Yesterday I wrote about a very long and traumatic night in my life that happened 25 years ago. I still remember many details. I can still see the faces of both the young men I mentioned. But honestly, what I remember most is that feeling of inadequacy and failure. Yes, I’m past that now. I would even say that I learned valuable lessons that I have since used on a regular basis, but it took a long time to get past the disappointment in myself.
Unfortunately it has happened to me more than once since that night. I give it my all; my very best shot, and it’s just not good enough. I’m not being too hard on myself. I’m talking about stepping out and taking a big risk and falling right down to the bottom of the canyon.
The thing is if we never take a risk, we will not make progress. If we always stay where it is safe, we won’t learn what are strengths really are. If we always opt for comfort, we will not grow.
Somewhere along the line a lot of us get the idea that if we are taking risks for God we are guaranteed success. Uh, no. It isn’t really a risk if there is no risk of failure. I can’t count the number of times that people who meant to be encouraging have said to me, “Just get out there and work hard and your church will grow.” Well, I am here to tell you that doesn’t always happen.
Working hard is good, but there is a big difference between working hard and working smart. Sometimes the only way to work smart is first to try some things that just don’t work. Maybe we need to tweak the way we are doing something. Maybe we need to rule certain things out altogether.
That brings us to today. I don’t mean Leap Day 2012, I mean this modern age. Nearly everyone has finally started to notice that the whole world and the way things work is changing. There are a multitude of reasons for this including scientific and technical advancements that help to shape new ways of thinking and doing most everything.
Some people think the world is in the worst shape that it has ever been in. They haven’t read much history. The world has been a sorry place in many ways for eons – just as violent, just as mean, just as ignorant. What the world is today is CHANGING and that is scary for everyone. Some of us also find it exciting, but many don’t. They want the world to stay the same and that’s just not going to happen. Truthfully, they want the world to go back to being the way it once was (or more accurately the way they think they remember it was.) It simply is not going to happen. Change is happening whether we want it or not.
In the midst of new ways of thinking and being and doing, it is hard to determine what the right action or the best action to take is. Sometimes it’s hard to figure out what the passable action to take is. We can’t simply move from Plan A to Plan B because we don’t have a clue what Plan B is. It’s really Plan X which is just to try something and see how it goes.
We have to get out there and try things. Some of them are going to fail. So as in the words of the old song, you have to “Pick yourself up. Dust yourself off. Start all over again.”
Today’s story is from Jonah 3: 1-10. In it, the last thing Jonah wants to do is to take God’s message to Nineveh because in Jonah’s estimation they were the worst kind of people on the face of the earth and they didn’t deserve to have the word of God. But God will not let Jonah alone until he finally drags himself to Nineveh. There all Jonah’s worst fears are realized. He preaches. They listen (everybody including the King.) They change their evil ways. And God decides that he’ll spare them from his wrath. The very thing Jonah did not want to happen.
Jonah failed. He failed at hiding from God and avoiding what God wanted from him. He failed at presenting God’s message to the people the way he wanted them to hear it (which was for them not to hear it, but ignore it.) He failed at making sure those horrible people got what they deserved. Instead they were embraced by God’s loving forgiveness.
Jonah failed, but God succeeded. *Spoiler Alert* In the end, God always succeeds – sometimes sooner, sometimes later. We often cannot for the life of us figure out where God is headed. Sometimes we do figure it out and we fight against it. But God can and will use us no matter how good or how bad we are, no matter how smart or how ignorant we are, no matter how lazy or how hardworking. Sometimes we fail, but God will succeed, so if we are working for God that means we succeed too.
Don’t let your fear of failure hold you back. You can learn valuable lessons with every effort you make. And when you do fail, pick yourself up. Dust yourself off. And start all over again.