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The Glory of Failure

The other day, someone from our church sent me this text message; “Have you ever witnessed to someone and felt like a total failure afterward?”

The question encouraged me greatly. First, because of this person’s faithful evangelistic efforts. Second, because I know exactly how this person feels!

I assured them that I only feel like a failure after every attempt to communicate the Gospel. Just about every Sunday sermon falls short of my ideals. Just about every discipleship gathering or counseling session finds me grasping for insight just beyond me. Just about every class I teach or meeting I lead has me struggling for greater clarity in purpose and communication. As Soundgarden vocalist Chris Cornell once sang; “Words you say never seem to live up to the ones inside your head.” 

This intimacy with inadequacy is not reserved for Christian ministry. No matter our vocation, unless we are total narcissists or not doing anything that truly matters, we are all familiar with failure. But there is a particular kind of inadequacy and feeling of failure that accompanies us when we as mere mortals attempt to communicate the words and truths of the Triune God. That is compounded when your words meet the stone-faced or glaze-eyed expression of those not picking up what you’re putting down. Speaking God’s words is a task beyond us. Changing hearts and minds is a miracle outside of us.

And the glory of it all is this: This is God’s design. God purposes to be powerful in our weakness, effective in our inadequacy, and successful in our failure. He does not need to use us to communicate the Gospel (fiery bushes and donkeys will do), but He chooses to use His people. So we trust not in our own ability, but in God’s all-surpassing worthiness to use our faithful effort, limited as it may be.

Hence the words of Paul to the Corinthians;

23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men… 1 And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.” 1 Corinthians 1:23-25, 2:1-4

7 So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. 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 of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”  2 Corinthians 12:7-10

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