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  • Writer's pictureMartin Sanders

Fail with a Flair

About 2 decades ago, I did a detailed study of the evidences and manifestations of the power of God as recorded for us in Scripture. There are many of them in a wide range. Some occur in nature; some in human experience; some that qualify as miraculous. Others were just common people who took a chance to see what might happen. It’s intriguing to see both the human side and the divine components of God’s power. It was clear that the people who saw the power of God took the most risks.

Now risks look different for each individual. There are people who are simply risk averse—they will do anything to keep from feeling uncomfortable, facing the potential of uncertainty or even failure. But for those who do take risks, it’s as simple as stepping up when you’d rather shrink back. It’s stepping in when you would rather remain hidden. Risks come in varying degrees—some are mild and some are wild. Risks come with a choice. Risks sometimes come with consequences. There’s a follow-up, a price to be paid, something that will continue on beyond the moment, and some are dramatic.

One of the more noted risk stories comes from Elijah—the account on Mount Carmel when he’s facing the hundreds of prophets of Baal and Asherah and there’s a lot at stake. Who would the Israelites go with? Who would they trust? And it came to an actual power show down. There Elijah stood on Mt. Carmel. His job was to call fire down from heaven—that would make a great Hollywood blockbuster, and if we were a couple decades ago, this would’ve been an ideal role for Schwarzenegger. Standing on Mt. Carmel, and it would sound like this: “I challenge you. Your God versus mine. Fire from heaven. Midnight. Be there.” And as he walked away, he would look over his shoulder and say, “I’ll be back.”

It makes for a great story, but picture Elijah. It’s a giant risk. If fire did not come down from heaven, if the very presence of God did not come through as anticipated, it would’ve been more than losing his life—it would’ve been torture to go with it. Few of us will be in those situations. Ours are far more subtle, so there’s a mindset to be created. Risk is a value, a mindset, a decision. Hopefully it becomes a life pattern. If we are to see the power of God in our lives, it will require risk. Human experience tells us that; a few thousand years of reported faith accounts tell us that. In the human experience it’s going to take risk so it’s necessary that you plan to fail.

A little over a decade ago, I was thinking through what comes next for me—books had been published, I’d done almost 25 years as a grad school prof. I began to think through how this would look through this seasons of life. I decided that if I was going to do well in this next season, I was going to need to plan to fail at least 10% of the time and if I did it right, within 5 years I would need to plan to fail at least 25% of the time. Now, we need to know that planning to fail and actual failure may not be the same percentages. Some of us will fail in things that we thought were real possibility, and some of us will plan to fail and it won’t happen; it will actually be one of those memorable stories that you will tell or will be told about you for decades to come.

I thought, I could just coast off into the sunset, or, I could ratchet this up a few notches and see what could happen in this next season of time. At a similar time, I had a sabbatical, a semester and a summer, so if I played it right, I could get about 8.5 months off for a paid sabbatical. My first instinct was to take part of the time and lease a villa in South Barcelona on the Mediterranean Sea and think and write. It was a good plan, but in the midst of this, there came an opportunity to go be interim pastor of a larger church whose pastor had just resigned In Western Australia. I contacted them, and it worked out—within a 10 day period, I went from introducing myself to them hiring me to move. One of my daughters said, “Dad what are you doing? You established yourself, you’ve got enough credibility, you can ride your reputation to the rest of your life. Dad, have you ever considered that you might go over there and fail terribly?” And I smiled and said “Yes, I’ve thought about t. I could also go over there with your mum, have some great experiences, see some things happen that I won’t get to see in NY and possibly, just possibly succeed wildly. If not, it’ll be a fun adventure—it is Western Australia after all.” Her words have made me smile ever since: “Have you ever considered you could fail?” Yes. A resounding yes.

“Have you ever considered you could fail?” Yes. A resounding yes.

The life of faith and experiencing the power of God will require risk and will naturally produce some failure. It seems to be how the pattern works. Personally, it has become a profound discipline—I plan to fail sometimes. It builds character; it builds faith. Failing both requires and builds another level of trust. Authentic humility is one of the outcomes, but it is the anticipation of what might happen in a really fun way. I’m in my 60’s now, and I’m still planning to fail regularly. When I do, it will be because I’ve taken enough risks. I will anticipate that when I fail, I will fail with a flair. If I learn something from it, it’ll take me to a whole other level, and I might just see new levels of the power of God. I want to be one of those who takes risks, plans to fail, and when it happens, I’m gonna fail with a flair.

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