One time I heard a varsity volleyball coach tell a group of girls before tryouts, that he would “put them in positions where they could not succeed in order to see how they would respond.” that has always stuck with me in particular when I am failing. It is good to remember that failure doesn’t have the last word, but sometimes it has the most important word and life is not about winning every battle, life is much more complex than that. God is more complex than that. He sees all and many of his instructions have to do with training and appointing, not just winning and being on top.
when we fail we learn things, lessons, truths, ways that we could never understand otherwise. Surely Thomas Edison and his famous quote about failing is the poster child for this message, ” I didn’t fail I only learned 10,000 ways not to do something.” failure is the chipping away of what we don’t need. like in the art of sculpting. It feels like loss, but in fact failure permits the emergence of what is hidden. its getting some things out of the way so that others things can be revealed. failure comes to us all no matter how competent we are.
It doesn’t matter how strong, clever, or powerful we are. The message in the bible tells us God determines the outcomes. If God is against a man he will fall, no matter the man’s might and if God is for him holding him up no matter how weak the man is, stand he will. It is God who determines the outcome and according to the scriptures he is near to the broken, weak and small while opposing the proud rich and strong.
In Judges 20 the men who fell were men of valor. If you are weak be encouraged. If you are frail and inadequate there is hope. God doesn’t look at the appearance of a man but his heart. Should this not change the goal of a man of faith. Rather than aiming at strength, intelligence, success and valor, men of faith ought to be making Christ his goal and his coach. The Messiah who was stripped down, beaten, made helpless weak defeated death, not with might but humility, not with power but with obedience. The father permitted his own son to fail in this way, to fall down to scrape his knee and lose a battle. Yes, it feels tricky.
How do the volleyball players show the coach their skill while failing? How can the Christian show the world his powerful loving God when he is kicked down , persecuted and rejected by others. how do I show people the strength of my God when they can only see the weakness of my flesh. because the master is not looking at the success or failure of each play, he is looking at the responsiveness of each player, and so is the world. Your neighbors realize that everyone falls down, they are not looking to see that you have it all together, perfection doesn’t prove faith. they want to see how you will respond when you are fumbling and failing? When we say yes to Christ it is not because he died, and yet it is all because he was willing to lay down his life.
who we are is not revealed in moments of success but moments of adversity, not in the wins but in the defeats. So it was with God and the Israelites. in judges 20. Its not actually hard for God to win on the behalf of his army. but he is well known for testing men before delivering them. He tested Abraham on mount Moriah, he tested Israel in the wilderness, he tested his own son and he will test us.
IN this particular story in judges 20, the Benjaminite’s numbered 26,000 men of war select men of war, not wimps. Israel numbered 400,000. Israel had every reason to believe they would win the day simply because of their numbers. Even so they inquired of the Lord “who shall go up first to fight against our brothers?” the Lord answered Judah shall go up first to figtht.” They displayed both strength and humility in asking the Lord, yet Judah lost. by a lot. the next day they appeared again before the Lord, “shall we go up…did we hear you right?” “yes the Lord said, go up.” again they lost to Benjamin. Israel was down 40,000 men after two great losses, but again they inquired of the Lord with weeping in battle array, “Lord shall we go up?” What incredible humility and recognition of who their “coach” was. God was testing them to see how they would respond, they passed the test they remained humble, reliant and even though they had the strength and numbers to win, they didn’t assume they could win without the Lord’s deliverance. This story shows us that sometimes God puts us in situation where we do not succeed and win, to see how we will respond in tight places. Failure isn’t the worst thing in God’s kingdom its sin, pride, disobedience. Success is not the greatest victory, its faith in God. Just because you serve God doesn’t mean you will win every battle.
and on the third day when God said “Go I will deliver you.” the Lord defeated Benjamin with 10,000 Israelites. in fact they just about wiped the tribe of Benjamin out. it was a total victory. and what a beautiful model they show us for not giving up their faith in God’s deliverance no matter how many times they failed.