The success of failure . . . and the failure of success!

Often when discussing how Jesus said we – his disciples – would do even great things than he did, people look stunned and ask, “Even walk on water?”

I respond, “Jesus was not the only person to have walked on water.”

Incredibly surprised they ask, “Who else did?”

Peter,” I reply.

And almost dismissively they say, “Oh yes, that’s right” (see Matt 14:22-31).

Their response reminds me how often we view things through the lens of failure rather than success. We think of Peter as one who sank in the water, forgetting that to sink, he first had to walk on the water.

We overlook the reality that Peter daringly stepped out of a boat into the darkness in the middle of the lake of Galilee. We don’t stop to imagine what Peter must have felt in those moments to choose to step out of the boat. We miss the point that it was a moment of triumph, Peter actually walked across the top of the water.

Sadly, our recollection of the event is coloured by the next few moments when Peter’s resolve quivers and he begins to sink. “What a failure,” we conclude forgetting what he has just achieved and missing the fact that there were 11 cowards who never got out of the boat. We are quick to condemn Peter, and slow to condemn the others.

Why are we so quick to do so?
Why see Peter as a failure rather than a success?
Why is success such an obsession and failure such a problem?

Perhaps it is part of our fallen nature. When Jesus taught he turned the world’s value systems upside down. For instance, those whom the world considers rejected by God are in fact blessed (blessed are the poor); and those who are gentle and humble inherit the earth (blessed are the meek) rather than those who are aggressive and charismatic (see the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5).

When Jesus taught, he turned the world’s value systems
upside down.

Jesus taught about the Kingdom of God – a place where God rules with a very different value system. While on earth Jesus formed a little group around him whom he prepared for the coming kingdom.

Peter’s walking on water was part of that learning and it seems like Peter learnt well. Even though he sank that night, at least he had a go. Ultimately Peter is the one who has the courage to stand on the day of Pentecost and explain what is going on. It is he who has the courage to stand and testify before the Sanhedrin. It is he who, when commanded by them to stop preaching in Jesus’ name, tells them that he can’t obey and will continue to preach (Acts 4:13-20 and 5:27-32).

Failing and Learning
Peter did not ‘fail’ that night on the lake; rather he had a very good moment of learning. He demonstrates an important principle for us all: successful people fail every day just like everybody else, but they view their ‘failure’ as an opportunity, not as a threat.

In fact, from the world’s point of view Jesus was just another failed Messiah. It appears that his career was cut short and his dreams never realised; his plans were thwarted and his work unfinished. However, the resurrection changed everything. The ‘failure’ of Jesus in fact becomes the hope of the world. All our failures now have the opportunity to become successes.

When Jesus chose obedience to Father he knew it meant choosing failure by the standards of the world. In doing so he demonstrated once and for all what true success is. When stripped down to its basics, success is faithfulness and obedience to the will of God – everything else is lost in comparison.

When we come to look at the church today, and at the lives of fellow Christians, it is too easy for us to view the church and each other through the worldly lens of success.

Thankfully God doesn’t view us that way. Jesus demonstrates for us this amazing paradox: the failure of success, and the success of failure.

May God grant you a renewed mind to view the work through this lens of the Kingdom of God.

Stephen L Baxter

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