It can happen in a moment. A bad decision, an action we shouldn’t have taken, a moment of fear that led to an impulse that was wrong . . . and failure invades our life. It can happen when things are going great . . . or it could happen gradually, the result of series of events that have taken place.
Failure invades all of our lives at one time or another. Some failures are minor and are overcome quickly. Others are devastating not only in their effect on us . . . but in their effect on others. Periods of failure come into the lives of everyone. And with the glorious exception of Jesus, every hero of the Bible had their times of failure as well.
- Eve ate the fruit
- Cain killed Abel
- Noah got drunk
- Moses murdered a man
- Samson liked his women
- David had an affair
- Solomon got a big head
- Jonah refused to obey
- Peter denied the Lord
- Thomas doubted
- Paul persecuted Christians
The list could go on and on. All the heros of yesterday and today had (have) their areas of weakness. And this is also true of Abraham.
In fact, one of the things that testifies to the authentic nature of the Biblical record is the fact that the people presented are not presented in an idealized form. They are presented “warts and all”. In the Bible we see people one minute staring down evil and the next minute toying with destruction.
This morning we look at one of the failures of Abraham (there will be others). In this case a famine hits the land and Abraham runs . . . to Egypt. While there, he allowed his wife to be taken into Pharoah’s harem. He lied to protect himself, knowing that his wife will be taken by the foreign King. It’s a sad story. But we can learn several things today: Some of the things that Lead to Failure, some of the Effects of Failure; and then How to Get Going again after you have failed.
THINGS THAT LEAD TO FAILURE
A Misunderstanding the True Nature of Faith
The first cause of Abraham’s failure is seen in the first words, “Now there was a famine in the land, Abram went down to Egypt to live there for a while because the famine was severe.” On the surface this seems like a very logical thing to do. However, we need to remember that Abram was told by God to go to the Promised Land. It was the land God gave to Him. God promised to protect and defend him.
We would have expected that Abraham would have sought the Lord and rested in His promise. But that isn’t what he does. Instead of trusting the Lord, he turns to Egypt. Abraham forget (or hadn’t yet learned) that true faith is shown in the times of crisis. Faith is trusting God even when we would rather bolt through the door. It’s easy to profess faith. It’s a different thing entirely to possess it.
How often you and I “run to Egypt” in the difficult times. We don’t literally hop a plane and travel to Cairo. But we do turn away from trusting the Lord and turn to something else. Let me give you some examples,
- When we are unable to afford the things we would like to have we turn to Egypt in a plastic form: a credit card, rather than trust the Lord to provide for our needs.
- When our relationship with our spouse gets a little difficult our Egypt may be another person. This is someone who “makes us feel alive again.”
- When people disagree with us rather than turn to prayer that we might understand what is going on, we turn to the Egypt of revenge, manipulations or power plays.
- We have a medical, emotional or spiritual problem. But, instead of turning to the Lord we run to the Egypt in medicine cabinet or to the Doctor. Both, by the way, are great helps in troubled times . . . but notice where we turn FIRST. Do we run to the Lord, or do we run toward Egypt?
- We face a hectic week. We have things we must do but don’t want to do. Rather than trust God to provide Some turn to the Egypt of worry or neglect. Others to the Egypt of complaining or hostility.
They may be different circumstances and different “Egypts” but they all show the same thing. We are relying on something other than the Lord. We say we trust Him but in the situations that require trust, we place our trust somewhere else. True faith trusts God more than our instincts and the call of the world.
A Loss of Spiritual Vitality
There is a second contributor to Abraham’s failure. This is more difficult to pick up. Let me quote James Montgomery Boice,
- Abraham left Bethel, his place of worship, and he did not get back to Bethel until he was expelled rom Egypt. This deserves study. Bethel, meaning “house of God,” was Abram’s last recorded residence before his going to Egypt, and we are told that it was there that Abraham had build “an altar to the Lord and called on the name of the Lord” (Gen. 12:8). Perhaps in leaving Bethel, Abram left his place of worship, since Scripture does not record him worshiping again until he returns. (GENESIS p. 474)
If Boice is correct in his suggestion, Abraham had lost his spiritual vitality . . . he had begun to dry up spiritually. He lost his moorings and began to drift. What once would have been a clear case of right and wrong, now had become muddied.
Perhaps it would help is you could think of our souls like a food strainer. When we worship, study the Scriptures, seek the Lord in prayer, meditate on God’s Word and serve the Lord, we are pouring a measure of God’s Spirit into our strainer like soul. But like a strainer, what we pour in leaks out at a rate different for every person. The only way to keep our soul full is to consistently fill it with God’s spirit.
When we become lax in our spiritual pursuit our soul becomes empty and dry. It may start with a week where we sleep late on Sunday. That leads to two weeks and before long our sense of God’s presence is gone and we are seeking the Lord less and less. Or we miss a day in God’s Word. That day turns to a week, then a month and before long we not only can’t find our Bible but we find that the light of God’s Spirit is getting increasingly dim.
If we want to avoid failure we have to walk close to the Lord. To do that we must remain diligent in doing those things which maintain our spiritual vitality. Maybe this is a good time to ask: “is your spirit dry?” Are you drifting away toward failure due to neglect?
A third possible contributing factor to Abraham’s failure is Abraham’s faulty reasoning. We see it in his willingness to rationalize. Listen to Abraham’s statement to Sarah: “I know what a beautiful woman you are. When the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me but will let you live. Say you are my sister, so that I will be treated well for your sake and my life will be spared because of you.”
Now if Sarah is like most women, the first thing Sarah said was, “Really, you think they will think I’m beautiful?” But I would think that the second thing she would have said would have been: “What are you, nuts?” But can you hear Abraham’s rationalizations as he responds to Sarah: First, he would point out that the promises of God would be meaningless if he was dead. “Com’on Sarah. God made these great promises, we can’t let him down by getting me killed!” Abraham rationalizes that they need to do this “for God.”
Abraham also would have said to Sarah, “We’re not really lying. You ARE my half sister.” How do we know this? Well a similar situation takes place again in Genesis 20 This time it is with a King named Abimelech. In verse 12 Abraham explains his deception to the King. “she really is my sister, the daughter of my father though not of my mother; and she became my wife.” Do you hear the rationalization? “I wasn’t lying, I just wasn’t telling the whole truth!”
We rationalize our hatred, our unforgiveness, our bitter words. We rationalize marital unfaithfulness, deceptive business practices, and our lack of spiritual involvement. Friend, any time you find yourself making excuses to others or to God . . . you are rationalizing! And if you are rationalizing you are moving toward Egypt rather than to the Lord.
I find that the more education we receive, the more experience we have, and the more power we possess the more susceptible we are to this problem. We are too proud to admit failure. Too proud to get help. Too proud to listen to the wisdom of those around us. We have this erroneous notion that we must be competent in everything and so we pretend that we are. . . and the more we pretend, the closer we get to danger.
We are called to be those who deal in truth. Truth and rationalization do not go together.
THE COSTS OF LOSING FAITH
There are some people who feel that this account is not about a failure of Abraham. They see this as a success story. They believe it is an illustration of how Abraham went “toe to toe” with Pharaoh and ended up getting rich. They point to the fact that Abraham came out of this virtually unscathed. But did he? I don’t think so.
1)He paid a spiritual price. Any time we sin a barrier is erected between us and God. And the longer we let the problem go . . . the bigger the wall becomes.
2) He paid a relational price. Try an experiment. Wait for some stranger to show an interest in your spouse and then tell them you are “just friends”. Knowingly invite trouble. While you may technically be telling the truth, you are really compromising your relationship. Every wife wants to be cherished, treasured and protected. But Abraham was willing to sacrifice his wife to protect himself. That doesn’t say much for the relationship. It is hard to believe that this act did not leave deep scars in their relationship.
3) He paid a price in his witness. Sad to say, tt was Pharaoh who stood up for what is right. Abraham is supposed to represent the righteous God . . . but it is Pharaoh who is righteous Any door of opportunity Abraham had to proclaim the wonder and grace of God . . . slammed shut.
We have all had the problem of seeking to live down some past sin. We do something stupid and people remember it forever. Everything we say and do becomes tainted by that one act. Credibility takes a long time to establish but only an instant to destroy. Our words about our love for the Lord can be negated by what people have witnessed in our life.
Make no mistake, failures can carry heavy price tags.
THE REMEDY FOR FAILURE
O.K. failure can happen. And the effects of the failure can be devastating and long term. And probably everyone of us can point to some area of failure in our lives.
- a time we lost our cool
- a time we said something inappropriate or something we knew would hurt
- the time we struck out at someone in anger
- the time we compromised our ethics
- the time we were caught in a lie
- the time we stood with those who were making fun of someone else
- the time you did something illegal
- the time your spouse had to call the police
But what do we do when we have failed? There are some simple steps
- come clean. Admit the failure and confess the sin. Stop rationalizing and excusing just be honest.
- make right what you can. If you can do something to repair some of the damage . . . do it. Maybe there is an apology to extend, maybe something to repair, maybe there is gossip to squelch. If you can make things right . . . you must.
- run into the arms of the Father
In the case of Abraham, God rescued him from his foolishness. God kept Pharoah from initiating a physical relationship with Sarah. He then warned Pharoah against striking out against Abraham. God, in His mercy saved Abraham. And it is that same mercy we must seek in times of failure.
Jesus tells a great parable . . . it’s called the parable of the Prodigal Son. You find the story in Luke 15 but I think you know the story.
A certain young man is tired of the old family grind. He no longer wants to live at home. He wants his inheritance early so he can “make something of his life”. His father gives him his share of the inheritance and the young man spends it on fancy chariots and fast women. He parties. He spends. He has some laughs. And then the money runs out. He has nothing. The “friends” have moved on to another person with money and he is alone.
He takes a job taking care of pigs and finds himself envying the pigs. He is dirty, hungry and ashamed. He remembers the home he left. He remembers how kind his father was to even the servants. He knows he has hurt his father. He knows he has no right to expect forgiveness. But he decides to swallow his pride and return to his father’s house and beg for forgiveness. All the way home he rehearses his speech. He will not ask for his father to view him as a son . . . but as a servant. Anything is better than the life he had been leading. He will throw himself at the mercy of his father and hope for the best.
But things don’t go as expected. As he reaches the top of the hill leading to dad’s place. Dad sees his silhouette and begins running toward him. Before the young man has a chance to say a word dad has wrapped his arms around him saying, “O, my son! My son!” Before he knows it, everyone is there to greet him and the family is having a celebration in his honor. He is welcomed home with open arms.
Like every story Jesus tells, there is a point He is trying to make. Let me allow my friend Max Lucado draw the lessons home for you,
- The same open arms welcomed him that had welcomed Abraham, Moses, David, and Jonah. No wagging fingers. No clenched fists. No “I told you so!” slaps or “Where have you been?” interrogations. No crossed arms. No black eyes or fat lips. No. Only sweet, open arms. If you ever wonder how God can use you to make a difference in your world, just look at those he has already used and take heart. Look at the forgiveness found in those open arms and take courage.And, by the way, never were those arms opened so wide as they were on the Roman cross. One arm extending back into history and the other reaching into the future. An embrace of fogiveness offered for anyone who’ll come. A hen gathering her chicks. A father receiving his own. A redeemer redeeming the world.No wonder they call him the Savior.[NO WONDER THEY CALL HIM THE SAVIOR, p. 119, 120)
The Father’s arms are open. No, we don’t deserve to be forgiven. But He offers forgiveness anyway. There have been times when we have failed horribly . . . but God specializes in putting broken lives back together. The way to overcome failure is to run . . . .run to the Father.
Friends, are you headed for trouble. Are you walking toward Egypt? It may not be a famine that has you concerned. For you, the threat that causes you to lose faith and trust someone or something other than God might be
- the fear of losing a relationship
- the threat of losing a big sale
- the chance to make a lot of money quickly
- your physical deterioration
- a circumstance that threatens your comfort or reputation
- your emotional depression
- your raging hormones
- the pressure of friends
Whatever the threat, don’t run to Egypt . . . run to the Lord. Trust His promises. Rely on His character rather than your schemes. A choice to walk away from the Lord is always the wrong choice. Instead exercise genuine faith by standing with him even if everyone else is heading for Egypt. Trust that He can save you. Believe that He will take care of you and bring you through the worst of storms . . . just as He promised.
Maybe today you are very much aware of your own clay feet. You know you have failed. Everywhere you go you feel people looking at you. You sense their condmenation and disapproval. You feel paralyzed by the past. You may even be embarassed to bring the mess you have created to the Lord. But that’s where you need to go.
It is time to swallow your pride and head back to the Father seeking His wonderful forgiveness. It’s time to let His loving arms wrap around you. He understands what you have done. He understands it so well that He sent Jesus to die to pay for those very things. He offers forgiveness to you. He calls you to entrust yourself to Christ. The Bible tells us that if we will turn to Him we will be cleansed, set free, made new. Turning to Christ is not just a matter of saying some words . . . it’s a matter of putting the broken pieces of our lives into His wonderful and strong hands.
You see, we need to understand that the difference between a sinner and a saint is not that one sins and the other doesn’t. We both fall down. The difference you find in the believer is that when they fall they take the hand of Jesus and get up again. There is no reason to continue to wallow in self-pity. There is no reason to continue to beat yourself up over the past. Admit your failure. Take responsibility for your actions and then take His hand and get up.
I know you feel embarrassed by your past. But open the Bible. Study the saints of old. And before you conclude that you don’t belong, listen to their stories. Let them tell you about their failures and how God extended mercy and grace to them. Then you will realize that you are in good company. You will realize that the God who forgave them, will forgive you. The God who transformed those scarred lives into people who made significant contributions in the Kingdom of God, can also transform you. The only requirement is that you get up, leave Egypt, and come home. What are you waiting for?