Edison invented the light bulb not by trial and triumph, but by trial and error (over 1600 errors, I’m told). During his life, he didn’t stop at mere failures. He made some spectacular blunders – like when he was meant to be selling newspapers and ended up setting a train on fire. (I must look into this: Edison and I might be related.)
Mistakes are rarely the black ogre they seem. We’ve seen how failure can be a valuable asset, cleansing us of ugly pride; correcting and directing us; barricading enticing avenues that meander away from heaven’s best, or purging us of reckless independence and pushing us deeper into the heart of God.
Out of control, however, the fire that warms can destroy. When failure piles on top of failure, the hideous shadow of a psychological barrier slithers across our mind. As failures mount ever higher, we all begin to quake. Yet Edison refused to be intimidated, though the dark mountain grew every day. With a mere three months of formal schooling and considered to have had a learning disability, Edison eventually became one of the most prolific inventors of all time. In his struggle to invent a method of storing electricity he is said to have had tens of thousands of failures. Attempt 50,000 – or thereabouts – worked.146
We can cower in defeat like the mass of humanity, afraid of shadows, or we can become Edisons.
It’s been said Oral Roberts has been used of God in the miraculous healing of more people than anyone else in human history. Just one humiliating complication – it is also estimated he has prayed for more people who haven’t been healed than anyone else ever has.
Many people call C. H. Gabriel the king of hymn writers. His most famous work, ‘The Glory Song,’ translated into almost every major language, is estimated to have been printed over one hundred million times. He earned a reputation of being better than anyone in the world at putting the finishing touches on a hymn. Yet he claimed he experienced more failure than success.147
‘The way to succeed,’ said Thomas J. Watson, ‘is to double your failure rate.’ Watson isn’t your average crack-pot. He founded IBM.
What often distinguishes successful people is the uncommon number of failures they suffer. The rest of us give up before experiencing our full quota.
If failures are rungs on the ladder to success, we reach the top not merely by seeing failures, but by mounting them.
One rejection from a publisher would send me reeling. How many blows could you sustain before forever abandoning the idea of becoming a writer? Ten? Fifteen? Fifty? Would-be novelist John Creasey received an unbroken succession of 743 rejections. I’d be throwing in the towel, the soap, the bath water, my rubber duck, my little red tugboat, everything I could lay my hands on. Few people would ever expose themselves to such devastating failure. That’s why so few enjoy the renown he finally achieved. While unsuccessful, he was forced to write deep into the night. He came late to his paid employment so often that he was fired from twenty-seven different jobs. Undaunted, he continued to perfect his writing, striving to be so good that his skill could no longer be ignored. Shy success crept near, then swept him to fame. Over sixty million of his books have been published.148
The chilly winds of rejection can ruffle our feathers or carry us to new heights. Sag in doubt or stretch wings heavenward and soar: the choice is ours.
It is not arid persistence that success finds irresistible, but a dogged resolve to improve. Don’t huddle in self-pity. Harness rejection’s power. Let it spur you to a greater commitment, inspiring you to new levels of excellence.
We often let God down. It is even worse if Satan persuades us that the resulting failure is God’s fault, rather than our own.a But we must not let past fizzlers paralyses us. Acting outside of God’s time will hurt. It is ludicrous, however, to let such traumas darken our expectations of future service. Moving in God’s time and manner will be markedly different.
Experimental psychologists designed a dog enclosure, divided by a low barrier and wired to deliver electrical shocks to half the cage. Dogs quickly learned to cross the barrier and avoid the unpleasant shocks. New dogs, however, were given the shocks no matter what they did. The ‘mad scientists’ then changed the conditions so that these dogs, like the first ones, could easily avoid the shocks. Yet they never learned. Being subjected to a no-win situation had rendered the second group of dogs incapable of succeeding. Even in their home cages they seemed lethargic and dejected.
Psychologists call this phenomenon learned helplessness. The only way they could get the dogs to avoid the shocks was to physically drag them over the barrier.149
Can I ever identify with those pathetic creatures! It’s as if for my whole life I’ve been victim of a sadistic conspiracy to crush me into a whimpering defeatist. Yet even if your experience has been more harrowing, there is one thing distinguishing us from those dogs. Though racked by failed ministry attempts, we can know when conditions for ministry have changed, because we’re in union with the God who knows. The sovereign Lord enjoys certain advantages in being omnipotent, one of which is the ability to communicate with even the deafest, densest (why are you looking at me?) of his children.b We may still question whether it was God, but after entreating him we will receive enough confirmation to warrant giving it a go.
All we then need is faith to mount the barrier.
Use steps. Start with a minor challenge. Slowly, methodically, climb higher. Even if your situation seems a case of all or nothing, prayer, creativity and persistence will usually carve a series of steps into a towering barrier.
Try spending fifteen or more minutes a day simply imagining yourself totally at ease, doing something you presently find just a little daunting. Over days or weeks, slowly advance – moving in your mind to the next stage only when you can picture the scene in detail without experiencing the slightest tension in your body. Research has convincingly demonstrated the effectiveness of this approach in breaking fear’s fangs. Add to this the prayer of faith and the power of knowing that Jesus is with you, and in a few weeks you will mount that barrier.
You’ll find this method far more dignified than having to be dragged over. I am not too keen about the whole of heaven looking on while I’m madly yelping, claws dug in, being yanked by the scruff of my neck to a place of joy and fulfillment that my foolishness imagines to be a den of terror.
There’s an alternative to volunteering or being forced. And it’s even worse. Geriatric specialist Dr. Peter Rowe reported in a British medical journal the case of a thirty-four-year-old lady who caught influenza. She was examined by a doctor who told her to stay in bed until he saw her again. He never returned. She never got up. Forty years later a doctor examined a plump, seventy-four-year-old, bed-ridden spinster. He found her in perfect health, still refusing to get up. It took seven more months of coaxing before she left the comfort and security of her quilt-covered prison. Then followed three ‘fairly active’ years until she met her Maker.150
You may be a pew-warmer for a while, but don’t get too comfortable! I’d prefer the torment of endless striving. Better to chase a God-given dream through a minefield, than be as snug as a slug in the mud.