ˇ°HOW DO YOU HANDLE FAILURE?ˇ± By Pastor YAU
Text: Joshua 7:1-9 July 13, 2014.
1) From success to failure: A 6th grader had never scored less than an A in his school years since first grade, until he was unfairly given a failing mark of F for a test he wasn't aware of. The worse is his teacher's comments on his paper: I have great expectation in you. Don't fail me! That day, his pride was greatly injured and his self confidence was shattered. Evidently he was too used to enjoy success, but was never prepared to handle failure. On the way to school the next morning, his father talked to him about the benefits of going through failure. He said, ˇ°Son, you are only in starting years of life. When you grow up and step into the real world, there will be times you will fail, fair or not isn't important. What is important is you need to learn how to handle failures in your life, because they will come your way no matter if you like it or not.ˇ± It could be a devastating experience if we have never learned how to handle failures.
2) From victory to defeat: One of the best stories in the Exodus is the victory of the Israelis over the city of Jericho. Jericho was a fortress city on the west bank of the River Jordan. This was a city with tall and strong defensive walls with armies of giants. Jericho posed a huge problem in the first attempt of the conquest of Israel. Yet, without any battle, any loss of life, the walls crumbled before their face and they captured that city without any sweat.
But that wasn't the end of the conquest of the Promised Land. Before they could shake off the overjoy of victory of Jericho, they suffered a devastating defeat at the city of Ai, a much smaller, less people and defense without the protection of tall walls. The Israelis were unprepared to face defeat, much less in such a situation. When news brought back to the camp, the hearts of the people melted and became like water. (7:5) Things in life is very much like this: we are often being hypnotized with smooth sailing until we are hit by a horrific storm unprepared, and we are panic, downhearted and melted.
FACTORS THAT BRING FAILURES: Each defeat has its unique factors that caused it to fail. But there are some common factors that caused many people to fail. In the scripture passage today, we can see some obvious causes that forced the Israelis to tasted a bitter defeat.
1) Pride is the guarantee of failure: ˇ°Pride goes before destruction; a haughty spirit before a fall.ˇ± (Proverbs 16:18) The Chinese idiom is so true: ˇ°Proud soldiers are always defeated.ˇ± Look at how did the Israelis feel after the victory at Jericho and after they had surveyed the city of Ai, ˇ°When they returned to Joshua, they said: Not all the people will have to go up against Ai. Send two or three thousand men to take it, and do not weary all the people, for only a few men are there.ˇ± (7:3) And that's what they did, and why they were defeated in a shameful way. After their devastating defeat, the Lord asked Joshua to take the city again. This time, God specifically ordered them to send the whole army to the battle. ˇ°Take the Whole army with you, go up and attack Ai. For I have delivered into your hands the king of Ai, his people, his city and his land.ˇ± (8:1)
Be it you are in school, in the job market, in interpersonal relationship or in business or politics, pride is the surest thing that will bring you down flat in whatever you do. If the Lord has blessed you in your work, school, family or anything else that you are doing them very well, you need to remember it is the blessing of the Lord that you succeed. Always be humble before God and man when you are successful. Always remember: Pride is the expressway leading to defeat and downfall with no exception, just a matter of time.
2) Despising God's command is next: ˇ°But keep away from the accursed things so that you will not bring about your own destruction by taking any of them...But the Israelis acted unfaithfully in regard to the accursed thing.ˇ± (6:18; 7:1) Many, if not most, believers do not include commands of God in the life: what they plan, how they live, what they do and many other areas of life. Even those who claim to be faithful, active and loyal to God's word, they still disregard commands of God and treat them as unimportant or nothing. To these people, God and everything about God is only confined to spiritual side on Sundays, not part of the everyday life from Monday to Saturday. This is practically disrespect of God, despising his authority over us. In the Bible, God specifies clearly many laws and guidelines to govern our lives. This is true in the O. T. to the Israelis. It is also true to us in N. T. Time.
3) Greed on things that are not yours: ˇ°Achan son of Carmi, the son of Zimri, the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took some of accursed things. So, the Lord's anger burnt against Israel.ˇ± (7:1b) Achan knew the command of God, (7:20-21) but he couldn't control the power of greed in his heart. These are steps most of us sin against God: a) We see something that stir our carnal desire. b) We covet things that are not ours, things God says we shouldn't have or do. c) We take or do things we know it is against God's law. And d) we hide what we did or stole in secret. The process is a succession of a slippery slope: Once you start the motion, you can't stop the train. We need to know the boundaries God set for us, and live within God's command. Any time you venture outside God's protecting cover, you are on your own. This includes material possessions, passion on illicit desires, unlawful and sinful schemes, etc. The Bible has clear warning against greed: ˇ°For the love of money (or anything else you know God is not please) is the root of all evil. People who are eager to get rich have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.ˇ± (1 Tim 6:10)
CONSEQUENCES BROUGHT BY FAILURE: We all realize that all actions will bring consequences, be it moral or spiritual. ˇ°We reap what we sowˇ± is a universal principle. No one may harvest grapes if he planted a thorn bush. Be sure what you do today that won't bring disaster or punishment on a later day.
1) You will pay more than you think: ˇ°Then Joshua and all the Israelis took Achan, the silver, the robe, the gold wedge, ˇ. his cattle, donkeys and sheep his tent and all he had,...and they burnt them.ˇ± (7:24-25) From many of sad storied of failures, be it moral, legal, or spiritual, offenders always paid lot more than what they had acquired in the first place. If Achan could imagine what he would pay for his failure, I am sure he would have never done that. It never pays to violate God's commands no matter how tricky or secretive you may scheme to do. God will expose your failure and make you pay for that.
2) Your family will for your failure: ˇ°Achan, son of Carmi, son of Zimri, son of Zimra, of the tribe of Judah, took some of them.ˇ± (7:1) In recording the act of failure of one man, the names of his ancestors were smeared with him. In 7:24, all his children were also put to death together with what he had taken from the accursed things. This is true in almost all cases of failures, moral or legal or spiritual. When a person fails in his life, be it a dishonest business deal, a moral defeat, an unfaithful act in marriage, illegal acts against the law, he is not the only one that suffers for his failure, all in his family, all those close to him will suffer with him. The suffering is more than material loss but also emotional grief and loss of respect of their good name.
3) Your failure hurts the community: ˇ°So, about 3,000 men went up, but they were routed by the men of Ai who killed 36 of them. They chased the Israelis from the city gate to the stone quarries and struck them down on the slopes. At this, the hearts of the people melted and became like water.ˇ± (7:4-5) Then Joshua and all the elders, torn their clothes and fell face-down to the ground before the ark of the Lord till evening. The leaders and all the people in the community suffered spiritual and emotional defeat because of the act of failure of one man. These past week, the headline news focused on the safe return of an American soldier who allegedly deserted his platoon 5 years ago and was released by his captors in trade of 5 high ranking leaders of Afghan terrorist group, the Taliban. It was reported that at least 6, or up to 14 soldiers had died in search of this man. Political and military experts believe that the five bad guys released for this American alleged deserter would rejoin the Taliban to kill many more American soldiers in the future. This is only one of many stories on the fact that one man's failure could bring defeat and suffering to his community, his society in a much larger extend.
STEPS OF RECOVERY FROM FAILURE: No failure is too big or too bad that God doesn't give us a window to recover. Follow these steps and you will be on the way to victory. The setback at Ai isn't the last battle for the Israelis. They still have many more to come and the Lord promised to lead their way.
1) Be humble to confess your failure: ˇ°Achan replied: It is true! I have sinned against the Lord, the God of Israel. This is what I have done.ˇ± (7:20) Then Achan honestly told Joshua the details of his acts of sin. This is the first step of recovery from our sin and failure: We need to see them as sin as God sees them. Never try to spin or making excuses or white wash or passing the bucket of blaming others. Admission of sin is most important. If you don't see your sin as sin or try to make excuses, it means you are not really ready to come back from your failure. This is the first step of cleansing. God wanted more than cleansing of one man, he wanted all Israel to cleanse themselves in this because all Israelis, like all of us, are as vulnerable to sin as did Achan. If Achan can sin and fail, everyone can. That is why God didn't mention Achan by name but he used a collective name: Israel in this case. Never think that you are not Achan, and you won't sin like him. Don't act like Peter when he boasted himself that he will never fall.
2) Be willing to accept discipline: Punishment of sin in the O T is swift and severe. Achan paid with his life and the lives of his children and possessions for the sin he committed. Discipline or punishment is a fair way for the sinner to pay so he will never forget his sin and the pain of punishment. In 7:22-26, it records the terrible price Achan paid for his sin. Thank God we are in N T time, time of grace. But God still instituted prices we pay for our sins, even though Jesus has paid them all. You can imagine the pain in his heart when King David mourned the weight of his sin in his life: ˇ°My sins have overtaken me and I cannot see. They are more than the hairs of my head and my heart fails within me.ˇ± (Psalm 40:12) With the complete forgiveness of God on our sins, there is still restitution we need to face and pay. The scar and pain of our sins and failures are reminders of our past. Before we sin, it is good to think of the pain and suffering of that sin we may face someday.
3) Be strong for the next victory: ˇ°Then the Lord said to Joshua: Don't be afraid, do not be discouraged. Take the whole army with you, go up and take the city Ai. I have delivered into your hands the king of Ai, his people, his city and his land. You shall do to Ai and its king the way you did to Jericho and its king.ˇ± (8:1-2) If you read on this chapter, you will see a complete and swift victory God had given to Joshua and his people. It is normal for us to be afraid and discouraged when we failed or sinned before. But God is merciful and he won't keep looking at our past sins or failures. ˇ°If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all of our unrighteousness.ˇ± (1 John 1:9) God isn't done with you yet. He has much more for you in the years to come. You need to get up and come back to God as the Prodigal son did. Your heavenly Father is waiting for you.
APPLICATIONS OF TRUTH:
1) To fail is being human: ˇ°For all have sinned, come short of the glory of God.ˇ± (Romans 3:23) ˇ°For there is no one righteous, not even one.ˇ± (3:10) If you had failed, sinned and stumbled, you are in good company. We all are in the same boat that will carry us to heaven. We all were born with a sinful nature, and we all will sin and fail somewhere sometimes. To sin or fail is part of being human. That is why we need forgiveness of God through Jesus Christ. To fail or to sin is never the end of life. To argue, making excuses and to deny sin is. All we need to do is to confess our sins and ask forgiveness of God with utmost sincerity and God will forgive and make us whole again.
2) If you fall, don't stay down: ˇ°Though a righteous man falls seven times, he will rises up again.ˇ± (Proverbs 24:16) The Lord God won't allow his people to fall and stay down forever. He has the power to lift him up and make him useful again. We see this many times in the Bible. People like Abraham, Jacob, Moses, King David, Elijah and Peter, they all had their fair share of failure, but God never abandon them, but raised them up again to become heroes in the history of God's people. If you have stumbled before, don't stay down, ask God to help bring you up again. God hasn't done with you yet.