Sermon for January 28, 2018

 

FEAR NOT:  FAILURE

Exodus 3:10, 4:13   Joshua 1:1, 5, 9   II Timothy 1:7

The fourth in a series of six.

 

If I were to ask you to name the greatest ever basketball player and the greatest ever hockey player, it might not be unanimous, but it would be close.  Michael Jordan and Wayne Gretzky, respectively.  In fact, Gretzky is called “The Great One” more than he is called by his given name.  Jordan and Gretzky belong to a very exclusive club of people we might call GOAT’s.  That stands for “Greatest of All Time”.

They both have an impressive list of failures in the sports in which they excelled.  We’ll get to that in a bit.  But first, did you know they both have a connection to baseball?

Michael Jordan played briefly for the Birmingham Barons, a minor league team.  He played better than many thought he would, but he never came close to playing well enough to get to the major leagues.  Basically, he failed.

Wayne Gretzky almost picked baseball over hockey.  He once turned down a contract with the Toronto Blue Jays.  His son did choose baseball over hockey.  Trevor Gretzky played for the Boise Hawks.  I saw one of his games.  He didn’t play well.  I remember specifically one at bat when he struck out on three pitches.  It looked like he didn’t have a clue.  He hasn’t given up, but he has yet to show major league talent.  Last year he played for the Three Rivers Eagles in Quebec.  He batted .206.  They aren’t exactly calling him “The Great One.”

But he’s not afraid to try.  He’s not afraid of people like me pointing out his less than stellar talent.   Fear of failure has not kept him from pursuing his dream.  Can we say the same for ourselves?

We’re in this series right now where we are looking at our fears.  We’ve seen that fear can be a good thing.  It can keep us from doing stupid things.  But it can also keep us from trying new things for fear of looking stupid.  Because the early warning system in our brains has a hard time telling the difference between something that might really harm us and something that might just harm our egos.

I mentioned earlier the acronym GOAT.  “Greatest of All Time.”  There’s another acronym going around that is much more likely to describe you and me.  FOLS.  “Fear of Looking Stupid.”

When I put the cover over this piano, I like to wait until no one is watching.  Because I always end up getting it on wrong.  Sometimes it takes a ridiculously long time for me to figure out what’s wrong and to get the thing turned around to fit the way it’s supposed to.  And I would just as soon you not be watching while I’m having such a hard time doing something that should be so simple.

That’s a silly example.  Here’s one that’s more serious.

A promising quarterback.  A young man with a lot more going for him than just his athletic talent.  A tremendous future in whatever he might choose to do with his life.  He shows what he’s capable of in a game against Boise State last fall when he comes off the bench to lead his team to an unbelievable comeback victory.  Everyone has sky high expectations for him next year.

But perhaps deep inside he is feeling an overwhelming fear that he might not be able to meet all those expectations.  He might fall short.  He might fail.  We’ll never know for sure what was going through his mind, only that on Tuesday, January 16, 21-year-old Tyler Hilinski was found dead of a gunshot wound, apparently self-inflicted.

Fear can be a good thing.  It can protect us from danger.  But when a spirit of fear overwhelms us, it can be a bad thing.  It can get in the way of living life well, or living life at all, or being the person God wants us to be.

For God did not give us a spirit of fear, but a spirit of power

and of love and of self-control (II Timothy 1:7).

 

We read today short snippets from two of the many stories in the Bible about people who were afraid they might fail.  But God worked in their lives to help them overcome that fear.  Or maybe more correctly, to do what God had for them to do in spite of their fear.

God had a job for Moses.  He wanted him to make the case to mighty Pharaoh that it was time for him to release the people of Israel from their bondage.  “Let my people go!”  Don’t ask him.  Tell him.  Don’t take no for an answer.  Moses was God’s man for that job.

You know how the story ends.  Moses takes the job.  Pharaoh does not give in easily, but he does give in eventually.  After his army has been drowned in the sea.  Moses is one of the great success stories of the Bible.  He is remembered for his courageous leadership.

But the story doesn’t begin this way.  It begins with Moses saying, “Oh, my Lord, send, I pray, some other person!” (Exodus 4:13)   Those are not words of courage.  Those are words of fear.

He did not feel up to the job.  He did not feel confident in his abilities.  Maybe he was afraid of Pharaoh.  Pharaoh was an intimidating figure.  But I think he was less afraid of Pharaoh and more afraid of failure.  Maybe even afraid of looking stupid as he failed.

But notice, God does not take Moses’ advice.  God does not give up on Moses and go find some other person.  God has the right person even though Moses can’t see that.  So what God does is something that seems small but it is really huge.  He gives Moses a simple promise:  “I will be with you” (Exodus 3:12).

Just five words.  “I will be with you.”

Fast forward forty years.  Moses has completed his mission.  God kept his promise and gave Moses success.  Now God needs someone else to pick up where Moses left off.  And God knows who that person is.  His name is Joshua.

The Bible does not record Joshua’s fear or reluctance.  That doesn’t mean it wasn’t there.  The Bible does record God’s promise.  It’s the same promise he made to Moses.  God just uses a few more words this time to say it.

No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life; as I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will not fail you or forsake you . . . Be strong and of good courage; be not frightened, neither be dismayed; for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go (Joshua 1:5, 9).

 

You can find the proof that God kept that promise as you read the book of Joshua.  God was with Moses.  God was with Joshua.  God used them for great things, in spite of their fear.  But the main reason these ancient stories have been preserved for people living so many years later is that this same promise applies to you and me.  God will be with you.  God will be with me.  God will use us for great things, in spite of our fear.

In fact, right now I want to suggest that you close your eyes and think about whatever it is that is your greatest fear.  What keeps you awake at night?  What do you keep thinking about during the day, no matter how hard you try to think about something else?  Feel that fear.  Let it be real for you.  And then hear these words God speaks to you:

I will not fail you or forsake you.  Be strong and of good courage; be not frightened, neither be dismayed; for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.

 

I mentioned earlier Wayne Gretzky and Michael Jordan.  Two gifted athletes.  Ice water runs in their veins.  No fear.  Total confidence.  Unstoppable.  Unbeatable.

That’s the legend.  The reality is somewhat different.

Wayne Gretzky was considered too small and too slow to succeed at hockey.  When he had proven the experts wrong and was approaching Gordie Howe’s all-time goal scoring record, he started hinting that anxiety was becoming a problem for him.  He seriously wondered if he would ever score another goal.  The self-doubts he felt when he was just getting started were coming back.  He said this in an interview:

My whole sports life I’ve played in fear.  I’ve always played in fear of failure.  When I was 9, I was afraid of not making the team I tried out for, of not being good enough to do what was expected.

 

He did break Gordie Howe’s record, by quite a bit.  It’s one of those records they say will never be broken.  And yet Wayne Gretzky missed on 84% of the shots he took.  That’s a lower percentage than his son’s batting average last year.  But he kept shooting.  He famously said, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”

Michael Jordan was considered too slow and too small to succeed at basketball.  As a 15-year-old sophomore, he got cut from his high school basketball team.  He said, “It was embarrassing not making the team.”  He went home, locked himself in his room, and cried.

Later on, as he was proving he could play basketball after all, he would use his memory of the day he was cut as motivation.

Whenever I was working out and got tired and figured I ought to stop, I’d close my eyes and see that list in the locker room without my name on it.  That usually got me going again.

You might remember the ad Michael Jordan made for Nike a few years ago.

(YouTube Video:  “Failure”)

“I have failed over and over and over again in my life.  And that is why I succeed.”

Mary Tyler Moore said, “Take chances.  Make mistakes.  That’s how you grow.  Pain nourishes your courage.  You have to fail in order to practice being brave.”

Speaking of brave, here is what John Wayne said.  It’s on a stamp one of you sent with your Christmas card this year.  “Courage is being scared to death, but saddling up anyway.”

I’m going to close with some practical steps you can take to deal with your fear of failure.

1) The first is simply to recognize that, yes, you will fail.  It’s as sure a thing as there is.  And there is a direst correlation between those whose failures have been many and epic and those who have eventually succeeded in big ways.

It’s become an axiom in business.  It’s good to give your employees permission to fail.  It’s good to encourage them to try new things without having to worry about suffering consequences if their innovations don’t turn out so well.

At the 2017 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland there was a study presented on this subject.  Here’s what “Business News Daily” reported:

“Failure, in the objective sense, is an event that happens in the course of trying to achieve one’s goals,” the study’s authors wrote.  The research found that employers that change the way employees think about failure have, on average, workers who are 30% more confident.  The study’s authors said that boost in confidence is what leads to performance gains.  “When we punish failure, we disincentivize exploring new ideas, which can stymie creativity and limit success.  While many corporate leaders tend to be risk-averse, this research could encourage them to rethink the way they approach business.”

This does not just apply to the business world.  It applies to your world.  The only sure way to fail in life is to make it your life goal to never fail.   Because you will fail.  That’s a given.  So try new things.  Try hard things.  Try things that aren’t a sure thing.  And when you fail, use that failure to learn and to grow.

2) First, yes, you will fail.  And second, no, when you fail, it does not make you a failure.  So don’t take it personally.  Don’t let it get you down.

That business study uses the word “confidence”.  What happens too often is people try something new, they fail, maybe they even looking stupid trying, and then their self-esteem takes a nose-dive.  They stop trying because their confidence is gone.  “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.”  But that’s nearly impossible for people who don’t believe in themselves.

Another word for confidence is faith.  And faith is the opposite of fear.  Faith in yourself, but more than that, faith in God.  God made you.  God gave you abilities that you will discover and develop only through the process of fail, learn, grow, and try, try again.

Here’s how Winston Churchill put it:  “Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.”  Without loss of confidence.  Without loss of faith.

3) Finally, we all need to ask ourselves this question:  What does God want me to do that I am not doing because I am afraid?  Because I am afraid I might fail.

I’d like you to take that question home with you and struggle with it this week.  I’m going to take that question home with me and struggle with it this week.

I don’t know about you, but I kind of prefer to play it safe.  I’ll take a risk now and then, but the risks I take seldom stretch me the way God wants me stretched.  So, where does God want me stretched?  What is it that God wants me to do that I cannot possibly do unless God helps me do it?

Maybe you’re like Moses.  That thing you are struggling with and fighting with that maybe, possibly God wants you to do – you are saying to God, “You’ve got the wrong person.  I can’t do that.  You’re not a very good talent scout.  You have no idea how inadequate I really am.”

And like Moses, God is going to come right back to you and say, “Nope, I don’t think so.  You are not the wrong person.   You are the right person.  I know you are afraid.  But here’s what you need to know to be able to saddle up even though you are scared to death.  Just this one thing:  I will be with you.”

What is it that God wants you to do that you are not doing because you are afraid?  Struggle with that question.  Struggle until you have an answer.  And that’s not all.  Then you need to do the thing you fear.  God will be with you.  God will help you get back on your feet if you fail.  When you fail.  And God will give you the faith and the confidence to try, try again.

For God did not give us a spirit of fear, but a spirit of power

and of love and of self-control.

God, for many of us here today, our fears are keeping us from doing what you want us to do.  And when that happens, you are not first in our lives.  Fear is.  So today, right now, we give to you our fears.  We take them off that high pedestal on which we have placed them as we have allowed them to rule our lives.  We give them to you.  And we give ourselves to you.  Because we know you’ve given yourself to us.  You will not fail us or forsake us.  So we can be strong.  And we can be courageous.  Not because we are so brave, but because you are so good.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.