Scripture: Acts 18:5 When Silas and Timothy arrived from Macedonia, Paul was occupied with proclaiming the word, testifying to the Jews that the Messiah was Jesus. 6 When they opposed and reviled him, in protest he shook the dust from his clothes and said to them, “Your blood be on your own heads! I am innocent. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.”
Observation: It’s not often that we read about the apostle Paul failing. Paul is known to history as “apostle to the Gentiles” but it’s clear from this reading that such a path was not his original intent. Like the other apostles of his day, Paul began his missionary work seeking out ethnic Jews with whom to share the gospel. However our passage for today reveals a turning point in his strategy. Rather than seeing his lack of effectiveness with Jews as a challenge to his call as an apostle, Paul viewed it as an invitation from the Lord to change his strategy – and reach out to Gentiles instead. One door may have closed, but another door opened.
Application: I hate to fail, as I’m sure do many of you. Our Western culture hard-wires us to pursue “success”. Maybe you’re a competitive person like me and you’ve been trained to be a “winner”. There’s nothing inherently wrong with these things, but it’s important to understand the centrality of failure in the life of a Christian disciple.
It’s only when we come to the end of our competence and experience negative outcomes that we truly see our growing edges.
One of my early mentors was brilliant, and brutal, at exercising this important leadership development philosophy. He would challenge me until I reached the limit of my capacity – and laid an egg. At which time he would process the failure with me, encourage me, teach me, then send me back out. There was an enormous amount of challenge, but also an enormous amount of support.
I compare this method with the one most of us have been trained to embrace – which is the strategy of making sure we avoid putting people in situations in which they might fail. As wonderful as success is (I’m a big fan), failure tends to be a much more effective teacher. The key is to embrace the failure, learn from it, but to NOT QUIT altogether.
Some of you might be in a season of what you would call “failure”. It’s not going well in some important area of your life and you’re feeling a bit defeated. I’m guessing this is how the apostle Paul felt in Macedonia when the Jewish people were not responding to his message. It’s normal to experience pain in this scenario. It sucks. I get it.
But don’t give up. Learn from it. Grow from it. Change your strategy and/or tactics. The Lord isn’t done with you yet.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, pick us up when we’ve been knocked down by failure and/or negative outcomes. Give us grace to embrace failure as an opportunity rather than something to be avoided at all costs. We ask this in your holy name. Amen.