Friday, March 26, 2010

Yet again . . .

I hope you’ve had a great month of March so far, and thanks again for being part of our tour!

Seems like a little more of the same here – yet another failure for me, but hopefully I can be like those persistent flowers that show up even when we think they won’t, when we’re so tired of the cold and dark. It’s tough to keep trying and waiting and then have nothing to show for it, but we soldier on, trusting everything is part of the building, believing we’ll look back one day and see how we stood on the scaffolding constructed from this failure. Hope to see you there . . . .

Trust in the LORD with all your heart,
And lean not on your own understanding;
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He shall direct your paths.

Proverbs 3:5-6

Monday, March 1, 2010

March, 2010 -- Overcoming the fear of failure

My righteousness will never fail. Isaiah 51:6

Fear of failing comes to us in many forms. We sometimes fear failing on the job or failing at a skill, often failing in a relationship. We may fear we’ve failed at life in general, that we haven’t reached goals we set or become what we wanted to be—and that we never will. But we can put these fears away.

One great part about God’s plan is that it doesn’t end. Even though we’ve failed in the past (and all of us have), that’s no guarantee we’ll fail in the future. If we’re not where we want to be now (and many of us aren’t), that doesn’t guarantee a bad future. But the fear of failing can often keep us from trying again, from listening to God’s prompts, from building what’s waiting to be built.

But some preparation will help us overcome this fear and build with willingness, belief and patience, and we can start today and build one day at a time.

Discouragement and disappointment can take over our lives and stop us still, unable to even look at a stack of boards and see something in the making. I think what happens is that often, after too many falling walls and wrecked plans, we begin to plan for failure instead of success, and we let that plan overtake God’s.

Sure it’s easy to give in to the fear, but a better use of our time and energy is to prepare for success, and we do that in a couple ways.

*Reassess your goals. No matter how tall and beautiful your temple may be, I can’t duplicate it, and if I try, I will fail, because God’s designed our temples like our fingerprints, one to the soul.

When my temple -- my life -- remains in disarray with tools scattered everywhere, I have to know how to guide it and build it better. Am I clear about where I’m going and what I want the next floor to look like? If not, I will surely fail there too. Success is a lot more likely with a clear understanding of my goals and a plan to get there. Jesus knew, and He gave us a way to work unafraid.

When Jesus was in Jerusalem for a festival, He was at the pool of Bethesda and saw the injured and sick people there, each hoping to be first in the pool when it stirred and be cured. He approached one man who’d been waiting 38 years.

When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?”
“Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.”
Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” [John 5:6-8 NIV]

We can learn at least four points from that story to help us prepare for success:

- God is waiting on us to make a choice. Jesus’ first question to the man wasn’t about his history or condition, but his intent, and his next move depended on that answer. He’s asking us the same thing. Do we want to get well? Do we want to overcome this fear and take some risks to build and grow and live the way God’s planned for us?

- If our answer to Jesus’ question is yes and we choose to overcome our fears, then we need to follow His directions and “Get up!” – “get up” in our mind, our attitude, our belief -- and prepare for what’s next. Once we focus on God’s plan and put ourselves in it, we can build without fear.

- Preparing for success means being willing to work for it. Jesus told the man to pick up his mat -- not to wait for someone else to get it or leave it there, but to carry what he would need with him. He’s telling us to prepare with proper training, supplies, practice -- whatever we need to keep building. He makes the plan, we carry out our part.

- God’s certainly been patient with us, so we can do the same and start where we are, just like Jesus told the man. “Walk,” He said, not run, not cartwheel, not go back and fix everything that’s happened in the past, just walk. He’s saying put up one board today, hang one door today, lay just a few bricks today, and tomorrow we’ll work some more. Patience is easier when we’re walking in the right direction.

*Develop a long-range plan. You can bet God’s got one with your name on it. Your long-range plan will help you meet short-range goals, and that helps you progress one day at a time, building as you go without fear.

Your long-range plan doesn’t have to be for the rest of your life or include everything you ever hope to do all at once. Focus on one project, if you like, or look just one year out. Choose a finish line you can identify and small, measurable steps to get you there. That's preparing for success, not fearing failure.

With these strategies and with willingness, belief and patience, get to work. Soon, you’re waist-deep in the water you feared having around your ankles, and the result is even more building!

Please think about these questions and if you will, respond for our other builders here:

-why does fear of failing interfere with your life so much, or why has it in the past?
-how has it stopped you from building what you felt God wanted you to build?
-how will you plan for success in your life today and follow Jesus’ plan for the man at the pool?

Read below or download the study of Gideon for yourself or your group. Thanks for being here!

From the book . . .

Chapter 19

Stable in God’s companionship

Haggai, the Lord’s messenger, gave this message of the Lord to the people:
“I am with you . . . . My Spirit remains among you.”
Haggai 1:13, 2:5

Since God planted Adam and Even in the garden, He’s had a persistent habit of being with us. I doubt He ever planned it any other way. He made us smart and capable, but He made us to work best with Him at the center of our lives. I think He knew that despite our tendency to get a little full of ourselves now and then, we’d always get scared again sooner or later.

We’d always feel and understand the need for Someone smarter and more capable than we are to be in charge. We’d always be willing, but we’d frequently be stalled. So He planned from the very beginning a consistently hands-on management style with us, an oversight of our situation no matter what else was going on, and a reminder of all we need to know—a fire rekindled to light and fuel us when we’re cold and afraid.

And He promised. Sometimes we forget. Sometimes we equate not seeing what we expect to see with Him not doing what He promised He’d do. It’s a practice that hurts and leaves us stalled, and it’s wrong. But we can fix it, because He promised.

I know that alone feeling, the worst alone feeling there is, like my blood vessels are separated from my heart and I’m going on that last bit of inertia that pulsed life into me before it faded like the ending of a song on the radio. It’s a feeling of being separated from God, wobbly and wavering, too weak to face whatever injustice befalls me and too afraid to dare to achieve whatever goal inspires me.

I think my bones must be made of fear and my will dust in a tornado, my hope absent as an infant’s guilt. Temples may need to be built, but by me? Surely not. No scaffolding seems strong enough to sturdy me for the job, no safety harness sure enough to catch me if I should fall. How can I do this job on unstable feet, with hesitant hands? How can I do this . . . alone?

I wonder if God keeps a list of all His children who’ve felt that way? Not to hold it against us, of course, because He’s masterfully forgetful of our shortcomings, but perhaps just to review the moments when our real belief came shining through like a newly confident jury surveying an innocent man.

How pleased He must be when we simply claim His promise instead of doubt His willingness to keep it. How sad He must be for us when we wonder if the system He designed works for us today, still, as reliably as He said. Perhaps He looks back now and then and thinks, “My dear little children . . . when will they allow themselves to claim this promise from Me and trust Me to be with them? I’ll just keep reminding them . . . .”

It amazes me to think how big our world is. And it scares me. Who am I that God should be here with me when He has so much else to do? And why? So I give human characteristics to God’s will and abilities and get stuck in the fear of “what if.” What if He’s less than reliable? What if He does forget about me? What if I fall off this ladder and crack my head open because He isn’t there to catch me? Unafraid sounds unattainable, and yet . . . I can’t give up.

I want the only “what if” I live with to be what if I hadn’t trusted God, and then I laugh out loud like a kid on her first cake walk win at a carnival. I want the impossibility of that “what if” to be a cause for joy that He and I talk about for a long time to come.

Inspection Point

What if He’s asking “what if” too?

We have to remember that our building project is a collaboration, that God works with us and studies our actions and reactions to guide us well.

When my jobsite looks like a toddler took over with a thousand blocks and a bottle cap to stack them on, I imagine He’s wondering “what if” I had listened to Him, “what if” I had trusted Him with the great blueprint He wanted to entrust to me.
I wonder if it’s too late to begin again, or will His guidance and security and presence come. Do you wonder?

* When have you felt too weak or unworthy to be significant to God?
* What are the “what ifs” in your life today, blocking your build?
* What “what if” has God been urging you to answer and put to rest?

Blessed is the man who makes the Lord his trust.
Psalm 40:4

Stalled, feeling way too small for God’s big request? Throughout our history, God’s found His human help in unlikely vessels. Gideon was one of those picked despite his apparent lack of credentials, and he knew it himself. But when the Israelites were under attack by Midian, God chose Gideon to settle the dispute.

When the angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon, he said, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior” (Judges 6:12). Yes, Gideon felt too little, perhaps because he forgot for a moment how God does all the heavy lifting. Perhaps he forgot that the might of our enemy is a breath of a breeze in the hurricane of God’s power. As always—our biggest job is to trust and that’s not dependent on size at all. We’re always big enough. He still promises He’s with you.

Read below or download the study of Gideon for yourself or your group.

A brief study of Gideon

Gideon’s story is told in Judges 6 and 7

The nation of Israel was suffering under the mistreatment of the Midianites [in the early 1100s BC] and God and the Israelites had had enough. The people asked God for help and like always, He had a plan. But the person He picked to lead this building project felt inadequate, small, afraid of failing.

“How can I rescue Israel? My clan is the weakest in the whole tribe of Manasseh, and I am the least in my entire family!” Gideon wanted God to know [Judges 6:15].

Maybe we’ve felt the same way – totally unprepared and ill-equipped to do the building in front of us, afraid of failing because of what we felt we had to build with. God had an answer for Gideon, and it applies to us too.

“Go with the strength you have . . . . I am sending you . . . . I will be with you,” He told Gideon [Judges 6:14,16].

God saw all He needed to see for Gideon to succeed—the strength he already had, despite where he came from or what family he belonged to or what education he had or anything else. Can you imagine God having said, “I am sending you…unprepared and sure to fail”? Not likely.

When we don’t feel up to the job before us, we often find excuses just like Gideon did. Maybe it’s a lack of money or the proper education, a bad location or a stained past—it doesn’t matter. Apparently what God focuses on is the “strength we have,” not the lack or lackluster appearance we’re so obsessed with. And in Gideon’s case, He wanted Gideon and everyone else to know that success in any form doesn’t come from what we control but from God’s hand — our job is just to build where He says while He directs the whole plan.

Gideon prepared as we might when facing a big task: heavily. He gathered 32,000 soldiers and headed out to find the enemy. Not so fast.

“The Lord said to Gideon, “You have too many warriors with you. If I let all of you fight the Midianites, the Israelites will boast to me that they saved themselves by their own strength.” [Judges 7:2]

See? Perhaps we’ve looked at a lot of fearful situations where we might fail in the wrong way, while God was only seeing an opportunity.

He finally reduced Gideon’s fighting force to 300 men, and on paper, they didn’t have a chance against the Midianite army. But what they did have to rely on was their trust in God, their full dependence on and obedience to Him, win or lose. That’s just the way He wanted it. They obeyed God’s direction and discovered the courage within themselves to overcome their fear and build.

God caused such confusion among the Midianite army that they ended up killing one another or running away. Gideon and his undersized army never touched a soldier, but they acted in trust and obedience, believing in the God who sent them there, planning for victory.

God planned it, he built it.

Today we face challenges of the heart and mind, and we may feel completely unprepared to fight them, pushed down by failures in the past. Maybe you’re fighting addiction or depression, temptation or confusion, anger or hopelessness. But we don’t have to be afraid because God is with us too, and just like He saw the potential in Gideon, He sees the potential in all of us.

“Go with the strength you have,” He’s telling us today. Even if we don’t feel that courage and ability, God will awaken it in us and guide us day by day. Our victories may not come as swiftly as Gideon’s, but our building remains to be done, each swing of the hammer adding up to the success God already sees.

Failing in the outside ways we see may be simply failing to trust and obey, afraid that any move will be the wrong one so we make no move at all. But God says go ahead, work, try, build—and board by board, we can overcome our fear of failing and build with willingness, belief and patience.

If we’re willing to accept the challenge before us, believe God’s chosen us for the victory in His plan, and work patiently through each day, we’ll look back after a while at a whole ‘nother floor to our temple. It may take a long time of building, but we don’t have to fear the work. God is with us. He said so.

May God bless your building . . . .

o ~ o ~ o

How would you have responded if you had been in Gideon’s place?

When have you released your plans and followed God’s will in a fearful situation?

What have you learned about overcoming a fear of failure that you will help you build bigger temples in your life?

o ~ o ~ o

Download this study of Gideon in pdf for easy printing for yourself or your group:
Go here.

Thanks for being part of our tour . . . please post your comments and stories for all our readers. See you soon! God bless you.