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  • Don Walker

Victory in Failure


Often we regard as successes those who are in reality failures. Those who seemly have conquered the world are in reality, those who have been conquered by it. There is a story that I believe illustrates this very point:


A soldier shouted out to his commanding officer that he had captured a prisoner. The officer responded by saying, “Well bring him along.” To which the soldier responded, “But he won’t come.” “Then come yourself” said the officer. The soldier shouted back, “He won’t let me.”


That is the kind of victory many so-called successful people have won. Having achieved the goal that they set out for, they find themselves captured by the very thing they were chasing. There are many people trapped by their supposed “success.” The “rich and famous” are often trapped by their wealth and fame.


Success and failure are often defined by the standards of the world. We must realize that what may be viewed as a failure in the eyes of the world may be viewed as success in the sight of God. The quest for success can often be the desire for the praise of men, rather than the approval of our Heavenly Father. Our values are to eternal; not temporal. We must begin to see success and failure from God’s perspective not man’s. The classic example of this is the cross of Christ. The world viewed Christ’s death as a failure; when it reality it was the greatest victory of all time.


Alexander MacLaren, who was recognized as one of the greatest preachers of the nineteenth century, delivered a powerful sermon based on the text of John 16:33: “Be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” He declared that Christ’s lesson for us is that, “The way to overcome our troubles is to bear them; the way to conquer our crosses is willingly to lay them on our shoulders.” MacLaren saw Christ’s message to those who experience the pain and grief of failure is to look to the cross and find comfort and consolation there. He stated it this way:


“Put your trust in Him as the sacrifice for your sins, and as your spirit lives you look to Him not only as example, not only as pattern, but as power; you think of Him, not only as dying on the cross for you, but as living in you, and then you will find, as sure as He lives, you will find that He has conquered, and that His conquest is for you. . . So be of good cheer; you will have to fight, thank God for it; you will have to fight; you will be beaten as sure as you live if you try to master the world without Jesus; but if you lay your hands by faith on the Lamb of God, and if you will open your hearts and lives to the influence of His triumphant spirit, then He will give you a share in His conflict, His conquest, and His royal repose.”


What is MacLaren’s encouragement and challenge to us? He challenges us to admit that our understanding of failure has been shaped by the world’s value system, not by God’s value system. Our attitudes toward failure show that the spirit of the age, rather than the Spirit of Christ has taken us captive. We need to reconsider how we view failure. Failure is so easily seen in worldly terms, as something purely negative. But for us, as believers, it can be key to spiritual growth. Godly character can be worked in us as we embrace the reproach that failure seems to bring. Yesterday’s failure is today’s opportunity for growth, which leads to tomorrow’s success. It reminds us of our need to recognize our weakness and to realize our need to trust in God and not ourselves. MacLaren calls upon us to identify our weaknesses and call upon the Lord in order that they become points of growth and the basis for hope.

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