Overcoming the Fear of Failure

This message transcript records a message by Wayne Cordeiro. For more New Hope sermon transcriptions download them from the online store.

Failure … It is something we fear, yet we have all experienced. It is part of the human experience to take risks at times and risk implies failure. Whenever we dare to do new things, like starting a new job or falling in love or creating a new product, we risk failure. It is implicit in living and striving for success. In fact, the only way to avoid failure is to never try, and that is no way to live at all.

There is a humorous poem that goes like this:

There once lived a man who never risked.

He never laughed, he never cried, he never tried.

Then one day when he passed away,

His insurance was denied.

They said since this guy never really lived,

Then he never really died.

All of us experience failure, and everybody experiences the fear of failure. But if you give into this fear, you will never become what God meant you to be. You will have a lot of dreams and good intentions, but you will always live a life of “could have, should have, and would have.”

Hamburger, French Fries and Coke Lives

There is a story of one guy who came to America to learn English. He was very afraid of failing. He thought, “If I fail, these Americans will make fun of me.” He said to his English teacher, “I need to order food, so make sure that you teach me something I can use.”

The teacher said, “Say hamburger, French fries, and coke. You can get that anywhere. Go ahead, try it.”

“Hamburger, French fries, and coke.” He practiced until he got it down. He said, “Are you sure I won’t fail if I say those things?”

“Guaranteed, no failure.”

Sure enough, he went into a restaurant and the waitress asked, “What would you like?”

“Hamburger, French fries, and coke.”

She brought out the order.

“Wow,” he said to himself, “this is cool.” He went back to the restaurant later on and said, “Hamburger, French fries, and coke.”

They brought out the order. No failure rate. “This is great.”

With this system, he ended up eating hamburgers, French fries, and coke for the next eight months. He finally grew tired of eating the same food, and zits were breaking out all over his face. So he said to his teacher, “Could you teach me something else because it is getting old eating hamburgers, French fries and coke for breakfast, lunch, and dinner?”

“All right, I tell you what. For breakfast order eggs, toast, and juice.”

“Now, I don’t want to veer out too far, because I don’t want to fail.”

“No problem. Eggs, toast, juice.”

So he practiced. “Eggs, toast, juice.”

He went back to the restaurant. When the waitress came and asked him what he would like, he said, “Eggs, toast, juice.”

She asked, “How would you want your eggs? Over medium, over easy, scrambled, boiled, or poached? How about your toast? Do you want white, brown, wheat, rye, an English muffin, or a bagel? What about your juice? Do you want orange, tomato, grapefruit, guava, or passion fruit?”

He looked up at her and said, “Hamburger, French fries, and coke.”

If we are afraid of failure, we will be eating hamburgers, French fries, and coke for the rest of our lives. And a lot of us live hamburger, French fries, and coke lives because we are so afraid of failing that we never venture out.

YOU WILL REALLY NEVER PLEASE GOD BY PLAYING IT SAFE.

The fear of failure is really nothing new. In fact, Jesus told a story about it in Matthew 25. A master comes along, and he gives one man five talents. He gives another man two talents, and to a third man he gives one talent. Before the master leaves for a long journey, he says, “By the way, invest your money. Do something with it, will you?”

When the master returns, he meets with the man who was given five talents. This man says, “Master, you know the five talents you gave me? I invested it and gained five more.”

In Matthew 25:21, the master responds, “Well done, good and faithful slave; you were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things, enter into the joy of your master.”

Now the one with the two talents came to the master and said, “Lord, you gave me two talents. Look, I have gained two more. I did something with it.”

The master says, “Well done, good and faithful slave; you were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master” (Matthew 25:23 NASB ).

Lastly, the master meets with the man who was given just one talent. Now, this guy was so afraid of failure that he buried his one talent in the ground. When the master came, he dug it up and said, “Master, do you remember that one talent you gave me? Here it is.”

“I was afraid, and went away and hid your talent in the ground; see, you have what is yours” (Matthew 25:25).

Do you know how the master responded? “But his master answered and said to him, ‘You wicked, lazy slave’” (Matthew 25:26 NASB ).

Do you think that was too harsh of a reaction? You bet it is. But do you know what that says? That’s exactly what God thinks of us when we play it safe. When we are so afraid of failure, we don’t risk, we don’t venture. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. The Bible says you cannot please God by playing it safe. You will never please God by doing that because your life will end up a barren wasteland.

A Barren Wasteland

This reminds me of the story of a tourist who went to upper state New York . There he saw an old dilapidated shack with an old man. He was an old farmer with an old hat crumpled up on his head and a scraggly beard on his face. He was sucking on an old piece of wheat and rocking in an old rocking chair. Behind this shack were 50 or 75 acres of barren wasteland with tumbleweeds tumbling in the dust.

The tourist said, “Excuse me, sir. Is that your land?”

“Yes, it is,” he said, sucking on the wheat. “That’s my land.”

The tourist said, “What are you going to do with it? Do you guys grow stuff up here? I mean, like cotton?”

The old man said, “No, I’m not growing cotton this year.”

“How come you’re not going to grow cotton this year?”

The old man said, “The boll weevils might come, and I’m afraid they might eat my cotton. So I’m not going to plant any cotton. I could plant something else. I could plant corn.”

The tourist said, “That’s a great idea. So you’re planning on planting corn?”
The old man said, “Nope, I’m not planting corn.”

“How come?”

“I’m afraid the locusts might come and eat the corn.”

“Well,” the tourist said, “is there anything else you can do with it?”

“I could raise cattle.”

“That’s a great idea, sir. So you’re going to raise cattle on this land?”

“Nope.”

“How come?”

“I’m afraid the price of beef might go down.”

The tourist said, “Well, what are you going to do with the land this year?”

“Nothing.”

“Nothing?”

“Yep. Nothing. My plan is just to play it safe and do nothing. Play it safe.”

Do you know something? A lot of us do exactly that. We play everything so safe that our lives can become a barren wasteland that could have had so much potential. God says through the parable in Matthew 25 that you can’t please God by playing it safe.

How to Overcome the Fear of Failure.

1. Remember that everybody fails.

Failure is no big deal. It’s universal. One recent study said that the failure rate of human beings is one hundred percent. If we had a club for failures, we would all qualify. A man named Jack Gilbert seemed to know a bit about failure. This quote is from an article titled Failures of the World Rejoice : “Your day is coming. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. And if you still don’t succeed, call Jack Gilbert and tell him that you want to join the celebration.”

Jack Gilbert is a businessman and a writer, and he is proclaiming August 15 as National Failure’s Day. It is meant to honor all persons who have experienced failure in the pursuit of a noble dream, an unconventional idea, or a far-reaching goal. Focusing attention on famous flops, National Failure’s Day could encourage people to continue with renewed determination to pursue their hopes, dreams, and aspirations.

Everybody fails. It is a natural part of life. “We all stumble in many ways” (James 3:2 NASB ).

“We all stumble in many ways .” How many? Many ways. We what? “All stumble.”

“All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). The fact is, all have sinned and fall short. Everybody fails.

FAILURE IS UNIVERSAL. IT IS NO BIG DEAL.

If you are a superstar in baseball, do you know what that means? You either don’t make it to base or you strike out 700 out of every 1000 times you get up to bat. Only 300 hits out of 1000 makes you a baseball star. A batting average of .300 is awfully good.

If you are an NBA superstar, you will miss half your shots.

We all fail. It is no big thing. In fact, you learn most about life through failure.

I’ve been kicked out of schools. I have been kicked out of jobs. I was kicked out of a gym once for arguing with a referee. He didn’t say to leave the basketball game, he said, “go home.” I actually had to leave the gym. I have been rejected from universities because I did not have enough education. We all fail – every single one of us.

2. Realize that failure is not final.

Failure is neither fatal nor final. In fact, the fear of failure is often worse than the experience itself. I go to dentists but for some reason I am always scared stiff. I’m a grown man, but I stay up nights before the dental appointment. I make every excuse I can to postpone or change the appointment. I will call the receptionist and say, “If there is anyone else that needs their teeth fixed, please let them have my place. I’ll come at another time.”

I can’t believe I fight this fear because, thanks to advanced technology today in dentistry, I usually don’t feel a thing. I have my mouth open for a while, not even thinking they’ve begun, and then they tell me they are finished already. It’s amazing! But looking down at my hands, I can see that they are tight. They are holding on to each other for dear life. They are perspiring, and my buns are like rocks. That is how I get my “buns of steel.” I go to the dentist.

Often, the fear of failure is worse than the experience itself.

Proverbs 24:16 says, “A righteous man falls seven times, and rises again.” Even good guys stumble. The righteous man falls seven times. Not once, not twice, but seven times and… he rises again. Do you think he camps around the fire of failure? No, the righteous man falls and gets up seven times. He just rises again. It’s okay.

But, what if you’re stumbling because you are rejecting God and being foolish? What if you’re denying God and not cooperating with Him? What about making mistakes when you do that? Then what is that called? It is called being foolish, disobeying God, and rejecting God. That’s what it is called. Repent!

But what if you have received Christ and you are trying your best to serve and love Him, but you still stumble and run into walls?

The Bible says don’t worry because “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).

If I’m trying my best to walk according to God’s will and God’s way, and yet I stumble, God says, “Don’t you worry about it in the least.” In fact, He says, “I will work those mistakes around for good, and I will turn them into a blessing for you. Just don’t give up. Because when you are following Me, you are in a win-win situation. When you do right, you get blessed. When you don’t, you mess up. But if you are trying to follow Me, I will turn it around and make it for the right.”

Isn’t that great?

Learn From Your Failure

The message here is simple: If you are erring on the side of unrighteousness, repent right away. Ask the Lord for forgiveness. But if you are erring on the side of righteousness and you make a mistake, pick yourself up and keep right on going . Learn from your failure, and move on. Don’t camp around the fires of guilt and failure.

Did you know that George Washington lost two-thirds of the battles in the American Revolution before he finally won the war and became the first president of the United States of America? Two-thirds of the battles.

I also did some research on Napoleon. Napoleon graduated forty-second in a class of 43 students. And then he went on to conquer Europe.

For many years Babe Ruth held the world record in home runs. He was the first to be called the Home Run King. But did you know that, not only did he hit 714 home runs, he struck out 1336 times? And yet he was not known as the Strike Out King. Why? Because he didn’t give up.

Failure is not final. Galatians 6:9 says this, “Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we shall reap if we do not grow weary.”

You will reap. Just don’t give up. Most people give up far too soon. When you learn through failure, you become a success through failure. Falling down is part of the pathway to success, and when you stumble and fumble, God will use your time on the ground to build you up.

Think of a baby. How does a child learn to walk? By falling. Wouldn’t it be crazy if the child starts to walk and the parents say, “Come on, come on, baby, walk.” Foomp! He falls down and the parents say, “That’s it. He fell. He cannot walk ever again.” No, you learn through failure.

Listen to this man’s story: At age seven, his parents were evicted from their home because they could not make the payments. Then two years later, at age nine, his mother died. He had to go to work early to help support the family. When he was 22, he lost his job as a store clerk. He wanted to go to school, but his education wasn’t good enough. At 23, he went into debt to become a partner in a store. Three years later his partner died, leaving all their joint debt to him. At 28, he proposed to a lady, but she rejected him. At 37, he tried to get into congress but failed. Two years later, he tried again and failed. He later had a nervous breakdown. Then at 41, after being married, his son died. The following year, he ran for land officer and lost. At 45, he ran for the senate and lost. Two years later, he ran for vice president and lost. He tried the senate again and lost. Then, at age 51, he was elected the sixteenth president of the United States. Abraham Lincoln is remembered in history as one of America’s greatest leaders.

His life was one constant failure, but he kept going. Most of us drop out far too soon. Thank God he didn’t drop out.

Sometimes the pathway to God’s greatest desire for your life will be riddled with failure. Don’t drop out. It’s a part of life. Don’t make failure into such a big deal that you sabotage your own future.

3. Recognize that there are benefits to failure.

Take a look at Psalm 119:67: “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep Your word.”

How many people have come to know Christ after a failure? At first we think we can do it on our own and we struggle, and then we are driven to our knees. Someone once told me, “Wayne, never despise anything that takes you to your knees.” Sometimes failure is what brings us to the Lord. So, there are benefits to failure. Let’s take a look at three benefits of failure.

Failure educates us. Thomas Edison had 10,000 failures before he perfected the incandescent lightbulb. At 10,000 failures someone asked him, “Aren’t you discouraged? Don’t you feel like a failure?”

Do you know what Thomas Edison’s reply was? “I don’t call it a failure,” he said. “I call it an education. Now I know 10,000 things that do not work very well.”

He was trying to develop a filament that electricity could run through. His filaments would glow, but they kept burning out because anything that burns eats itself up as fuel. He tried different wire filaments, different chemical compounds, and different coatings, again and again. He tried 10,000 different ways to keep that thing from burning up, but as soon as the filament would light up it would go poof! The shelf life of this burning filament was short. He had to find a way of keeping it burning longer.

Then he remembered what fire requires to keep burning. Oxygen. If you remove oxygen from a flame what happens? It goes out.

So he said, “I have to take the oxygen away from this lit filament that electricity is running through.” He put like a test tube over it, sealed it at the bottom, and sucked out all the oxygen. Then he put electricity to it and— voilà. The thing burned and burned. Why? Because there was no oxygen in that test tube to cause that thing to burn itself out.

Our lightbulbs today are basically the same thing—a test tube over a filament with the air sucked out of it. That’s what Thomas Edison figured out. That is why when you break a light bulb, it goes poof! The breaking of the light bulb generates a funny sound because of the vacuum. And you all know the benefits of the incandescent light bulb – all thanks to Thomas Edison, who refused to give up after 10,000 tries. He’s the perfect example of how failure can educate us.

Some things in life are learned only through failure. We all learned to ride a bike through failure. Skateboarding, singing a song, playing an instrument, walking—everybody will learn certain things through failure because without failure you have no growth, you have no creativity, and you have no progress.

At New Hope Christian Fellowship we probably have made more mistakes than successes. We messed up all kinds of stuff. But do you know what? We chalk it up as an education. We try something, and if it doesn’t work, we scrap it and try again. But at least we are erring on the side of righteousness. When God sees that you are doing that, He says, “Go for it. I will work out all the mistakes out for good. Keep your heart desirous to serve Me with your life, and I will take all the mistakes and turn them around for blessings.”

Failure helps us to discover our true talents. Nathaniel Hawthorne was probably one of America’s greatest writers. He was once a customs clerk, but he disliked his job. He wanted to write, but he didn’t have any time. One day he was fired from his job. Despondent, he went home and sat at the kitchen table with his head in his hands and said to his wife, “I cannot even provide for my own family. I am such a failure.” Being the loving wife she was, she did not say a thing. She just got a ream of paper, an inkwell, and a quill pen, and then put them in front of him and said, “You always wanted to write, Nathaniel, but you did not have the time. Well, now you have the time.” And Nathaniel Hawthorne penned many books, among them The Scarlet Letter, one of the greatest books of American literature.

How many people do you know who failed at one thing, only to discover something else that made them successful?

I think of Raymond Kroc. Raymond Kroc failed at real estate. So he finally tried something different. He bought a hamburger stand from two brothers, whose last names happened to be McDonald. Kroc later spun that hamburger stand into a world-renowned fast-food chain.

Colonel Sanders also failed at a lot of things. He tried and tried and failed and failed. At age 67, he finally began to do what he always wanted to do, which was to cook chicken under pressure. Not too many people can do any thing well under pressure. But Colonel Sanders could cook chicken well, and he later started Kentucky Fried Chicken.

When God is trying to tell us something, we often find ourselves fighting against His voice. We call it a failure, but He says, “This is simply schooling in your life, and I am going to cause you to graduate. I’m going to help you discover your true talents.”

Failure makes us less judgmental. When you fail, you become a lot more sympathetic, sensitive, and kind to others. When you fail, your arrogance is restrained.

I remember when I was a softball player–coach in Hilo, we were playing the first place team. We just had to beat them. Because I knew they had big hitters, I put a guy named John in left field. He was a pretty good player. I said, “John, you have to wrap it up. You have to sew up left field because they are going to be aiming that way. They are going to blast away. They are going to let their cannons fly. You have to stop them.”

“No problem. No problem.” So he runs out there.

First inning, first hit— ka-boom! John runs in for it, but the ball goes over his head. By the time he gets to the ball, a home run has scored. This is the first guy up to bat. We are demoralized.

Second guy gets up— ka-boom! He hits it to left field again. John goes down for the grounder, but somehow the ball skips between his legs. Home run again. This happened over and over and over. He kept missing this one and that one. Balls bounced out of his glove.

After the third inning I had had enough of this fiasco. I felt we needed to put in the best fielder we had in left field…so I went out there. You sometimes have to make decisions like this, you know.

I remember so clearly whispering to myself, “We’re going to sew this up now. Go ahead and hit one to me. Go ahead. Come on, enough of this. I’ll take care of you guys.” Ka-boom! They hit one. I don’t know what happened. The wind blew it over my head. It was not my fault. That thing was gone. Home run! I was so mad. I said, “Hit another one! Go ahead.” Ka-boom! I looked over to my left, and I was sure the center fielder would get it. Instead the ball fell right between us.

“Oh, come on!” I picked up the ball and threw it in. But the runner was safe at third with a triple. The third hit of the inning came to me. Ka-bam! It was a grounder. “I can get this one!” I bent down.Whoosh! It went right between my legs. I threw my glove down because that made it a two-run home run. I thought, What is going on? This is humiliating. This is exasperating. This is so terrible. I can’t believe it!

Just then, the Lord whispered, “Wayne, are you doing the best you can?”

“Well, obviously, I’m not trying to do the worst I can. Sure I’m trying the best I can.”

And I remember the Lord so clearly speaking to my heart. He said, “So was John. Look at all the people on the team. They are all doing the best they can. So are you. Everybody is trying his best. Cool your jets.”

Failure will restrain your arrogance. It will cause you to be less judgmental. And, if there is no other reason for failing except that we learn to be a little more merciful to others when they fail, that is a great reason. We can learn a lot from failure. There are a lot of benefits to it.

4. Redefine failure.

Some people say, “I failed.” Why? “Because I lost this job, or I didn’t meet this assignment, or I didn’t make that money, or I didn’t make that sale.”

Let’s redefine failure. Failure is not that you didn’t arrive at your goal; failure is not even making the effort.

How often, when we fall down, do we refuse to set any more goals because the locusts might come? The boll weevils might come, and so we leave our land desolate.

Failure is not when I stumble in my walk with Jesus. Failure is if I never intend to have a good walk with Jesus. We have to redefine failure. Someone said it this way, “I would rather attempt to do something great for God and fail, than to plan to do nothing and succeed.” Redefine failure.

“I realized that all we can do is be happy and do the best we can while we are still alive” (Ecclesiastes 3:12 tev).

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7 NASB ).

God says, “Do not drop out.” God did not say to come in first. He says, “Run.” He did not say, “I want you to be the best.” He says, “I want you to do your best.” God is not looking for people who want to be famous. He is looking for people who would be faithful.

I define failure as giving up too soon. Never give up! Don’t do it. If Abraham Lincoln had done so, we would be short a great president. Do not give up too soon. You might say, “What if I keep making mistakes?” I will tell you a foolproof way to guard your heart. First Corinthians 13:8 says this: “Love never fails.” The foolproof way to overcome and override failure is to make the motivation for everything you are doing—love.

FAILURE IS NOT THAT YOU DIDN’T ARRIVE AT YOUR GOAL.

FAILURE IS NOT MAKING THE EFFORT.

If you love your family and you love God and you come up short, God says, “I will turn that around for good.” Why? Because love never fails.

If I am doing anything out of selfishness and I mess up, good for me! But if I love my family and I love God, and I stumble and fumble and fall while trying my best, don’t worry. God says that’s good, because you know what? He will turn it around for blessings. God will use everything you try and attempt, mistakes or otherwise, and turn them all around until they all come up blessings. Isn’t that wonderful? That is the kind of God we serve.

He is saying, “Go for it. Do not be afraid of failure. You just go for it. But if you err, err on the side of righteousness, not on the side of unrighteousness.”

Martin Luther was the founder of the Reformation Age and a great man of God. He understood failure, and he was not afraid to fail in the course of serving the Lord. Listen carefully because this will sound wrong at first, but let me explain it to you. Martin Luther said it this way: Love God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. Love God and then sin boldly.

What was he saying? Even if you love God and your course is steering toward Him, you are still going to sin. But Martin Luther did not say reject Christ and not love Him. If you really love Him, you are serving Him. You desire to be righteous, and he says, “Just go for it! Try it! If it doesn’t work, scratch it, and try something else. Sin boldly!” Why? Because God looks at your heart. He does not look at your performance. Now remember that is all on the side of righteousness. That is what he was saying. If you miss the mark, don’t worry about it. Just go for it because God is looking at your heart.

Proverbs 14:4 is one of my favorite Scriptures: “Where no oxen are, the manger is clean, but much increase comes by the strength of the ox.”

What this verse is saying is if your whole goal in life is to keep a clean floor, then just make sure there is nothing there. If your whole goal is just to keep a clean manger, then you will get nothing done. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. But if you want to make something of your life, you are going to have to deal with some “doo-doo.”

Do not be afraid of doo-doo because if at least there is doo-doo on the floor, it tells you that something is alive.

Do not be afraid. Just make certain that you have goals and that your motivation is love. When you do what you do out of love, you never fail because love never fails.

5. Replace fear with faith in Christ.

Philippians 4:13 ( tev) : “I have the strength to face all conditions by the power…” By the power of what? By the power that transcendental meditation gives? By the power that dope gives? By the power that alcohol gives? By the power that anger gives? No! I have the strength to face every condition by the power that…who gives me? Christ gives me. You see, the answer to overcoming the fear of failure is not a program—it is a Person! And His name is Jesus. He will give you the power.

“When I am afraid, I will put my trust in God” (Psalm 56:3).

When you experience fear, put your trust in God. Set great goals. Make sure your motivation is love, and then go for it. Realize that everybody fails. Failure is not final. Redefine it. Failure is not coming short of your goals. It is not setting any goals. Failure is not when you stumble in trying to serve God. It is when you never intend to serve God. Redefine failure. At least you are trying. And when God sees that heart, He will turn around everything that may have been used by what the devil would define as failure. God says, “I will turn it around for good and it will become blessings to you.”

What are you afraid of? Are you afraid of failing as a parent? Are you afraid of failing as a spouse? Are you afraid of failing as a provider? Are you afraid of failing as a single person or a married person?

Some of us have a spiritual fear. We say, “Well, I’m afraid to commit myself completely to the Lord.”

“Why?”

“If I commit my life completely to Jesus, you know what I would probably do? I would probably go out and blow it anyway.”

Let me let you in on a secret. Count on it, you will blow it. We all sin. We all mess up. But God is looking at our hearts. Keep your heart right. Place it before the Lord. Set it on God. And you will watch that giant—your fear of failure—fumble and fall and not rise again.

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