Several years ago I decided I was ready for the next step in my career. I wanted to be the General Manager of a retail store. I put on my suit, rehearsed answers of my achievements, thought of people I had helped get promoted and confidently walked into the interview. The District Manager followed the script for a little while then said, “I hate these questions. They don’t really tell me anything. Tell me about a time when you failed.” I sat there with a blank face. My heart was pounding. I thought, “A failure? Why does he want to know about my failures? Is he trying to keep me from the job?” As I searched for a good failure, I asked him to repeat the question. I gave him a failure when everything turned out good, but he wasn’t satisfied. He wanted one where I crashed and burned because he wanted to see how I responded to it.
Our past failures are something that so many of us try to hide. In fact, we are so afraid of failure that we typically won’t ever put ourselves in a position to fail at doing something. We try to stick with what we know so we’re always succeeding. What I’ve learned, and the point my District Manager was trying to find out if I knew is that failure is the greatest teacher. It is also the path to grace. If we never fail, we have no need for grace. If we never try to do something beyond our abilities, we also keep our faith small by never trusting God to do something through us. God rarely calls us to do things that we can do in our own strength and abilities because He knows pride is always knocking on our door waiting to take credit for our successes. But, when we do things beyond our abilities, it forces us to seek and rely on Him.
James 1:5 says, “And if anyone longs to be wise, ask God for wisdom and he will give it! He won’t see your lack of wisdom as an opportunity to scold you over your failures but he will overwhelm your failures with his generous grace” (TPT). God doesn’t ridicule our failures. He’s not waiting to strike us down when we fail either. He sees them as opportunities to grow us and to lavish His grace on us. When we’re called to something greater than our abilities, seek His wisdom first, then step out in faith and do it. If you fail, it doesn’t mean you didn’t hear God or that He didn’t come through for you. It quite often means you and God have two different definitions of failure and success. Don’t let what you think is a failure keep you down. Get back up, trust His grace and keep walking in faith because to keep playing things safe is truly a failure.
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My son loves the LEGO Architecture series. We’ve built several of them as a family. Normally they take a night or two for us to complete because we’ve purchased small ones. However, recently he wanted one that was about 1,700 pieces. When I opened the box and saw all those pieces, I wondered, “What were we thinking?” Then I saw the book. It was seriously a book of how to put it together. Do you know what the first step was? Putting two pieces together. When we put them together, I jokingly said, “Hey! Only 1,698 pieces to go.”
In Zechariah, God used the prophet to speak to Zerubbabel to begin rebuilding the Temple. It was about 90 feet long and 20 stories high. As he set the first stone in place, people walking by started making fun of him. He began to get discouraged because other people couldn’t see what God has called him to, and they didn’t believe it could be done. Then the Lord spoke to him in Zechariah 4:10, “Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin, to see the plumb line in Zerubbabel’s hand” (NLT).
It’s easy to look at large projects like that and get overwhelmed. It’s even easier to look at what God has called us to and want to never start. But just like the LEGO’s, it starts with a small step, and that is followed by another one. God enjoys seeing us begin to do the work He called us to because He loves obedience. He knows that if He can trust us to be faithful in the small steps of obedience, He can stretch us to take the larger ones. It just takes us to be willing to get past the size of the thing God has asked us to do, and to simply begin.
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In Luke 17, the disciples asked Jesus for more faith. I’ve fallen into that trap myself: believing I could have more or less faith and that my amount of faith determines God’s response. They felt like it was the amount of faith Jesus had that gave Him the ability to do the things He was doing. The response Jesus gave them in verse 6, proves it isn’t the amount of faith you have that motivates God.
Jesus said, “You don’t need more faith. There is no ‘more’ or ‘less’ in faith. If you have a bare kernel of faith, say the size of a poppy seed, you could say to this sycamore tree, ‘Go jump in the lake,’ and it would do it” (MSG). There isn’t a size of faith. Either you have faith or you don’t. If you have faith that God will do something, you will act on that faith. If you have faith, you can speak to things and they will move.
James tells us that faith without works is dead. He’s saying, if you really have faith, you will act on it. If you aren’t doing anything by faith, you have none. Either you have faith and prove it daily, or you have none and prove it too. Henry Ford once said, “Whether you think you can or you can’t, you’re right.” He understood that you will always act according to what you believe. If you don’t believe God will answer, you won’t really pray. If you do, you will pray and show you believe it.
Faith isn’t about size, it’s about action. When the disciples asked for more faith, they got schooled by Jesus. When a man in Mark 9 asked Jesus if He could heal his boy, Jesus responded in verse 23 with, “If? There are no ‘ifs’ among believers. Anything can happen.” Our response should be like this man’s. He replied, “Then I believe. Help me with my doubts!” You only need a greater faith than your doubts if you want to act on it. If your faith isn’t strong enough to act on, then ask God to help you with your doubts.
Did you ever have a bike with training wheels on it? I did. I remember the day they came off too. I was so excited. I remember my dad held the bike up as I got on it. It was wobbly and my excitement quickly turned to fear. My dad didn’t give me a choice to get off the bike. He told me to pedal as he held onto my seat. As I pedaled, he ran along behind me. He cheered me on with words of encouragement. As the wind blew in my hair, a smile crept over my face. I looked to see if my dad was just excited and he wasn’t there. He was further back. I was doing it on my own.
Maybe you can relate. Your story is probably similar. It’s comforting to know there’s someone holding onto the seat, but there’s also a great excitement in the freedom of being released. There’s a sense of accomplishment when your training wheels are off and your pedaling is keeping you upright. I think acting in faith is very similar to the experience of riding a bike. We all like having the training wheels on, but sooner or later they’ve gotta come off.
God doesn’t want us to have training wheels on our faith for our entire lives. He expects us to grow and to mature. He wants to take them off and set us free to do His will and His work. Just because they’re off, it doesn’t mean He isn’t there with you or watching you. It means He trusts you enough to accomplish what He made you to do. I imagine the disciples were scared when Jesus ascended into Heaven. All of a sudden their training wheels were off and they were expected to ride.
Jesus entrusted the future of Christianity with those eleven men and set them free. For three years they were being trained on how to share God’s message of love for us. Jesus knew that they would be more effective if He took the training wheels off and freed them to go out into the world. He knew they were ready, but they didn’t. He had to let go of the seat, return to Heaven and watch as they pedaled. When they fell, He picked them up, dusted them off and put them back on the bike because a good father doesn’t let his children stay down when they fall.
You and I aren’t much different. We have training wheels in our lives that God wants to remove. There’s excitement thinking about it, but also fear. The questions of doubt arise and get us to beg God to keep those training wheels on longer. It’s as if we don’t trust Him when He says we’re ready. We want the freedom, but are also afraid of it. God wants to release us to do His work in the world, but we’re too scared to have Him let us go and to set us free to do it. Sooner or later, the wheels have to come off or we’ll never be as effective as He needs us to be.
What are the training wheels in your life that God wants to take off? Why are you afraid to let Him remove them? God can do so much more through you if you’ll just trust Him. He knows that you were created for His purpose and to do His will. He’s spent the necessary time training you and developing you to do what He has called you to do. Let Him set you free to that work. Let Him remove the training wheels that are keeping you from the freedom He has for you. Start to pedal, let the wind blow through your hair, smile and learn to trust yourself and God.
In our small group last night, we were reading from Genesis 6 where God gave Noah the blueprints for the ark. He told him it was to be 450 feet long, 45 feet high and 75 feet wide. He told him what kind of wood to use, how many levels to have, how to waterproof the wood, to build stalls and even told him why he was to do it and how it would happen. I got a little jealous of Noah as I read all of that because he got a blueprint of exactly what God wanted from him with each step.
I’d love for God to do that for me. Instead, I feel more like Abraham who God told, “Leave your native land and go to the land that I will show you.” There were no blueprints, no reasons or navigational directions. He was simply told to pack his stuff, leave his relatives and everything he’d known for a land that he would be shown without being given a reason. I don’t know if he felt the doubt, frustration and fear that I do from being in those shoes.
At first, I started to think that Abraham was the one who really acted in faith. After all, he didn’t get a step by step guide like Noah. The more I think about it, the more I see how much faith it took from Noah to accomplish his task even with a blueprint. When God shows you something you’ve never seen or heard of and asks you to do it, that requires a lot of faith. Even with a blueprint, you are venturing into the unknown, the uncomfortable. It requires faith to start building.
Another thing I see with Noah is the sheer enormity of the project God asked of him. It’s easy to get overwhelmed with how much God asks of us, but just like with Noah, it starts with one board and one nail. It took him a hundred years to complete what God asked of him. As our group leader pointed out last night, imagine Noah on year 33. After all those years, he was only a third of the way done. He’s worked night and day every day for over 39 years and only has a little of the project to show for it. Most of us would have quit. By faith, Noah got up the next day and kept following the blueprints.
Whether God has given you a set of blueprints or has asked you to follow Him with blind trust, it requires faith on your part. Faith to pick up that first board or faith to pack your bags and take that first step. Which of these two do you identify with? Has God asked for endurance from you to see His plan through in the face of ridicule and a seemingly lack of progress? Has He asked you to leave everything you’ve known to do something He’ll show you later? Either way, it requires faith and He has faith in you to accomplish it or He wouldn’t have asked you. Take courage and do something today that moves you in the direction of what He asked you to do.