To Fail in God’s Cause
Have you ever heard God speak to you? Maybe not in an audible voice, but have you ever felt like God was calling you to do something big? Something maybe a little outside your comfort zone?
If so, perhaps you’ve heard another little voice, speaking in your heart—the sinister voice of doubt: Could you really do that? What if you failed? What if you failed in God’s cause?
(Listen to this message online here)
*On Tuesday, January 3, 1956, Jim Elliot and four other missionaries landed on a small strip of land in the jungles of Ecuador. For years they had been dreaming of and planning for this moment. Their hearts were set on reaching the Auca Indians with the good news of Jesus.
The Aucas were a notoriously dangerous tribe. No one had reached them before. Some had exchanged gifts, but always the Aucas had attacked them. For three months the missionaries had been regularly flying over the area, dropping gifts and shouting greetings. When they landed they built a hut and waited for the Aucas to come and find them.
They knew the dangers. Their wives had discussed the possibility of becoming widows. Elisabeth Elliot, the wife of Jim Elliot, says they went simply because they knew they belonged to God, because he was their creator and their redeemer. They had no choice but to willingly obey him, and that meant obeying his command to take the good news to every nation.
On Friday, January 6, three Aucas—one man and two women—approached them. They exchanged greetings. The missionaries showed them rubber bands, yo-yos, and balloons, and the man was taken on a ride in the plane.
On Sunday, January 8, they were due to radio in at 4:30. There was silence. When no message came, a plane was sent and then a rescue party. Four of their bodies were recovered—all lanced to death. The fifth was never found. It seems they were ambushed.
All five were martyred for the sake of Christ.
Jim Elliot and his friends, apparently, had failed in their mission. They had failed to see the accomplishment of their goal—of God’s calling—to evangelize the Auca people of Ecuador.
Jim Elliot once said: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” Jim Elliot was willing to sacrifice all for God’s cause—and he paid the ultimate price in His service. He was willing to go, and yes even willing to fail, in following God.
Have you ever set out to do what God asks you to do, only to have the whole plan backfire on yourself? I mean, sure, anytime you follow the Lord you expect to face some opposition. I get that. But I mean, have you ever set out in God’s cause, only to have things go so badly that you look like a total failure? So badly even your closest allies turned against you?
Think about the patriarch Job. Now, Job was a man of God. He followed God, and truly did nothing wrong, yet he faced tremendous opposition from unseen forces that seemed bent on destroying his life. But, Job wasn’t going out, actively, on a mission for God. He was simply living his life, and Satan came after him.
Do you suppose that if the story were different, if God had given Job a special mission, and Job was on that mission for him, that God would have protected him a little more? I mean, after all, God wouldn’t allow those in His service to fail, would He?
Yet it seems that failure, or apparent failure, is all to common in the life of God’s servants. Sometimes, for sure, God’s servants bring it upon themselves, but sometimes even those most faithful to God’s cause face insurmountable failures. Why is that, and what lessons can we learn to cope with the times we meet with similar failures?
I want to look at several ways that we might fail, or seem to fail, in God’s cause, and some examples of those who have experienced such failures.
First, we may and will fail if we refuse to follow God’s leading. Take, for example, God’s prophet Jonah. God sent Jonah a message, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before Me.” (Jonah 1:2)
God called, so Jonah went, right? Yes, Jonah went somewhere, but rather than marching to Nineveh, Jonah goes down to the sea-port and buys a ticket on a ship to go the opposite direction.
Jonah soon finds himself in a huge storm, with the crew and passengers of the ship demanding to know WHY he was fleeing from God, when they learned that he alone on that ship served the God who created land and sea! Jonah had failed in God’s cause, and begged the crew to throw him into the sea. But God’s cause would not be thwarted by Jonah’s failure, and God saved Jonah’s life by sending a huge fish to swallow him and carry him to land.
“I cried out to the Lord because of my affliction, And He answered me. Out of the belly of Sheol I cried, And You heard my voice.” (Jonah 2:1)
Yes, Jonah’s first mission ended in failure, and a miserable submarine ride—all because he had tried to run from God!
Another reason we can seem to fail in God’s cause, is because we fail to believe in Him. We lack faith. God may call us to something great, yet we fail to attempt it because we aren’t sure whether we will succeed. Even worse, when we attempt to exercise our faith, we can at times appear defeated.
We find the story in the gospel of Matthew, just after Jesus and the three disciples came down from the mount of transfiguration. They down to find a distraught father, speaking with the nine disciples. Even the look on their faces spelled doom and failure. Hear the desperate plea of the father:
15 “Lord, have mercy on my son, for he is an epileptic and suffers severely; for he often falls into the fire and often into the water. 16 So I brought him to Your disciples, but they could not cure him.”
17 Then Jesus answered and said, “O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I bear with you? Bring him here to Me.” 18 And Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of him; and the child was cured from that very hour.
19 Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not cast it out?”
20 So Jesus said to them, “Because of your unbelief; for assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you. 21 However, this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.”
Why had the disciples suffered this failure? Was it because God’s power had failed? No! Were the disciples not good enough at casting out demons yet? No! But though they had attempted, they did not truly exercise faith. The devil took hold of their doubts, and would not leave.
You know, so often in our battle with the enemy, I believe that we fail right here—we fail because we lack faith. And God is ready to give us faith—He is ready to strengthen our faith. And in fact, perhaps the little failures that we suffer really aren’t failures at all, but are God’s way of strengthening our faith!
James 1:2-4 My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. 4 But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.
Turn with me to another Bible story – Exodus chapter 5.
You know the story. Moses was born in Egypt, during a time of terrible oppression and slavery. God’s people were being brutalized and mistreated in every way imaginable. Moses himself escaped becoming a victim to the national system of infanticide only by a miracle of God.
He grew up in Pharaoh’s palace, but from childhood he knew that his mission in life was to deliver God’s people – the people of Israel – from Egyptian bondage. After killing the Egyptian, he spent the next 40 years herding sheep in the wilderness. But, like we just said, God was using this time of obscurity and trial to prepare him for his next great work.
But if Moses thought his hardship was over, he’d better think again.
Moses returned to Egypt at God’s direction, gathered the Israelite leaders, and explains to them God’s plan of deliverance. Then together, Moses and Aaron march into Pharaoh’s palace with the message:
“Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘Let my people go, that they may hold a feast to me in the wilderness.’” 2 But Pharaoh said, “Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice and let Israel go? I do not know the Lord, and moreover, I will not let Israel go.” (Exodus 5:1)
You know the saying, “It gets worse before it gets better”? This was definitely going to be the case for Moses and the children of Israel.
Through the story here, Moses pleads the case of God’s people, but Pharaoh refuses to listen.
v. 4 But the king of Egypt said to them, “Moses and Aaron, why do you take the people away from their work? Get back to your burdens.”
Pharaoh sees Moses as nothing more than another Hebrew slave. “Get back to work.”
“I’ll show you.” Pharaoh says. “I’ll show you who’s the boss.” Moses—he’s organizing a labor union. Always demanding better pay, more time off. Huh! I’ll show him…
So Pharaoh issues the command to the taskmasters in Egypt—make the people work harder. Tell those slaves they have to make the same number of bricks as before, but tell them to get their own straw. Obviously they don’t have enough work to do, if they’re sending Moses up here to ask for vacation!!!
So the taskmaster begin demanding that the people work, and beating the people and the Hebrew supervisors mercilessly.
So the Hebrew officers send a delegation to Pharaoh, “Why are you doing this? This is unreasonable!” But Pharaoh retorts angrily, (v 17) “You are idle! Idle! Therefore you say, ‘Let us go and sacrifice to the Lord.’”
On their way out of Pharaoh’s palace, who should the Hebrew officers meet, but Moses and Aaron.
Picture yourself now, in Moses’ place. He’s followed God’s command, and he’s spoken with Pharaoh. The Israelites already hardly trusted him, but now—now it seems he’s just made things worse for everybody!
Listen to the officers angry accusation to Moses in v. 21: “Let the Lord look on you and judge, because you have made us abhorrent in the sight of Pharaoh and in the sight of his servants, to put a sword in their hand to kill us.”
Moses, why did you get us in this mess? Couldn’t you just leave us alone?
The title of today’s message is, “To Fail in God’s Cause.” If ever it seemed that a man failed in God’s cause, it would seem to be Moses, right here.
Read between the lines here: Moses and Aaron got a cussing out. It’s all your fault, Moses. Go back to the sheep, Moses. You’ve made enough trouble here.
22 Then Moses turned to the Lord and said, “O Lord, why have you done evil to this people? Why did you ever send me? 23 For since I came to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has done evil to this people, and you have not delivered your people at all.”
Moses has no response for the foreman. He has already told them everything God has said. He has moved forward in faith, doing exactly as God has instructed him to do, and it appears that he has failed miserably.
Why had Moses seemed fail in God’s cause? Some fail because they refuse to follow God’s leading, but Moses had followed God’s word to a “T”. Some fail through lack of faith, but Moses had come to this point in full faith and trust in God. No, Moses hadn’t failed, although to all appearances he had.
And I believe that brings us to the third and final point I want to make—and that is this: Sometimes we face apparent failure in God’s cause, not because God has failed, but because we don’t fully understand God’s purpose in something. In hindsight, we know that God was working through Moses to bring Israel through this experience, in order to strengthen their faith. God would work mightily to deliver Israel from Pharaoh, but they could not see that just yet. They had to move forward a little longer by faith. Even though Moses could see no purpose, even though he cries out to God, “O Lord, why have you done evil to this people,” God was not through yet.
And what about Jonah? God would miraculously deliver Jonah, and would send him back to Nineveh to deliver the message He had commissioned him to give. “Forty days and Nineveh will be destroyed.”
So Jonah went. And Jonah preached. And to his utter amazement and disbelief, the people of that wicked city actually listened, and every one repented in dust and ashes—from the king to the lowest peasant.
But Jonah had a problem. You see, in his mind, he was a prophet. And a prophet has one job, right? To tell the future. And he had said, “forty days and the city will be destroyed.” And forty days came, and the people repented, and Jonah goes out of the city and throws a pity party—because now he was a false prophet. Jonah had the most successful evangelistic series of all time, and he goes and pouts because he’d become an utter failure in God’s cause. Why did he think he’d failed? Because he didn’t understand God’s purpose.
It’s so ironic when you look at the story of Jonah. Jonah was probably the most successful evangelist who ever lived. He preached one sermon on the ship, and the whole ship was converted, while he was sinking down in the waves and being swallowed by a whale. He preached to Nineveh and the whole city repented, while he went up on a hill outside the city to pout. When we get to the end of the book, we realize the story isn’t about the ship, or even about Nineveh. At the end of the book, God is having a conversation with Jonah about a little vine–and about Jonah’s life and apparent failure. It’s a story about God’s mercy in trying to reach Jonah’s heart.
What about John the Baptist? By the end of his life, John’s ministry looked like a failure, and John himself came very close to losing his faith! He languished in prison—not knowing that He had actually succeeded in accomplishing the purpose God had ordained for him.
What about Jesus Himself? At the end of his three-and-a-half years of ministry, His own people crucified him. The multitude who had thronged Him now cried “crucify Him.” Judas had betrayed Him, Peter denied Him, and all his disciples forsook Him. To all appearances, Jesus Himself had failed in God’s cause, but in reality, the cross became the greatest triumph of the universe–triumphing over death, sin, and Satan, and bringing salvation to the human race!
Sometimes, when things look like a failure, we just don’t understand God’s purpose. That was the case for Job. Job didn’t understand why all those trials were coming to him. He didn’t know that behind the curtain, in the invisible world of the universe, a battle was raging between God and Satan, and that this battle was being played out in his own life.
Perhaps this was the case for Jim Elliot. As he died there, on that remote beach in Ecuador, it would have seemed to him that his work was a failure. He would not know that, after his death, his beloved wife Elisabeth and their young daughter would come to live among the tribe of wild natives who had killed him. He would not know that through their work, this savage tribe would come to know the gospel and the love of Jesus. He would not know that the story of his life and death would become the inspiration to countless hundreds, yes thousands of missionaries who would follow God’s call to take the gospel of Jesus to the furthest nations of the world!
Mother Teresa once said, “God has not called me to be successful. He has called me to be faithful.”
My friends, today, perhaps it may seem that we face insurmountable obstacles. It may seem that, as we look back over our lives, we see only failure. But my friends, that doesn’t really matter. What matters is this: have you been faithful? As you look back over your experience, can you say, “I’ve followed in faith where God has led me to go”? If not, we need not despair. Like the faithless prophet Jonah, God has given you another chance. Turn back to the path He has called you to follow—don’t waste another day!
But if you can look back over your experience and say, “Yes, I’ve followed His leading. No, I haven’t been perfect, but I have been faithful,” then, my Friend, trust His promises. You may not see success. You may never see success on this side of the Kingdom. We may never fully understand His purpose, but we can know that His ways are higher than our ways, and His thoughts higher than our thoughts. We can trust Him to work all things together for good. Because He is faithful, and God’s cause will not fail!
*The story of Jim Elliot was adapted from https://www.crossway.org/articles/jim-elliot-was-no-fool/
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