a heart to help his people. When he saw a Hebrew slave being mistreated he stepped in to do something about it. He fought for the man’s dignity and freedom. He was doing the right thing, but he was getting in front of God and relying on his own wisdom, strength and power. God was going to set the people free, but it wasn’t going to be through Moses’ strength or power, but God’s strength and power.
When Moses realizes that he has failed, he does what many of us think about doing in the face of failure – he gives up. He runs away. Have you ever dreamed of doing this? We fail at work and just want to quit and go find another job. We fail in our marriage and immediately begin to think about running away instead of facing the circumstances and working on reconciliation. We fail in school and instead of working harder or getting help we figure that it’s no use and we drop out or find an easier course or major. Too often we look at our failure as fatal – the death or the end of the road and so we might as well call it quits and run away.
If this was how Moses faced all of his failures, we wouldn’t be talking about him today, but it wasn’t. Moses learned something from this situation that shaped his life and helped him overcome future failure. The second failure for Moses came after the people of Israel had been critical because they ended up in a place where there was no water. While Moses was able to overcome the criticism of the people by turning to God and remaining humble, Moses wasn’t perfect and so after one period of intense criticism he did turn to God, but he failed to be humble.
This is a difficult passage because the failure of Moses seems pretty slight. Instead of speaking to the rock, Moses struck it, twice. This was an act of frustration against the people because they continued to be so difficult, but Moses failed to follow God’s instruction and we see from Moses words and actions a little bit of pride beginning to show through. Look at what Moses said here. With Aaron at his side, Moses said, must we bring you water out of this rock? Moses is either talking about himself and Aaron or himself and God, either way, he is lifting up his own strength and power. Moses’ pride and ego are beginning to take over and God has been clear from the beginning that this was not about the strength, wisdom and power of Moses or any human being, this was all about the power of God.
While water came forth from the rock and God provided for the people, God also pointed out to Moses his failure and the consequence that comes because of it and in defeat and failure Moses could have done what he did as a young man and run away. Moses could have given up on God and on himself and just walked away from the whole mess – but he didn’t. Moses overcame his failure and continued on and what helped Moses overcome his failure was knowing that God forgave him so he could forgive himself and God’s forgiveness brings a second chance.
Overcoming our failure happens when we accept God’s forgiveness and allow God’s grace to give us another chance. Moses had learned this before. Moses experienced forgiveness when God called him in the burning bush. Moses had failed and ran away but by choosing Moses to lead God’s people, God forgave Moses and gave him a second chance. Overcoming failure all starts with forgiveness – God’s forgiveness.
When we fail God, when we fail others, when we make a mess of our lives and think things are beyond repair, God forgives. The Bible is pretty clear about this.
In Isaiah 43 God says, I blot out your transgressions… and remember your sins no more.
Psalm 103:12 says, as far as the east is from the west, so far has God removed our transgressions from us.
Ephesians 4:32 says, forgive each other just as in Christ God forgave you.
1 John 1:9 says, if we confess our sins God is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.
God forgives us. There is no failure so great and no sin so strong that we cannot be forgiven if we confess our sin and accept God’s love and grace. In Romans, it talks about how there is no sin and no failure and nothing that we can do that can separate us from God’s love, Romans 8:35-39. So if we ask God to forgive us, he will and our failures no longer define us and our sin no longer controls our lives. God’s forgiveness also opens the door for us to forgive ourselves and forgiving ourselves is necessary if we are going to overcome our failures and move on.
For many people, forgiving themselves is more difficult than forgiving others, but if we stop and think about it, not being willing to forgive ourselves really is just a form of pride or ego. Think of it this way, if we aren’t willing to forgive ourselves it’s as if we are saying that are better sinners than anyone else. Our sin is different, our sin is worse; our sin is somehow special and therefore can’t be forgiven. Really? Are we that special? Are we really that different than other people? Is our sin really worse than others? Once again we need to get our ego out of the way and remind ourselves that we are no different than those around us and if they can be forgiven, then so can we. God forgives us which means we can forgive ourselves.
Now forgiveness, even of ourselves, does not mean we forget, in fact, I hope in some way we don’t forget our failures but learn from them instead. Moses learned from his failure and instead of running away this time, he stayed. Moses accepted God’s forgiveness and continued to lead God’s people. He overcame his failure, accepted the consequences of it and continued to walk with God and lead God’s people. Overcoming our failure doesn’t mean ignoring it or forgetting it, it means learning from it and not allowing that failure to define our future. The Apostle Paul knew failure in his life too, but he said this in Philippians 3:12-14.
Paul didn’t allow his past to shape him, he put it behind him, learned from it and pressed on. Moses didn’t allow his past to shape him, he put it behind him and learned from it and pressed on. Accepting God’s forgiveness allows us to forgive ourselves which means learning from our mistakes and sin and moving on with God.
There is one final thing that overcoming our failure helps us do and that is to help others when they fail. King David was another man who failed miserably in his life when he had an affair with Bathsheba, but David accepted God’s grace, forgave himself and continued to press on as the king of Israel. As David dealt with his failure he wrote this – Psalm 51:7-13.
David knew that by overcoming his failure he would be able to help others overcome theirs and this is true for all of us. We are able to help others overcome their mistakes and sin by sharing with them how we have accepted God’s grace and moved forward in our life. Some of the most powerful words spoken by family members in SC came from a man who said this to the shooter, I forgive you and my family forgives you, but we would like for you to take this opportunity to repent. Give your life to the one who matters the most, Christ. Here is a man helping someone to overcome his failure. He is not saying that forgiveness means he will be set free in this world, no, there are consequences and there is justice, but even in this horrible situation, forgiveness can be achieved if we will give ourselves to the one who matters most, Jesus Christ.
Overcoming our failure is possible if we are willing to give ourselves to God and acknowledge our failure, accept God’s grace and use God’s forgiveness to help us forgive ourselves and move forward. Every person used by God in the Bible had to do this. They all failed, but it was those who overcame their failure that God was able to use and lead them into the fullness of life. Overcoming our failure, no matter what it is, is possible and it can start today by giving ourselves fully to God.
1. Compare the story of Moses’ first failure in Exodus 2:11-15 with Moses’ second failure in Numbers 20:1-13.
• What lesson has Moses learned about failure?
• What other observations can you make about dealing with failure?
2. What failure in life is leading you to think about running way or giving up? Why? What makes it seem so final?
3. Accepting God’s forgiveness is key to overcoming our failure. Read these statements on forgiveness and claim them for your own heart and life. How can these words help address the failure named in #2?
• Psalm 103:6-18
• Ephesians 4:32
• 1 John 1:9
• Romans 8:35-39
4. Forgiveness leads to a second (or third) chance. In what area of life can you step out in faith and try again?
5. Overcoming our own failure can help us be an example for others. This week, use King David’s prayer in Psalm 51 as a prayer seeking the fullness of repentance, forgiveness and new life. (King David was another man who overcame his failure by accepting God’s forgiveness and giving himself another chance)