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The Power of Fear: The Fear of Failure

In 1941 Ted Williams, a man whom many consider the greatest hitter in the history of baseball, hit .406. That is the highest batting average in the past seventy-five years. No one has even come close in all that time to matching William’s accomplishment.

The amazing thing about that average is that even as the greatest hitter in history, Ted Williams only got a hit four out of every ten times that he came to the plate. He still was out sixty percent of the time.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if there could just be areas of our lives in which we could always succeed? Parents, wouldn’t it be great if every decision that you made as a parent was the correct decision? Only people who have never had children think that that should be possible. Parenthood consists of about twenty-five years of raising your children and then the rest of your life looking back and wishing that you could do at least part of it over again.

Students, wouldn’t be great if even for one semester you received nothing but 100% on all your exams and papers. Most of us would be satisfied if it happened just once in our life time.

Church leaders, wouldn’t it be wonderful if you knew before you made them that every decision that you made was the perfect decision? It doesn’t happen to church leaders either. If you were to ask me for a list of my five biggest mistakes that I made as a pastor I would have no problem giving them to you.

Failure is a fact of life. The only person who never fails is the person who never attempts to do anything.

Attempt to move beyond where you are right now and at some point failure will raise its ugly head and you will have to live with the reality that something that you thought was a great idea didn’t work.

Failure is not the problem that we have to avoid. Fear of failure is much more damaging than failure itself.


Biblical examples of failure

One of the unique things about the Bible is that it is a book of failures.

  • Abraham failed to protect his wife
  • Jacob failed to trust God to provide his birthright and stole it from his brother
  • Moses acted out of God’s timing and killed a man
  • David committed adultery and murder
  • Solomon had a thousand women in his harem
  • Elijah became depressed and wanted to quit
  • Peter rejected the Lord
  • Paul persecuted the church

One of the most remarkable statements made about anyone was made by Daniel’s enemies. After watching Daniel for a period of time they came to this conclusion:

“We will never find any basis for charges against this man Daniel unless it has something to do with the law of his God.” (Daniel 6:5)

At this point Daniel had spent his whole life in public service. He had been front and center for most of that time and yet his enemies couldn’t find anything that he had ever done wrong. I wish that that could be said about our politicians today. Daniel may be the only biblical character about whom there is nothing recorded about him for which he could be condemned.

People in the Bible were human and that meant that they were susceptible to sin. They failed just like us.

Jesus is unique for a number of reasons – one of which is that he never sinned and he never failed. He accomplished exactly what he set out to accomplish. Just hours before his death he was able to say in his prayer for his disciples, “I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do.” (John 17:4)

Jesus perfectly completed all that God had for him to do. He didn’t fail in any way. He followed through perfectly in the task that he was given.

We won’t know life without failure this side of glory because we are not Jesus. We cannot say that we are without sin. We can’t say that we have brought God glory by perfectly doing all that he has for us to do.


The fear of failure

The challenge is not to allow the fact that we will fail to control our lives. It is that fear that if we do something different we might fail that often keeps us from acting at all. Individuals and churches both can suffer from paralysis if they dwell too long and too hard on the possibility of failure.

Over the past few decades there has been a great deal said about the importance of leaders having a vision. Churches have been encouraged to develop vision statements that define that vision in one or two memorable phrases. Once the vision is formulated, there are courses available to teach leaders how to share their vision so that the whole church catches it.

This focus on vision statements and vision catching has done incredible harm to many churches all over the world.

When people talk about vision they are almost always talking about numerical growth. Such courses are often taught in the context of a seminar on becoming a larger church.

The result has been that scores of churches have developed visions that they will never achieve. In fact in most cases they won’t even come close. The vision then becomes another failure that a small church has to deal with.

I believe strongly in the value of the right vision. Without vision a church accomplishes very little.

The vision, however, needs to be a vision that can be achieved.

A huge “faith-stretching” vision that fails adds to a church’s sense of failure and ultimately to their fear to try anything new because like the visions of the past it will probably fail too.

A smaller “small-church” sized vision that is achieved becomes motivation for future steps of faith as the small church moves forward a small step at a time.

Most small churches have at least a small dose of this fear of failure because of past visions that didn’t become reality.

The only remedy for a fear of failure is the experience of success, success measured by the biblical standard of changed lives rather than the earthly standard of large numbers.

Our faith in God’s ability to work grows out of experiencing God at work.


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