Ironically, we must guard our hearts during times of failure and discouragement as well as success. While success may cause us to take our eyes off of our Lord and focus on ourselves, failure and discouragement have the potential to do the same thing: only this time in disillusionment and discouragement rather than pride and entitlement.
I know how dangerous failure and discouragement can be. I came very close to walking away from full time ministry altogether after deep pain in my late twenties. I know both vocational and avocational ministry driven individuals who have done that in the face of great difficult times. I am sobered by the implications in my own life and ministry impact had I chosen to walk away from the call of God on my life because of my great pain.
I have come to believe that times of failure (real or perceived) and times of discouragement are critical for the health of our hearts as they force us to choose where we will put our trust even in the face of impossible circumstances. We are forced into the decision to put our faith in our heavenly father just like those listed in Hebrews 11 even when we cannot see a way out. Looking back on some of the most painful periods of life I have come to the conclusion that I would not trade them for anything but I never want to experience it again!
Failure and discouragement force a life changing choice. Will I continue to trust and follow closely after Christ or will I settle for a diminished and wounded life? The first leads to greater faith and the second to a lessened faith. Failure and discouragement are never final unless we allow them to be. We make the choice as to whether we will move on and follow Him in the midst of our pain or allow our pain to pull us away from Him. It is always our choice and our move.
My own heart has been molded in pain and disappointment more than in any other way. That pain was God’s graciousness to me in order to make me what I have become. I am humbler, gentler, kinder, more comfortable in my own skin and less driven because of the gift of pain. Some of the best gifts come in the most unsuspecting wrappings.
One of the common responses to discouragement and failure is cynicism. All of us have reason to be cynical about people: especially those who claim to be Christ followers and do things unworthy of that walk. Yet, cynicism too, is a destructive attitude and hurts our heart. It causes us to doubt the good intentions of others, robs us of our ability to trust and skews our attitude toward others. Think about this: What if God chose to be cynical toward us? Our actions and attitudes often deserve it, yet he chooses to love and believe the best for us. Cynicism robs us of the ability to love and believe the best.
In my fifties, I am deeply realistic about the realities of people’s lives and situations I face. What keeps me from cynicism is my awareness of my own struggles, failures, imperfections and deep desire for righteousness. I am thankful that God is not cynical with me and I want to resist the temptation to be cynical toward others. Paul meant it when he wrote his letters to the “saints,” even when he needed to chastise and take people to task. We are saints, even in our imperfections and struggles and we want to treat all of God’s people in that light – even those who irritate us significantly.