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Message Books

God Will Give You a New Perspective

By John C. Maxwell

2066 09/06/2020

I want to talk to you again on the subject of famous failures-men and women in biblical times and today who we consider highly successful, but also experienced failure. Have you ever asked yourself this question: Why is it that some people who fail can get back up, respond in a positive way, and rebuild their live off that failure, whereas others become discouraged and unable to recover? I think the difference is this: perspective. I think perspective allows us, either in a positive way, to overcome our difficulties or, in a negative way, to let our difficulties overcome us.

Several years ago, I wrote a book called Failing Forward, which teaches people how to fail successfully. When I was on Good Morning America, they asked me where I did the research on the book and I laughed, I said it's the only book I've ever written that didn't require any research. All I thought about was all the stupid things I've ever done and I couldn't write fast enough. Trust me, I couldn't. In fact, when I finished, my wife Margaret told me she loved the book, and when I asked her what she loved about it, she said, "On every page, you talk about your failures. You're so honest. The reader's going to be drawn in because they're going to say, 'My goodness, he failed here, he failed there.' You didn't get all your failures in the book. I see a series: Failure 101, 201, 301, etc. You've got a lot of books inside of you."

The thesis of the "Failing Forward" book is very simple. The major difference between average people and achieving people is their perspective of and response to failure. In other words, how I see failure going in, how I respond to failure coming out. You see, if I do not have a healthy perspective of failure going in, I won't risk. I won't take the necessary steps. I won't put my name on the line. I'll just back up and I'll withdraw. And after I have failed, if my response to failure is negative, I'll basically say something like, I'll never do that again.

Let me ask you a question - would you say, "John, at least one time in my life, I have had a bad experience and I have said I will never do that again"? Mark Twain one time said that if a cat sits on a hot stove once, that cat won't sit on a hot stove again. A cat won't sit on a cold stove, either. Cats just don't like stoves. Bad experience. I'll never do that again.

When I was in high school, I really began to witness first hand what happens to a person when they have a wrong response to failure. The best basketball player on our team, every time he would miss a shot, he would begin to get down on himself and many times, when the team needed him the most, he was the least productive because he never seemed to respond correctly to his failures. When I was in college, a fellow by the name of Johnnie was in our musical group. He was always blaming other people for his problems. He never could take on personal responsibility, himself, and his life ended in tragedy. A fellow pastor friend of mine, every time a problem would happen in the church, he would leave that church and go to another. After 30 years of ministry, he had been in 15 different churches. Why is that? It is because the perspective and the response to failure were not correct.

Many famous people have been written off as failures. Albert Einstein's parents thought he was mentally handicapped. His teacher became so frustrated with him, she asked him to leave school, and she wrote, "Einstein will never amount to anything." Fred Astaire kept over his fireplace a memo that had been written by an MGM testing director that said, "Can't act, slightly bald, can dance a little." Abraham Lincoln's fiancé died, he failed in business twice, and was defeated in eight elections before he became president. Richard Bach, who wrote "Jonathon Livingston Seagull," was turned down by 18 publishers before one finally took a chance on him, and during the next ten years, 7 million copies were sold. Wayne Gretsky, perhaps the greatest National Hockey League player ever, when he entered into the hockey league, the report on him was, "He's too small, too slow and probably won't make it in the NHL." Henry Ford went broke five times, and when he finally put together his first car, he forgot to put a reverse gear in it!

Perspective is everything and you can see biblical examples of how perspective influenced the failures of men and women. For example, Job, in his major, major down time – the loss of family, the loss of fortune – the man held steady. His perspective of problems and failure were entirely different from his friends, who told Job to curse God and die because it was a terrible thing that had happened to him. Hannah and Sarah both wanted children. Hannah was willing to wait on the Lord until she had her child. Sarah wasn't willing to wait on the Lord, brought Hagar into the picture, and caused all kinds of problems because of it. Again, the perspective and response to failure is key. Joshua and Caleb, two of the 12 spies who went over to see the Promised Land, came back with a good report. Ten came back with a wrong report. David and Saul were the first two kings of Israel. David, if you look at the biblical accounts, failed more than Saul, but Saul's life ended tragically and David's did not. The difference was not their failures; it was their response, their perspectives concerning failure.

Talking about perspective, I love the story of a little boy named John, who was in the 3rd grade. He had just started bowling, hadn't been bowling very long, but had this 8-pound ball. Can envision a little third grader with an 8-pound ball? He was with his mother and he would slowly roll the ball down the lane, throwing mostly gutters. When the game was over, he looked at mom and asked, "What was my score?"

His mother felt bad because it wasn't a good score, and wanted to give him a little bit of encouragement, but didn't know how. So, she just told the truth, saying, "Well, sweetheart, your score was 28."

Little Johnnie looked at his mom with a big smile and said, "Can you believe that? I used to stink at bowling!" It's all perspective.

I have also discovered about failure and problems that our perspective changes tremendously if it is someone else's problem with failure, versus my problem for failure. It's the old joke, major surgery, minor surgery. You know minor surgery is when it's on you and major surgery is when it's on me.

My dad loves to tell this joke about two men who were talking. One guy says, "I lost my job."

The other guy says, "Well, it could be worse."

The guy says, "My house burned down."

The other guy says, "It could be worse."

"My wife just left me," he responds.

The other guy says, "It could be worse."

What do you mean it could be worse? You just keep saying it could be worse, it could be worse!

The other guy says, "Well, it could have been my job, my house, and my wife."

Isn't it amazing how we can encourage people during their difficulties, failures, and problems and tell them it's going to be okay, but then when it's us, when we're right in the middle of it, all of a sudden we're saying, "Wow, this is tough, this isn't easy. Man, where did all those easy answers go?"

The apostle Paul, our famous failure biblically speaking, would tell you that perspective changes everything. He would say to you and to me today, that God will give you a good perspective about problems and difficulties.

Now, let's just do a quick biblical review. I'm going to go fast here. There are several reasons why Paul could have seen himself as a failure. Number one, he admitted that he was the chief of sinners. Now, that's not a good start when you look around and say I'm looking at everybody in the Crystal Cathedral today and I just want to raise my hand and say I'm the chief of all sinners. Secondly, his priorities about the past turned out wrong. He said that he discovered that all the things he used to think were trophies were rubbish. He said he looked at his life and the things that he thought were important, he could finally see that they weren't important at all. He could have felt that he was a failure because his life was filled with difficulties. When you read the Bible, the passages about Paul's life, the guy had problems all the time, everywhere.

Listen to what he said one time. He was writing to the church of Corinth, and said (paraphrased), "Five times I receive from the Jews 39 lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked. Night and day I spent in the deep. I've been on frequent journeys and encountered dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from countrymen, dangers from Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers in the sea, and dangers from false brethren. I've been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, I've been in hunger, and I've been in thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure."

This is just one testimonial. I don't know what that does to you, but I want to knock on Paul's door and say, "Paul, my name's John. I'm your friend. Don't go out today. Just stay home. Stay where it's safe and comfortable. Don't go. When you go out, it's just not a good thing." The apostle Paul is living proof of Murphy's law (Whatever can go wrong, will go wrong).

Another reason the apostle Paul could have seen himself as a failure is that he wasn't even the favorite preacher among the people. The people really liked another preacher better. Paul could have seen himself as a failure because he had prayers that were not answered. Now here is one of the greatest of saints that has ever lived, probably the greatest leader in the New Testament after Christ, and yet, his prayers were not always answered. In fact, he prayed three times for God to remove a thorn in his flesh. However, God chose not to remove that thorn. Nevertheless, when others asked him to tell them about his answered prayers, Paul would stand up and say, "Well, to be honest with you, I've been praying three times and haven't had an answer yet." Moreover, Paul was not attractive. In fact, there was a season in his life where he had an eye condition that literally made him repulsive to look at. He, himself, said he was rejected and lonely.

When you look at all the reasons this famous failure could have felt as if life wasn't worth living, instead, Paul continued to do the work of the Lord. Paul continues to encourage the saints. Paul continues to write letters of instruction. All these failures, all of these problems, and yet he still is helping people. Now how could he do that? How could Paul overcome the failures in his life? How could he overcome the setbacks in his life? Five reasons, are you ready?

Number one: Paul realized that God's greatness is not determined by our greatness. In II Corinthians, he talks about the fact that we have this treasure in earthen vessels that the surpassing graciousness and the power of God may be of God and not of ourselves. In other words, Paul realized that greatness did not rest in him; greatness rested in God. Chuck Colson, in his first book, "Loving God," has an amazing story that I'm going to take a moment and read because it's exactly like what Paul experienced. It's about the fact that his greatness was not important as long as God's greatness shone through.

"One Easter morning," he said, "as I sat in chapel at the Delaware State Prison waiting to preach, my mind drifted back in time to scholarships and honors earned, cases argued and won, great decisions made from lofty government offices. My life had been the perfect success story, the great American dream fulfilled. But, all at once, I realized that it was not my success that God had used to enable me to help those in prisons or hundreds like them. My life of success was not what made this morning so glorious. All of my achievements meant nothing in God's economy. No, the real legacy of my life was my biggest failure, that I was an ex-convict. My greatest humiliation, being sent to prison, was the beginning of God's greatest use of my life. He chose that one experience in which I could not glory in myself for His glory. Confronted with this staggering truth, I understood with a jolt that I had been looking at life backwards, but now I could see - only when I lost everything that I thought made Charles Colson a great guy. Had I found the true self God intended me to be, and the true purpose of my life?" Chuck Colson, that day in prison, realized it was out of his greatest failure that God received glory and greatness.

Many years ago now, when I was about 32, I was asked to go Urbana Illinois for a large gathering of youth, about 20,000 there in the University of Illinois basketball arena, and they asked me to come and challenge the kids to full-time Christian service. As a very young pastor, I was quite excited about this great opportunity, my first big gig. So, I worked hard on the sermon. I'm telling you, I really prepared a great sermon. I'll never forget in Urbana, during the afternoon before I was going to speak that evening, I was going over my notes one more time making sure it was the perfect sermon to help people really respond to the call of God on their life. I'm in the middle of this message, really immersed in it, and God speaks to me. He says to me, "John, your sermon's not important. In fact, John, I would like you to stand up in front of the 20,000 youth and share with them that I have a great plan for their lives and that I'm calling them, and if they'll just listen to the voice of God, they'll respond that night." He said, "I don't want you to preach. I just want you to let them know that what they feel in their hearts, I'm going to do for them."

Well, I didn't want to do that. I mean, hello, I'd worked a long time on this sermon. It was a masterpiece. So, I just kept working on it. When I got into the arena that night, I was hell-bent to preach. I had a terrific sermon prepared, and when I got out there in front of 20,000 kids, I started preaching. I can promise you, for eight minutes, it was the worst sermon you have ever heard. I couldn't say words right. I couldn't get sentence structure correct. My mother wouldn't have even liked that sermon. Eight minutes into the message, I stopped and I looked at those kids and said, "I've been disobedient to God. I am trying to show off a great preacher. He's already spoken a message to you. He said He didn't want me to show off; He wanted me to shut up and I wanted to show off. And now that that's not working, so I'll shut up." That night, 2,700 kids came forward that night to answer the call to full-time Christian ministry. I walked off that stage understanding what Paul knew about failure and that is the fact that God's greatness is not determined by my greatness. I don't have to shine. In fact, I can fail and God can get glory from it.

Secondly, Paul refused to believe that failures were final. He said, "We're afflicted in every way, but we're not crushed." That word "crushed" literally means straightened or flattened. The Maxwell translation I like here is, we're run over by a big truck but not flattened.

Thirdly, he realized that, that he could live without understanding everything. He said, "I'm perplexed but I'm not despairing." In other words, I can't see a way out of here, but I know there's a way out of here. He knew that God was with him during the difficult times. He said, "I'm persecuted but I'm not forsaken." Paul didn't allow the problems on the outside get inside of him. He said, "I'm struck down but I'm not destroyed."

This is a laminated card. You know that laminated cards are important to me. You know that when I laminate a card, it's holy. It's set apart. I've had this laminated card for many, many years. It comes out of my book, "Failing Forward," but it gives you the perspective of Paul. It says, "When it looks like I have failed, Lord, are you trying to tell me something? For failure does not mean I'm a failure, it does mean I have not yet succeeded. Failure does not mean that I've accomplished nothing. It does mean that I have learned something. Failure does not mean that I have been a fool. It does mean that I have had enough faith to try. Failure does not mean that I've been disgraced. It does mean that I dared to attempt. Failure does not mean I don't have it. It does mean that I have to do something in a different way. Failure does not mean that I'm a failure. It does mean that I'm not perfect. Failure does not mean that I've wasted my life. It does mean that I have an excuse to start all over again. Failure does not mean that I should give up. It does mean I should try harder. It doesn't mean that I'll never make it. It does mean I need more patience. Failure does not mean that you've abandoned me, God. It just means that You have a better idea."

The apostle Paul could overcome all of his failures because of two perspectives that he had, and I want to close with this. I want this to be cemented in your mind and in your heart.

The apostle Paul could overcome failure because he had a grace perspective. He saw everything in light of grace. This grace perspective allowed him to see himself, not as he was but as he could be through the goodness of God.

The apostle Paul one time said, "I have harmed no one." When I read that phrase the first time, I thought, what's he mean he didn't harm anybody? He persecuted Christians, he had them thrown in prison, he ordered murder, and he held the coat Steven when they martyred him. Yet, here's Paul saying, "I have hurt no one." He could only say this because he saw himself through the grace and the forgiveness of God.

Secondly, he had a God perspective. On the road to Damascus, God spoke to Paul and he said basically, Paul, I have good news and I have bad news. The good news, Paul, is that you're going to be a representative of mine to gentiles and kings and nobles. That's the good news. He said the bad news is you're going to suffer greatly. Good news, bad news.

As Paul went through his difficulties and his failures, you know what Paul would say? That's what God said. God said that I would have problems. God said that I would suffer. Here's what Paul knew. Paul knew his problem was not his problem. He saw it from God's perspective.

I would say to you today, your problem is not your problem, but the problem is sometimes you think the problem is the problem. So, the problem that isn't the problem becomes a problem, not because it's a problem. But, you didn't know the problem wasn't a problem, so the problem that isn't a problem now has become a problem. And now you have a problem, not because you had a problem, but the problem was you didn't know the problem wasn't a problem. And so now you do have a problem.

A little kid in elementary school was in bed and he was reading a new book about one of his favorite heroes. He loved the hero in this series of books. He's about halfway through the book when he becomes greatly concerned because terrible things are happening to the hero. He's tied up and they've kidnapped him. So, the kid's somewhat worried. Is the hero going to make it? Finally, he can't stand it anymore. You've done this before, haven't you? I've done this before. You know what he did, don't you? He goes to the back of the book and reads the last couple of pages. He could tell the hero was going to be fine and the hero wasn't going to be captured. So now he goes back and reads the rest of it. As he's reading, the hero is still in trouble. But, he's smiling as he reads and he's saying to his hero, "It's going to be okay. You don't know what I know, but it's going to be okay."

You don't know what God knows in the midst of your problems and failures, but let me tell you something, it's going to be okay!

© Copyright Hour of Power 2009. This message was delivered by Joni Eareckson Tada from the pulpit of the Crystal Cathedral and aired on the Hour of Power, May 3, 2009.

Read more about this week's guest pastor, John C. Maxwell.

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  1. wata writes:

    it is a very encouraging sermon it has truly uplifted me i have been so down feeling like God has abandoned me and just will not answer my prayers. i have been feeling like God is punishing me for my many mistakes but it is a good reminder of God's unfailing love and saving grace his tender mercies and his forgiveness thank you for giving me hope

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    09/07/2020 05:20:16
  2. maxine2 writes:

    John Maxwell, I appreciate your message and I just want to say, that I am not your hero, yet I know its going to be okay because the Holy Spirit is the gift of Jesus, who promised never leave us or forsake us. And also, His Father, gave us Jesus to show the same thing. My own father's name was John, and as I know the name of the Baptist was John, he was born to tell people to repent, to turn from sin and turn to God, so they could be healed and forgiven of all the diseases of separation from God. When they obeyed the call, they were healed because they received the water baptism and then the spirit baptism. This was the miracle the Father gave them throught the promise of Jesus, the Messiah. I love you and all the work of all the servants of God. Without Jesus, we can do nothing. It is wonderful to see the works of God in people like you who have receive the baptism of water and the spirit. That is the salvation given to people from the Father of light. Have a wonderful day.

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    09/07/2020 05:48:40
  3. terryhappy writes:

    thankyou for your message and sharing. It goes so much with what is written in the HOP Possibility Thinkers Bible in the commentaries...good reinforcment!

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    09/07/2020 06:18:55
  4. lisazzee writes:

    How encouraging this message is! It is difficult to believe that God has a plan for me, but I know my doubt doesn't make it any less true. God sees and knows what I do not. My part is to trust Him for what I need now and for what He will empower me to do or be in the future. He led me from the brink of suicide five years ago to obtaining another college degree, and I trust He will lead me to the right teaching position in His time.

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    09/07/2020 11:07:25
  5. youngeone writes:

    Thank you again HOUR OF POWER for the incredible hour we can tune into each week,for the teaching, the couragement and the uplift we recieve from these programs . Thank you once again JOHN MAXWELL for your words to us I will read this again and again .JMC

    Report Abuse

    09/07/2020 17:22:03

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