Coming to Grips With Failure
Text: Genesis 26
Proposition: Whether circumstantial or personal, failure challenges our faith and it is often the ground upon which God directs our next steps.
Introduction: There is something that we will all experience, we have known it since being an infant and we will know it when we are in old age. We will know it within ourselves and we will experience it in relationships, health and career. We have all come to know failure, sometimes from others, sometimes from ourselves and sometimes for no apparent reason at all. Most small businesses fail in the first 5 years, 90% of all restaurant businesses fail in the first year of operation, 40% of all marriages fail. There is climate failure, crop failure, personal failure, financial failure, moral failure and then there are other failures like one in four people in the world, 1.3 billion, live on less than $1 per day, while the world's 358 billionaires have assets exceeding the combined annual incomes of countries with 45 percent of the world's people. (UNICEF). That’s a failure on the part of the whole human race. If what I’m suggesting is true, the fact that we all experience failure many times and in various ways, how do we come to grips with it, is there anything that needs to change in my thinking about how I handle failure?
Let’s look at that question as we scan the account of Isaac’s failure, Genesis 26.
I. Circumstantial Failure.
As we begin Genesis 26 we see Isaac moving into the city of Gerar because of famine. Don’t forget Abraham had built considerable wealth in animals, servants and silver and then he left it all to Isaac. In the previous chapter Abraham died and we can assume that about twenty years have gone by when this famine hits. By the description of this it would seem that Isaac has been pretty much wiped out. In fact it becomes evident that he is thinking about making a run for Egypt where there is still food to be had. I would call this circumstantial failure, despite all that had been given to him, despite an army of shepherds to care for the flocks, famine wiped him out. There will be failures like that, where you did everything right and it still fell apart. So how did Isaac find his way through this? As you read verses 2-6 you see God giving some direction, counsel and promise to him. If we were to break it down this is the essence of what God said:
1. Don’t quit, don’t go to Egypt, there’s only captivity there.
2. Learn to live in this lean place, it’s where I will direct you.
3. Commit to this land, dwell in it, I will be with you, I’ll bring what I have to you.
4. Don’t trust what you see, trust Me, I have promised and I will not let you fail.
5. There’s more at stake here than just you, nations will be blessed.
6. Keep your eyes on My Word, My Way, My Will, like Abraham did.
Then verse 6 says, “So Isaac dwelt in Gerar.” When you experience circumstantial failure take these same six steps to heart.
II. Personal Failure.
Isaac sets up his tents in Gerar and as he does so the men of the place begin to check out Rebekah. Don’t forget, God had just told him to stay here, promised that He’d take care of him, even bless him. What does Isaac do, he tells the men that Rebekah is his sister so that they won’t murder him in order to take her as their wife, or so he thought. Maybe it was something he’d seen his father do before, maybe it just seemed like the thing to do in the moment but it was a personal failure on Isaac’s part. Personal failure is always a choice I make to get for myself what God was wanting to provide for me. Sometimes that failure has a high profile like that of the church secretary in Buchanan, Georgia who was charged with 332 counts of embezzlement from her church as she stole more than $200,000 from its accounts. What was it that she chose to do for herself that God wanted to do? The answer is in whatever she thought the money was going to do for her. The embezzlement went on for over 10 years, that’s a long time to carry the guilt and fear of exposure. What made her do that was the idea that money could provide for her, could be a power, a security in her life. Do you think that God was wanting to be that to her and more? Absolutely, personal failure occurs as a choice is made to get for myself the very thing that God is yearning to do. For Isaac the deception of pretending that Rebekah was his sister was also something that they managed to keep up for a long time, at least that is what it tells us in verse 8. Personal failure doesn’t have to involve money, it doesn’t have to be about sexuality or fame but it is always a deception, an injury to the truth. Like any injury it hurts, it hurts to sustain a lie, it hurts those who are lied to. You see that in Abimilechs’ response when he happens to see Isaac kissing Rebekah. He confronts Isaac and both Isaac and Rebekah are exposed in their personal failure, in their sin. The thing about personal failure is that it feels like we are the only ones who have failed, the only one that this affects, the only ones who wrestle with guilt. I think it’s what Satan uses to lock us up and separate us from one another. We see others as not having failed, we see our failure as a greater sin and we wonder if there is really any forgiveness, whether from others or from God. Satan uses that to prolong the deception and then to intensify the accusation he brings against us. Look what happens in this situation with Isaac:
1. God loves us so much that creates opportunities for our sin to be exposed. Of all the people to see Isaac and Rebekah, Abimilech was the perfect choice.
2. When Isaac’s sin is exposed the reason for doing it suddenly seems weak. The men of Gerar were never the threat Isaac imagined them to be.
3. When sin is exposed the blast zone is always revealed as being much greater than was originally thought. Abimilech seems to be saying that Isaac’s deceit could have brought guilt upon them as a people.
4. When sin is exposed the original reason for the deception, that the men of Gerar wouldn’t kill me, is displaced by the hand of God ordaining our protection. Abimilech orders the safe conduct of Isaac for as long as he lives in Gerar. Only God could have done that, revealing that He is God and nothing can take His place.
5. When personal failure occurs God uses it to bring about changes that could not happen otherwise. Isaac learns about his own weaknesses and is better equipped.
6. When Isaac confesses his sin and repents from it not only does he have safety but God begins to bless him. Isaac had been in Gerar a long time and it had been nothing but struggle. Once this crisis of being exposed occurs and Isaac handles it with faith, humility and contrition, God begins to bless Isaac just like he said He would.
III. So What Does Jesus Think About Failure?
Not only have every one of us experienced failure, both circumstantial and personal, but some of those whom we would consider the heroes of the faith have done this and more. King David, a man after God’s own heart, committed adultery and premeditated murder. Saul consulted spiritual mediums rather than God, Samuel lost his boys because of negligence, Jesus knew Judas before Judas did, and then there was Peter. The man who failed in faith as he walked on water, the man who boasted that he would never fail Jesus and then just hours later failed Him three times.
Robert Banks and R. Paul Stevens have this to say about Peter’s failure:
1. Failure enables us to more accurately assess ourselves and our situation.
2. Failure helps us to see our weaknesses.
3. Failure takes the wind out of our spiritual boasting.
4. Failure provokes us to find answers.
5. Failure shows us how dependent we are on God and others.
6. Failure frees us to love genuinely and honestly.
In Circumstantial failure remember the words of Habakkuk, “Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior. The Sovereign Lord is my strength; He makes my feet like the feet of a deer, He enables me to go on the heights. (Habakkuk 3:17-19)
In Personal failure hang on to Hebrews 4:14,15… “Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet was without sin.”