Rev. Chris Adams
Westminster Presbyterian Church
September 14, 2003
In the movie, Scent of a Woman, Al Pacino plays a retired washed up Colonel seeking to have some final wonderful moments before he takes his life. The movie is packed with meaning about values such as courage, loyalty and friendship. In the movie, Pacino had a list of things he wanted to do during his final days on earth, some good and some not so good.
Even though he was blinded by an exploded grenade, the colonel wanted to drive a Ferrari one last time and he did, flying up and down streets while his chauffeur, played by Chris OíDonnell nearly had a heart attack. They end up at a restaurant eating dinner when he notices a woman with a particular scent and guesses the right perfume.
He invited her to tango with him. She said: "Colonel, Iíve tried it before but I always seem to get my feet tangled up." Pacino replied: "No problem, whenever you get tangled up, just tango on." And so they did to the approval and applause to all.
We all get tangled up many times in our lives, donít we. We try and we fail, try and fail over and over again. You might as well get used to it. Failure is a fact of life. Everybody drops the ball repeatedly. Even in the midst of success we encounter failure.
This sermon series will tackle several fears we face. This morning I ask you, "How will you respond to failure?" It makes a tremendous difference on how successfully you will live your life. Note the failures of these famous people:
Failure doesnít have to shut you down. You can be an achiever if you make the decision to face it head on. Hereís a truth you must know. You were created for more than status quo. Paul writes in Ephesians: "For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them."
God has a plan for your life. If heís got something in mind for you it must be great. The only way to walk in the good works God has prepared for us is to first put our trust in Him and then Ďcourageously face the goofs and mistakes and blunders and sins that weíll make the rest of our lives.
How can you tell if your caving in to the fear of failure? There are certain signs you can look for. The first sign is paralysis. Often when we fail we make the decision never to repeat that action again. We stop trying because we donít want to face the humiliation of failure.
Sometimes we lose faith in God and ourselves that we can do anything right. We raise the white flag rather than face failure again.
Harry Truman once said: "The worst danger we face is the danger of being paralyzed by doubts and fears. The danger is brought on by those who abandon faith and sneer at hope. It is brought on by those who spread cynicism and distrust and try to blind us to the great chance to do good for all mankind."
Closely related is the next symptom of fear which is procrastination. Our fear of failure can cause us to put things off. We do everything we can to avoid facing the possibility of messing up.
In his book Being the Best, Denis Waitley has some interesting observations about procrastination. "When you stop to think about it," he says, "there is no such thing as a future decision. You face only present decisions that will affect what will happen in the future.
Procrastinators wait for just the right moment to decide. If you wait for the perfect moment, you become a security seeker who is running in place, going through the motions, and getting deeper in a rut. And you know what they say about ruts? A rut is simply a grave with the ends knocked out.
The third sign of fear is self-pity. This is the old victim mentality that many in our culture suffer from. Rather than face failure and move forward itís easier in the short term to give in to self- pity. Fear of failure is really condition of the mind that can be overcome with the right attitude. Donít believe me.
Then just ask Roger Crawford ... heís forty years old. He makes his living as a consultant and public speaker. He has written two books and travels all across the country working for Fortune 500 companies, national and state associations, and school districts.
Those arenít bad credentials. But if they donít impress you, how about this? Before becoming a consultant, he was a varsity tennis player for Loyola Marymount University and later became a professional tennis player certified by the United States Professional Tennis Association.
Still not impressed? Would you change your opinion if I told you roger has no hands and only one foot? Roger Crawford was born with a condition called ectrodactylism. When he emerged from his motherís womb, the doctors saw that he had a thumblike projection extending out of his right forearm, and a thumb and finger growing out of his left forearm.
He had no palms. His legs and arms were shortened. And his left leg possessed a shrunken foot with only three toes. (The foot was amputated when he was five).... Rogerís parents were determined to give him the best chance possible for living a normal life.
They raised him to feel loved, to be strong, and to develop independence. "Youíre only as handicapped as you want to be," his father used to tell him. When he was old enough, they sent him to regular public schools. They involved him in sports.
They encouraged him to do everything his heart desired. And they taught him to think positively. Roger then met someone who had the same problem as he and thought they could be friends. But after talking with the stranger for a few minutes, he realized he was wrong. Roger explains,
"When I met Bill, I found someone with a bitter, pessimistic attitude who blamed all of lifeís disappointments and failures on his anatomy.
His attitude was, "The world owes me," and his problem was that the world disagreed. He was even angry with me because I didnít share his despair. Roger maintains, "Handicaps can only disable us if we let them. This is true not only of physical challenges, but of emotional and intellectual ones as well ... I believe that real and lasting limitations are created in our minds, not our bodies."
The fourth fear that paralyzes us is making excuses. Excuses or playing the blame game is another sign of fear of failure. This is a form of denial. Rather than face up to our own mistakes, we conveniently shift the blame to others.
Some people make a life long habit of excuses and as a result stay stuck in the endless rut of mediocrity and status quo. All blame is a waste of time. No matter how much fault you find with another, and regardless of how much you blame them, it will not change you.
The only thing blame does is to keep the focus off you when you are looking for external reasons to explain your unhappiness or frustration. You may succeed in making another feel guilty of something by blaming them, but you wonít succeed in changing whatever it is about you that is making you unhappy.
Now, let me give you 4 ways in Facing Failure. First, we need to change our perception of failure. Whatís the root cause of a fear of failure? It is a faulty perception. Consciously or unconsciously, all of us have experienced this feeling that we must meet certain arbitrary standards to attain self-worth.
Failure to do so threatens our security and significance. Such a threat, real or perceived, results in fear of failure. At that point, we are accepting the false belief that we must meet certain standards in order to feel good about ourselves.
We must change the way we think about failure otherwise the fear of it will always haunt us. The author of Colossians gives us this advice: Donít let anyone lead you astray with empty philosophy and high sounding nonsense that comes from human thinking and from the evil powers of this world and not from Christ.
Fear of failure, at its core, is a spiritual problem. We were made by a perfect God who never fails. He never does anything wrong or makes any mistakes. We were created in his image with that same kind of perfection. The human race collectively failed God through disobedience. Consciously or unconsciously weíve been trying to live up to that standard ever since.
The good news that we have as Christians is that God provided a way to overcome our spiritual failure. For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ. Isnít that amazing?
Isnít that wonderful that God would take a perfect, divine being in Christ and put him in our place so that we could be put right with God.
When we trust in Jesus Christ we trade in our moral failure for his moral perfection. Itís a simple matter of faith. We must begin here to get beyond fear of failure. Next we can get a right perspective of failure. In his book, Welcome Stress, William Brown writes, "Failure is an event, never a person." Just because you fail doesnít make you a failure.
Look at it in a positive way. Failure is the price paid for progress. Did you know that the average entrepreneur fails 3.8 times before they are able to establish a successful business.
Second, trust Godís promise to prevail. Understand that youíre not alone. God himself is pulling for you. He doesnít want you to live in default mode. He wants you to achieve his purposes. Hereís a promise you can count on from Philippians:
I am sure that God, who began the good work in within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished ... third, act yourself into feeling. Donít wait for the feeling of fear to go away. Begin facing your failure and youíll find that the fears will start to evaporate.
And fourth. Learn to fail forward. Use failure as a learning experience. John Maxwell gives us an excellent acronym on the word M.I.S.T.A.K.E.S.
When you fail look for Godís greater purpose in it. By faith trust in his divine promise to bring good out of your worst failure. For as Paul tells us: We know that all things work together for good to those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.
Now, back to the movie. The colonel decided it was time to take his life but Chris OíDonnell would not let him. He refused to leave the room. He refused to accept it. The colonel cried out to him and said: "what am I going to do with my life boy, Iím a failure, Iím no good, Iím worthless."
And OíDonnell with tears running down his face said: "Colonel, when you get tangled up, you just tango on." ( pause) Friends, we will fail again and again in this life. But when we fail, when we get tangled up, simply tango on and remember that without failure, we can never be the kind of person God created us to be. Amen...