How God Turns Crucifixions Into Resurrections (Jan-Feb 1998)

By Matt Dabbs

by Rick Warren, Founding Pastor,
Saddleback Valley Community Church, Mission Viejo, California
January – February, 1998

30Genuine success is often the outgrowth of failure. Examples of this are found everywhere: in God’s Word, church history, current events, and even our own lives. If we learn from failure, it becomes a stepping stone to achievement.

The Bible shows us over and over how God loves to turn a person’s weakness into a strength. For instance, consider Moses. Moses is the only man in the Bible called “meek,” besides the Lord Jesus. Meek literally means “strength under control.” But meekness hardly described the first half of Moses’ life!

Moses’ greatest weakness was his inability to control his anger. He had a hot temper! His uncontrolled anger caused him to murder an Egyptian, throw down the Ten Commandments, and strike the rock when God told him to speak to it instead. It was his uncontrolled anger that kept him out of the Promised Land. But over the years, God mellowed Moses, and his weakness was turned into a strength. With all that Moses had to put up with from the children of Israel as they wandered, Moses certainly wins the award as “Most Patient Leader in the Old Testament.”

Another example of weakness turned to strength is Abraham – a man who often reacted to situations with fear. Twice Abraham asked his wife to lie for him in order to protect him. he told Sarah, “Honey, tell these strangers that you’re my sister, not my wife, so they won’t kill me in order to get you.” But God worked on Abraham’s weakness, and today we know him as the “Father of Faith.”

Gideon was a first-class coward. We see him hiding from the enemy forces. But when the angel greeted Gideon, the angel addressed Gideon as “You mighty man of valor.” Evidently God saw something in Gideon that Gideon didn’t see in himself. And Gideon’s greatest weakness was turned into a strength.

Then there was Peter, to whom Jesus said, “You are a rock!” Pardon me, but Peter was anything but a rock at this point in his life. He was the most impulsive and unstable man in the entire band of disciples. Peter was constantly getting into trouble and putting his foot in his mouth. On the Mount of Transfiguration he blurted out, “This is great! Let’s build a tent for everybody and just stay up here!” Peter was the guy who impulsively jumped out of the boat to walk on water and then he began to sink. he’s the same guy who bragged, “Oh, I’ll never deny you, Lord!” right before he denied Christ three times. Peter had not shown himself to be as stable as a rock, but Jesus knew his potential and changed Peter’s weakness into a strength.

Failure: It’s Only Human

The truth is that we learn far more from failure than from success. Thomas Edison always insisted, “Don’t ever call any experience a failure. Instead call it an education.”

Because we’re sinners and imperfect human beings, failure is a guaranteed part of life. No one goes through life with an unbroken string of successes.

Many times you’re going to feel like Job: “My days have passed, my plans are shattered, and so are the desires of my heart” (Job 17:11).

We all have failures, and we all make mistakes. What is more interesting is the predictable pattern that our emotions follow whenever we experience failure. First we have a defeat. Next comes disappointment. Along with that comes discouragement. If we wallow in discouragement, it deteriorates into serious depression and eventually despair. Anyone who ministers to others has seen this pattern repeatedly. Since failure is a normal part of life and ministry, we must learn how to deal with it without being devastated by it.

Let’s look at some of the most common causes of failure, the wrong responses to failure, and God’s way to recover from a failure. Fortunately, the book of Proverbs has a great deal to say about failure.

Common Causes of Failure

We don’t plan ahead. Proverbs 27:12 (LB) says, “A sensible man watches for problems ahead and prepares to meet them. The simpleton never looks and suffers the consequences.” If you fail to plan, you’re planning to fail.

We give up too soon. Edison tried more than 200 different elements and compounds before he discovered that tungsten worked best for the light bulb. If at first you don’t succeed, welcome to the human race! You’re normal. Failure helps you discover what doesn’t work. if you keep on keeping on, you get closer to the solution every day. At Saddleback Church we’ve tried far more things that didn’t work than those that did work. I could write a book, 1000 Ways How NOT to Grow a Church! We simply kept trying, though, and we eventually found the right approach that allowed us to grow from one family to over 14,000 in attendance in 18 years and to baptize over 5,000 new believers in the past five years. Proverbs 13:4 says, “Lazy people want much but gain little while the diligent are prospering.”

We don’t listen to God. usually we like to make our own plans and then pray, “God bless our plans.” That’s backwards. Instead we ought to pray, “God we know you are doing some great things in the world right now. Please let us in on whatever you are blessing!” The Bible says, “There is a way that seems right to men but it ends in death.”

We are afraid to take risks. Proverbs 29:25 (NIV) says, “The fear of man is a dangerous trap, but to trust in God means safety.” We set ourselves up for failure every time we worry about what other people will think. Never be afraid to go out on a limb for Jesus. That’s where the fruit is!

When we think we’ve arrived. The Bible says, “Pride goes before destruction and arrogance before a fall.” The truth is – you never “arrive.” You must always be walking before the Lord in total dependence and humility. You must always be learning and growing. One of the problems of pride is that it makes us unteachable. If you can’t learn from other people, you have an ego problem. Did you know that you can learn from anybody if you’re willing to ask the right question? You can learn from people older than you, people younger than you, people who are different from you, and people who don’t agree with you.

We set ourselves up for failure by fearing it. Job 3:25 says, “What I always feared has happened to me.” This is a law of life. The fear of failure sets us up to fail. We tend to get out of life what we expect from it. Many people program themselves for failure by expecting it. Jesus said, “According to your faith it will be done unto you.” Why would anyone unconsciously set himself or herself up for failure? Let me suggest a few reasons:

  • Fear of success. Success means more responsibility and more problems. Success means some people are going to resent you because you’re successful. It means some people are going to depend on you.
  • Guilt. You may be thinking, “I don’t deserve to succeed. I’ll pay for my sin by being a failure in life.” Guilt is often the root cause for a lack of confidence. That’s why the starting point for being effective in ministry is receiving grace from God and offering grace to everyone around you.
  • Resentment. Some people try to get even with people who have hurt them by failing. Kids do this when they don’t get the love and attention they want from parents. They say, for example, “If I can’t get affection from my family, then I’ll get attention in some inappropriate way. I’ll just fail and ‘blow it’ in school!”
  • A warped image of God. I’ve met many people who think that God intends for them to fail in life. They believe all success is sinful. Of course, this is a twisted view of what we know about God from his Holy Word. Of course, real success is a far cry from what the world says it is. Success is not a matter of power, wealth, fame, or pleasure. Success is being what God meant you to be! Success is using the gifts God gave you and developing them to the fullest in order to serve others and bring glory to God. Jesus reserved his severest criticism for those people who did not use the talents given to them by God.

Wrong Responses to Failure

While you cannot control all the failures you will experience in life, you can control how you respond to them. That is your choice. Here are three common responses that are self-defeating. They only make matters worse.

Don’t clam up! Don’t internalize your hurt and anger. Whenever you swallow your emotions, your stomach keeps score. So don’t hide your hurt. Let it out. Talk to God and to a good friend. What is past is past. It’s over and it can’t hurt you anymore unless you let it. Ask God for forgiveness, accept his forgiveness, forgive yourself, and carry on.

Don’t blow up! Don’t blame other people. Don’t make excuses. Don’t pass the buck. Whenever we realize we’re failing in some area, it’s easy to become frustrated and vent our anger on others, but it never solves anything.

Don’t give up! Don’t withdraw into a shell and become indifferent. You are never a failure until you quit – and it is always too soon to quit. Every situation in life will either make you bitter or better, and the only difference between bitter and better is the letter “I.” It’s your choice.

The Right Response to Failure

How should I respond to the inevitable failures in my life? The Bible shows us the way:

Admit it. The Bible says, “A man who refuses to admit his mistakes can never be successful. But if he confesses and forsakes them, he gets another chance” (Proverbs 28:13 LB).

Learn from it. There are some lessons you can’t learn any other way except by trial and error. Use failure to reevaluate your life. Ask yourself, “Am I on the right track?” Then get moving again. Even if you’re on the right track, you’ll be run over if you just sit there!

Listen to God. God speaks to us in our pain. Are you listening? Look at what you have left, not at what you have lost.

Realize that failure is never final. I love Proverbs 24:16 (NIV), “For though a righteous man falls seven times, he rises up again.” Even good guys stumble, but they get up and try again. You know that defeat is often the first step to ultimate victory. Pearl Harbor steeled the nation’s resolve to win World War II.

Realize that God loves to take our greatest failures and turn them into our greatest strengths. God is still with you, and his love and purpose for your life remain unchanged. You are a trophy of God’s grace!

As I wrote this article I was reminded of what God has done in the life of one of my staff pastors at Saddleback Church. John Baker was called to ministry at 16, but he ignored the call because he felt unworthy to serve God. Instead he went to college, joined a fraternity, and discovered alcohol. Later as an Air Force pilot, John learned how to abuse alcohol but still perform on the job. One technique was inhaling pure oxygen to cure his hangover. His abuse continued for more than two decades. He was a “functioning alcoholic,” a successful sales and marketing executive who never lost a job nor was ever arrested for drunken driving. But he did lose what was most important to him: his fellowship with the Lord, his family, and his health.

By the time John’s wife, Cheryl, gave him an ultimatum, he had stopped going to church. She gave him a choice: counseling or separation. He chose separation. From every viewpoint, John’s life was ending in failure. But during the separation, John did some serious reevaluating and his family began attending Saddleback Church. Eventually, they invited him to attend with them. He started listening to God. John recommitted his life to Christ, and then John and Cheryl renewed their wedding vows and joined our church.

Then God gave John the ministry vision to use his failures to help others. He started Celebrate Recovery, a Christ-centered, biblical recovery program for people struggling with all kinds of hurts, habits, and hang-ups. The program steps were based on a series I taught on the Beatitudes. Hundreds of people flocked to the program and began to receive help. The program grew so large that I invited John to join our church staff full-time. Now today, six years later, more than 2,500 people have been through Celebrate Recovery at Saddleback and 200 churches nationwide have adopted the program. John and Cheryl have celebrated their 28th wedding anniversary and serve together in ministry. And John, who ignored God’s call as a teenager, is now our pastor of ministries overseeing 150 lay ministries at Saddleback.

God used John’s failure, first to get his attention, and then to give him a ministry he was uniquely qualified to lead. If God worked that kind of miracle in John’s life, what is he waiting to do in your life? What failure is he ready to turn into success if you will only admit your weakness, learn from it, listen to God, realize that no failure is final, and get up to start again?

When we recall the resurrection of Jesus Christ, we are reminded that God specializes in turning crucifixions into resurrections! He takes those painful, ugly events of our lives and brings good out of them when we give him all the pieces. If you’ve been struggling with the memory of failure, let it go. Get up and get back in the race.Wineskins Magazine

Rick Warren

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Profile photo of Matt DabbsThis author published 1577 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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