How Can I Overcome Failure?

I wonder what you consider to have been the biggest business failure of all time? Toys R Us? Poundworld? Blockbuster? HMV? Jessops? Comet? Remember Habitat or Oddbins? And I forgot Readers Digest, MFI, Woolworths, Homebase, Poloroid and or course, MG Rover. But the biggest failure? Or perhaps rather the company with the greatest number of failures? How about Dyson? If Hoover became synonymous with the vacuum cleaner, Dyson has become synonymous with… the dual cyclone, bagless, vacuum cleaner, the bladeless fans, the uniball wheelbarrow, the quickest, most efficient hand driers in the world, the most powerful and lightest rechargeable vacuum cleaner and … probably the greatest number of failures in the world as well. Check their website out and they admit they are failures – indeed they are proud of it:

“Most people think testing is all about durability and reliability. Of course that’s a big part of it. But before that happens – before you even have something to beat the hell out of – you need an idea that works. Dyson engineers get those ideas often by trying the ridiculous. Most of the time it ends in failure. That’s good. Failure sparks thinking and the extraordinary.”

There’s a misconception that invention is about having a great idea, tinkering with it in the garden shed for a few days, then appearing with the finished design. Know how many times James Dyson ‘failed’ before he cracked the Dual Cyclone bagless vacuum cleaner.  Dyson — supported by his wife’s job as an art teacher — took five years and 5127 failed prototype to develop one that worked.  If failure sucks but instructs, that is a lot of learning.  Certainly, say 4000 prototypes and 4 years into the adventure, any reasonable person would have assumed that this was a failure, an extreme case of escalating commitment to a failed course of action. But not Dyson. I am a raving fan of Dyson products. They work and when one goes wrong they like to know about it so they can improve them.

You could say the same about Apple and a small number of other leading edge companies that consistently hit the market with tried and tested products that gain an instant cult following and build a lasting market share. But they all begin with failures and like Dyson, often thousands of failures. So what is the difference? When failure stares them in the face for the 5126thtime, they never give up. So do we overcome failure?  Why do marriages fail? Why do families fall apart? Why do businesses fail? Why do teams disintegrate? Because people give up.
We all make mistakes, and sometimes they are big ones. Failure can be frustrating, depressing, painful and costly.

But failure can also be a learning experience, a stepping stone to growth, a path to maturity, a route of hope as long as we refuse to give up. An incident in the Apostle Peter’s life illustrates this truth. In Luke 5:1-11, we find that despite a whole night of fishing, Peter and his friends haven’t caught a sprat.  They were not novices but experienced, seasoned, professional fishermen. Peter would have had a good boat and the best nets he could afford. He knew exactly where to catch the most fish. He had worked all night. The lives of his family depended on a good catch. But this morning, Peter had come ashore empty handed. But what we find in this incident is a wonderful truth: A failure can become a stepping stone.

That morning –no doubt feeling tired and discouraged – the disciples were washing their nets on the seashore, when Jesus came along. “Peter,” he said, “I’d like to use your boat as a platform to speak from.” So Peter let Jesus get into his boat and launch out a little way from the shore.

After addressing the crowd on the shore, Jesus said to the disciples, “Now let’s go fishing. Launch out into the deep water and let down the nets for a catch.”

But Peter replied, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. Yet if you say so, I’ll let down the nets.” When the disciples obeyed, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break.

What does this story teach us about failure? Jesus always used his miracles to illustrate truth. He never performed a miracle without a purpose. This incident teaches us what to do when we fail, when our best is not good enough, we have something significant to learn.

Sometimes you give it your best shot but you still come up 10 feet short. You study diligently for a test but only get a “C.” or worse. You work hard to make your marriage better but you still don’t see any progress. It’s tempting to give up. You feel like saying, “What’s the use? I just set myself up for more failure. Can anything make a difference?”

This morning I want us to make comparison between the two catches. The disciples had worked all night and caught nothing, but later went out for ten more minutes and probably caught their life time record best catch. Think about it. It was the same lake, the same boat, the same nets, and the same people fishing. So what made the difference? There are actually three differences between the two fishing expeditions, and these three differences give us principles to follow when our best attempts end in failure.

Lets see what we can learn about how we too can live life the way God intended. Remember God doesn’t want us to fail. He does not delight in our failure. He wants us to make a genuine success in life as we follow his simple instructions.

  1. Acknowledge God’s Presence in your Life (Luke 5:3)

    “He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat.” (Luke 5:3)

The clue to the first principle of success is found in Luke 5:3. Jesus was in the boat with the disciples. Christ’s presence made a big difference! This time the disciples weren’t fishing by themselves; God was with them. The first principle for successful living therefore is this. If you want success in life, you’ve got to have Jesus in your boat.

That’s the starting point. Nothing has greater influence on your personal success than whether or not you are living with Christ in your life. Now in Peter’s life his boat represented his livelihood. When you’re a fisherman, your boat is your business! It’s significant that Peter made his boat available for Jesus to use. Christ used Peter’s business as a platform for ministry.

How about yours? Does God have access to your boat?
Is your business available for him to use at any time?
Is he able to minister to people through your job?

Too often we try to separate the secular and the spiritual. We have our Christian life nicely partitioned off from our career. But this prevents God from blessing your business or job.
The truth is, God will only bless what we give him, what we give back to him, what we dedicate to him, what we entrust to him. God will bless what we give him. If Jesus asked to use your career for his purposes what would you say?

What about your family? Your home? Your assets? Your time? Your boat? God promises us that if we “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness… all these things will be given to you as well.”(Matthew 6:33). Is Jesus asking you today to allow him access to your life for his purposes? If you have never responded to his call on your life, then do so today. If you have never invited Jesus into your life, then I urge you not to delay. The first principle we learn is this: To experience God’s blessing in your life, acknowledge God’s presence in your life.

  1. Cooperate with God’s Plan for Your Life (Luke 5:4-7) 

    When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.” 5Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.” 6When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. 7So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.” (Luke 5:4-7)

The second principle is you must cooperate with God’s plan in your life. The second time the disciples went fishing, they fished under the direction of Jesus. While they may have had more experience at fishing, they obeyed the instructions of the one who had created the fish.  In order to experience God’s blessing, we must not only acknowledge God’s presence in our lives, but we must also cooperate with God’s plan for our lives. Jesus told the disciples where to fish, when to fish, and how to fish. When God is guiding your life, you cannot fail.

Peter’s reaction to Christ’s guidance is beautiful. Peter didn’t argue, he didn’t listen to his feelings, he didn’t ask questions or give excuses and… he didn’t hesitate. He obeyed. He cooperated with God’s plan. And what a result!

Why do you think Jesus said to Peter, “Launch out into the deep?” I think it was because it’s in the deep water that we get out of our depth, out of our comfort zone. Peter’s instinct and experience might have told him that the fish are caught in the shallows not the deep. At dawn not the middle of the day.

But that was when and where the Lord sent Peter and also a great shoal of fish to meet in the deep water to convince a hardened fisherman that there was no natural explanation for this catch. Jesus was in control of his life and the shoal of fish. Many people live in the shallow waters of life where it is safe.

When God is at work in your life, it will involve risks because God wants us to live by faith. Many worry, “If I get serious and commit to serving Christ in my local Church, I might get out of my depth and he’ll make me a fanatic or I’ll over commit. My family might get upset. What will my friends think? So they remain content to paddle in the shallows of life and never experience the abundant provision that comes from following Jesus into the deep water.

Cooperating with God’s plan for your life won’t necessarily lead to a safe life or even a long life. But one thing he guarantees. It will never be boring and always fulfilling.

God’s plan for your life is a good plan too, one that will bring fulfilment to you and blessing to others. God says, “Let me get into your boat. Let my presence be with you wherever you go – in your business, in your family, in your marriage, in every area, of your life and let me share with you my plan for your life. You are special and unique and I planned you for my pleasure and for a purpose.”

The first step. Acknowledge God’s presence in your life.
The second step. Cooperate with God’s plan for your life.

3.Trust in God’s Promises with your Life (Luke 5:8-11)

“When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!”  9For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken,  10and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.”  11So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.” (Luke 5:8-11)

The third principle is you must trust God’s promises in your life. Peter demonstrated this in verse 5 when he said, “Because you say so.”

In the second fishing attempt the disciples acted on the basis of God’s promise to them. They went fishing again because they believed God would provide the fish. Now notice, Jesus didn’t specifically say, “Peter, if you go fishing again with me, I promise you will get your biggest catch.” That would have been too easy. All Jesus said was “put down your nets for a catch.” For the purpose God had in mind for Peter was so much greater than a net full of fish. But Peter and his friends would never have been able to comprehend that mission until they had first experienced the blessing that comes from trusting in God’s promises.

Peter trusted Jesus that if he told him to put his nets down, it was worth doing. Peter expected God to act. He expected Jesus to keep his promise. And when Jesus did, it made Peter feel more of the sinner he really was. Obeying Jesus is scary. You learn a lot about yourself and it is not always comfortable. But from now on Peter wasn’t trusting in his own fishing ability anymore. He trusted Jesus, and that was all that mattered.

And because Peter trusted Jesus, he enabled the Lord to take Peter much deeper still. “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.”(Luke 5:10). If Luke’s account is chronological as we think, then this promise was made early on in their relationship. While Jesus was revealing Peter’s true calling – fishing for people – it would take another couple of year’s training, several more failures, even denials and deep repentance, as well as the Pentecostal working of the Holy Spirit, before Peter would indeed be fishing for people. But all God’s plans for the rest of his life were all contained in this promise. And the adventure only began when Peter trusted in that second deeper, more awesome promise.

“Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.”  11So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.” (Luke 5:10-11)

Application? When you get God’s presence in your boat, and when you get God’s plan in your head, and when you get God’s promises in your heart, you cannot fail. If you fall, you will be falling into God’s grace, falling into God’s provision. Maybe you’re saying, “That sounds great, but you don’t know me and my circumstances. Right now I’m defeated by my problems. I’m having some really hard times.” If you are defeated by your circumstances, let me suggest an antidote. Begin a list of the promises God makes in the New Testament to his children and read them and memorise them and live by them. Like Peter, start expecting God to act and you will find that God’s promise will inject new hope into a hopeless situation. Real growth often begins at the point of failure. Remember that the disciples caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. God blessed them with more than they could handle. That is always the case when you acknowledge God’s presence, cooperate with God’s plan, and appropriate God’s promises – you’ll be blessed with more than you can handle.

In fact, verse 7 points out that the disciples had to share the catch of fish with those in another boat in order to keep from sinking! That’s a great way to live!

How does this story relate to your life? Maybe you feel like the disciples before Christ came along: “I’ve worked all night and come up with an empty net.” Does that describe your attitude toward your marriage, your job, or toward another personal problem? You feel that you haven’t made any progress so you’ve said to yourself, “What’s the use? Why keep on trying? Why put forth the effort?” Maybe you are ready to quit. Maybe you’ve even become a little cynical about life.

Peter didn’t get cynical. He didn’t say, “Lord, I’ve worked 10 hours and didn’t catch anything. That must mean there are no more fish in this lake.” He knew that the fish were there, but that he just hadn’t caught them yet. Just because you haven’t solved your problem doesn’t mean there isn’t a solution. Through failure we can learn the lessons that will help us succeed.
God’s message to you is this: Never give up. Try again, but this time, do it with Jesus in your boat. He will make all the difference. Sir Winston Churchill was one of the greatest leaders this country never deserved.

On October 29, 1941, two years into the Second World War, when Britain stood almost alone in Europe against Nazism Churchill visited his old school at Harrow to hear the traditional songs he had sung there as a youth, as well as to speak to the students. In his closing remarks, he challenged them thus:

“Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never—in nothing, great or small, large or petty—never give in, except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force. Never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy…

Do not let us speak of darker days: let us speak rather of sterner days. These are not dark days; these are great days—the greatest days our country has ever lived; and we must all thank God that we have been allowed, each of us according to our stations, to play a part in making these days memorable in the history of our race.[1]

This morning we have considered three simple steps to overcoming failure:

Acknowledge God’s presence in your life.
Cooperate with God’s plan for your life.
Trust God’s Promises with your life. Lets pray.


With grateful thanks to Rick Warren and “God’s Answer to Life’s Difficult Questions” (Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 2006), chapter 2 for most of the ideas and much of the content for this talk.