Our failures can be stepping stones instead of stumbling blocks

"Requiem for All Saints and All Souls" (Houma)
November 2, 2010
Karl Frazier
November 4, 2010

Jesus praised people who were risk-takers. In the parable of the talents, the people who took risks and invested their master’s money were rewarded with more responsibility. The person who played it safe and buried the master’s money was condemned. This was Jesus’ whole approach to life. He said, “Those who try to make their life secure will lose it, but those who lose their life will keep it.” (Luke 17:33)

In another place he echoes the same theme, “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it. What does it profit them if they gain the whole world, but lose or forfeit themselves?” (Luke 9:24-25) Playing it safe is not a gospel principle.

Why do so many people play it safe and fail to take risks? Actor Jeffery Combs in an article about growth says that the main reason people do not take risks is fear of failure. He asks these questions: “What makes the difference between ordinary and extraordinary, between average and excellent, mediocre and superb? Is it family background? Are achievers born into wealth?

“Is it better opportunities for certain people? Opportunity is a strange thing because two people with similar gifts, talents and resources can look at a situation and one person will see tremendous opportunity while the other is negative and skeptical. One man’s junk is another man’s jewel. Opportunity is like beauty. It’s in the eye of the beholder.

“Is achievement gained because of hardship or because of lack of hardship? Is it high morals or how about a great education? Perhaps here is the great secret. Well, I believe it is none of these items. The bottom line that separates those who achieve from those who don’t is different perceptions and responses to what many people consider failure. Nothing else has such a dramatic impact on people’s ability to achieve and to accomplish whatever they set out to accomplish.

“There are literally thousands of ways to become a winner and the sure way I know of to stay average is to fail and not investigate what you gained from the apparent failure. Through trial and error, I eventually taught myself how to view, what most people say is failure, differently. I taught myself that everything happens for a reason.”

This idea is not new. The Greek historian Plutarch told us almost 2,000 years ago, “To make no mistakes is not in the power of human beings; but from their errors and mistakes the wise and good learn wisdom for the future.” Motivational speaker and best-selling author Denis Waitley says, “Achievers can almost literally taste success because they imagine their goals in such vivid detail. Setbacks only seem to add spice and favor to the final taste of victory.”

Historian and philosopher William Durant states forcefully, “Forget past mistakes. Forget failures. Forget everything except what you’re going to do now and do it.” Baptist evangelist Harold J. Smith emphasizes the need to be honest, “More people would learn from their mistakes if they weren’t so busy denying them.”

Yes, success depends on our attitude toward failure. We usually define success in material terms. However, the accumulation of temporal possessions should not be our goal in life. Again, Jesus asks that important question, “What does it profit individuals if they gain the whole world, but lose or forfeit themselves?”

It is imperative that we view our past failures differently and change how we view challenges and obstacles that face us every day. Jesus wants us to live life fully by not being afraid of failures that cause us to quit. Quitters never win and winners never quit.