“No time for losers ’cause we are the champions.”
Looking back at our list of goals for 2012, some of us feel a great sense of fulfilment because we achieved a whole lot of them- well done! Others (like me) find that we have pressed the snooze button on most of them and forgot to go back to our journals in the course of the year- better luck in 2013!
My question today is, when you think about last year, what is the one thing that stopped you from doing something you really wanted to do, or getting something you desired? It could be something as simple as eating something new (I had sushi for the first time!); or something as life-changing as pursuing a new relationship with someone; or quitting your job and finally pursuing the vocation that you have always dreamed of.
I think the short answer and the reason why you held back is this: fear.
What is fear? An unpleasant emotion caused by the threat of danger, pain or harm. We’re all familiar with that emotion: firstly at birth, when we are rudely chucked out of our safe planet of amniotic fluid into this cold, cold world. And later that dreadful feeling when you wake up from a nightmare in middle of the night. It’s funny how things that we can feel really easily are sometimes hard to define in words.
No one wants to be called a loser, flop, incompetent, wreck, disappointment… And for a lot us, the fear of being labelled one of these is the one thing that drives the decisions we make. You may be the person who gave up on Maths in Grade 3 because a teacher said you were no good at it, you’ve been avoiding it like the plague since then. That’s how you ended up the arty drama kid. Or you’re the person who is always labelled the “quiet and compliant one” in the group, you don’t say what you really think because everyone will think it’s dumb anyway. You’re scared of revealing your true self because no one can handle who you really are, and you have a string of failed relationships to prove it.
So how does one deal with this fear of failure? It is unpleasant, it is not a good thing and hopefully by the end of this post you’ll be convinced that it is possible to be rid of it and live free from it. The writer of Hebrews encourages us to “strip off and throw aside every encumbrance (unnecessary weight)… which so readily clings to and entangles us.” I love the imagery of that! You know the feeling you get when you can put that really heavy backpack you have been lugging around all day. The weight lifts and you feel the relief of your shoulders where the straps have been cutting into them. You stretch your back, your neck, your arms and you can finally… breathe.
I think part of the stripping process involves realising that the power of this kind of fear is in a lie and the process by which we get free from it is by knowing the truth (John 8 v 32).
The lie: Your fear of failure is good because it effectively protects you from being a loser. Giving into this fear will guarantee that you will never disappoint anyone – those you love, those who depend on you, God.
The truth: You’re already a loser, but God loves you anyway.
To be honest with you, the concept of being a loser really offended me. It totally ignored all the good things I had done with my life, my trophies and leadership positions, and all the efforts I had made to please God. The idea that Jesus would call me a failure did not feel like love at all, that’s something mean people say! That did not sound like God.
sub-lie #1: I’m actually a good person. I mean, it’s not like I’ve killed anyone.
Most of us who struggle to accept this truth have an over-inflated fego: faith-ego. We put ourselves in the Mary mother of Jesus/ Paul category when the reality is that (at best) we’re more like:
Jonah: player hating hyprocrite, runs away from God, disobedient. Hates alter calls ’cause it means all those terrible people get a new start like they never did anything. *shakes fist at God*
Peter: makes promises to God in His presence on a Sunday during a particularly intense worship song; loses the courage when the moment passes.
Sapphira: lets out a sigh of satisfaction when she realises that she’s put in the biggest denomination of cash into the offering basket and literally pats herself on the back for her spiritual maturity in financial matters.
sub-lie #2: If I work really hard, I can earn God and people’s love and approval.
The Gospel teaches us that we all fall short of being perfect, we all fail. Any achievement, good deed done, or success can never make up for our ultimate fallenness. That’s the first truth. The second truth is this: that we are loved by God anyway! In a society that is all about performance-based rewards and achievement and attainment being the definition of success, the Gospel teaches us that God’s love is not dependent on how well we do- He loves us because He loves us! People’s love may be conditional, but God’s love is NOT. A condition is when one person says to the other: “I will do this if/provided that you do that.” But the Bible says that God loved us “while we were yet sinners” – unconditionally.
“You are a justified sinner and a loved failure.” Timothy Keller
That phrase is from a Tim Keller sermon that you can download and listen to here. I believe that the process of getting free from our fear of failure begins with understanding the significance of Jesus Christ’s life and His execution. Every person, every person, without exception, has a deep longing for approval from others, to be held in high regard by others, to have a good position. And yet we all have an awareness that ultimately, this is unattainable, we are not good enough! The Bible says that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, was a man who walked this earth and was convicted and killed for crimes He did not commit. Christ’s life and circumstances surrounding His death and rising from the dead were written about hundreds of years before He lived. What looked like a huge failure by this man who claimed to be God was, ultimately, His means of demonstrating His love for us. Fearless, failure-less and without fault He took on, for all those who believe, their failures and wrongdoing so that they could truly live, call it “raised from the dead” like He was. Only God could do such a completely mind-bending thing!
” [I]t is on account of of this resurrected Jesus that the forgiveness of your sins can be promised. He accomplishes, in those who believe, everything that the Law of Moses could never make good on. But everyone who believes this raised-up Jesus is declared good and right and whole before God.” Acts 13 v 38 (The Message Version)
In summary, here’s what I’ve said (and maybe what I haven’t said because I forgot):
1. Look under your chair… You’re a loser! You’re a loser! EVERYBODY IS A LOSER! (Even Oprah is a loser. No, that is not blasphemy.)
2. God loves everyone > God loves losers > God loves you even though you’re a failure.
3. God shows His love in dying for us. Literally dying. He chose to take on our failures on our behalf.
4. When you believe in Jesus, you accept your failure and His miraculous work on your behalf. For ever and ever. Amen. You are now right with God and can stop trying and failing (see 1.)
5. You have nothing to lose and nothing to fear so you can now strip down, take off that fear of failure that you’ve been hiding behind.
These are my thoughts. I would love to know what yours are after reading this!