The great spiritual writer Watchman Nee observed, “We think in terms of apostolic journeys. God dares to put His greatest ambassadors in chains.”
Could it be that some of your greatest ministry failures weren’t an accident?
In my new book – Finding Favor: God’s Blessings Beyond Health, Wealth and Happiness (releasing April 17th) – I look at nine different ways God “blesses” people in the Old Testament, the majority of which seem negative, but aren’t.
The title of chapter 10 – “Strategic Failure” – is one such blessing.
Here’s an excerpt from that chapter…
Here’s a new definition of success I want you to begin using: Success is finding favor with God.
That’s true success.
If we have God’s stamp of approval on our lives—meaning, if we’re doing the things he has called us to do—and most importantly finishing the things he has called us to do—and we do it for his glory, in his strength, to accomplish his goals, then we’re wildly successful.
Here’s the kicker: Being favored includes failing.
If there’s one thing we learn from Scripture, it’s that God sometimes leads a person to do something, knowing they will fail, and tells them to do it anyway.
In other words, God calls people to fail on purpose, and when they do, they’re successful.
You read that correctly.
Sometimes when we pray for God’s favor, he responds by causing us to fail. He leads us to fail. He puts us in situations where he knows we’re going to blow it in epic fashion, and that is all part of his larger plan.
In fact, sometimes one of the clearest signs that we’re squarely in the will of God is that when we look back we see a string of abysmal, embarrassing, heart-wrenching failures.
Don’t believe me? Just ask Abraham.
The Bible tells us in Genesis 24:1 that “Abraham was now very old, and the Lord had blessed him in every way.”
If you’re not familiar with the story of Abraham, he probably reminds you of the type of person you’d see featured on the cover of Fortune magazine, sitting on the hood of his Rolls Royce parked in front of one of his 24 homes.
If the Creator of the universe blessed Abraham in every way, we Americans assume he’d be the mythical guy everyone holds up as a role model for business and life. He’d have perfect teeth, a beautiful wife and 2.5 kids who went to Harvard but served the poor on the weekends. To relax, he’d hand out money to the poor while jogging 16 miles to keep in shape, simultaneously calling various world leaders to try to get them to forgive the debt of African countries so they could afford antiretroviral medications to treat AIDS.
BLESSED IN EVERY WAY?
Can you imagine what your life would look like if you could say that God had blessed you not in some ways but in every way?
The thing is we don’t have to imagine. Abraham was 70 years old when God told him,
“Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. I will make you a great nation” (Genesis 12:1-2).
Abraham left his father and extended family behind in a city named Haran (in modern-day Turkey) and traveled to the land of Canaan (in modern-day Israel).
When Abraham died at 175 years, I don’t see how anyone would have thought his life had been blessed in most ways, let alone every way.
(And yes, he actually lived to 175. See Genesis 25:7. Can you imagine how much his back and knees hurt? Geez!)
The 12th-century Jewish scholar Maimonides believed there were 10 great tests Abraham had to endure.
Test 1. God told Abraham to leave his homeland and sojourn as a stranger into the land of Canaan (Genesis 12:1).
Test 2. As soon as he arrived in the Promised Land, he had to face a severe famine, which sent him searching for food in Egypt just to survive (Genesis 12:10).
Test 3. The Egyptians believed Abraham’s wife, Sarah, was so hot that they abducted her and made her one of Pharaoh’s concubines, and Abraham told them she was his sister to keep from getting killed (Genesis 12:10-20).
Test 4. Once back in Israel, Abraham was forced to go to war against rival clans just to stay alive and protect his family (Genesis 14:1-24).
Test 5. Abraham and Sarah faced infertility for years. Thus they believed having a child with another woman, Hagar, would allow him to fulfill God’s promise to be the progenitor of a great nation (Genesis 16:3).
Test 6. God told Abraham to grab a knife and circumcise himself—Worst. Test. Ever. (Genesis 17:24).
Test 7. As in Egypt, Abraham again feared for his life and passed his wife off as his sister to the king of Gerar, who intended to take her as his wife until God intervened (Genesis 20).
Test 8. Abraham sent his concubine, Hagar, and their child, Ishmael, into the desert to fend for themselves (Genesis 21:9-20).
Test 9. Abraham became estranged from his son Ishmael (Genesis 21:14).
Test 10. God told Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac on an altar (Genesis 22:2).
To this list of challenges identified by Maimonides, I think there are two more struggles Abraham faced that are worth noting.
- Abraham lost a beloved family member when he lost his nephew Lot’s wife in the destruction of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19:26).
- Since Abraham’s wife, Sarah, died when she was 127 (Genesis 23:1), and Abraham lived until he was 175 (Genesis 25:7), he spent 48 years without the love of his life. If you ask me, that was his last and most difficult test of all.
When we look back on the life of Abraham—aside from the moments of happiness that we must discern by reading between the lines—I’m not sure how anyone could describe his life as “blessed in every way.”