Faith in the Face of Failure

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“I just know I’m going to blow this job interview.”

“Why can’t you think positive?”

“I am. I’m positive I’m going to blow this job interview!”

One thing about expecting the worst: it ensures all the surprises in your life will be positive ones. Not that positive, though, because you’ll still see them as temporary exceptions in an overall miserable life.

Which is worse: the chronic ache of misery, or intermittent sharp pains of disappointment? You have to accept at least one.

When Bad Things Happen to Positive Thinkers

There are people who dispute the above statement. If you just have enough faith, they say, if you really believe things will work out a certain way, you’ll never be disappointed. If you pray for healing and the sickness ends in death; if you count on a sunny day and a blizzard blows in; if you were sure your team would win the World Series and they finish a close second–it’s your own fault for not praying/believing well enough.

Faith and positive thinking do work as general principles, but they aren’t no-exceptions guarantees. Aside from often making God a pawn in a war of human wills (what happens if both sports teams have people unshakably convinced in their favor?), the idea that “bad things never happen to positive thinkers” has led a lot of people to give up on God, themselves, or both. Many have cried out, “God lied to me!” when expectation based on human reason was the real liar. Many others have stopped praying because they consider themselves incompetent–“I tried my best, but I couldn’t make it work.”

It’s Not That Simple

People with a “prayer doesn’t work” attitude cheat themselves of the other blessings of prayer–help clarifying their needs, a closer relationship with God, a clearer view of eternity, growth in character–by making it all about “getting what I want.” Do you know people who never heard “No” to anything they demanded as children? What sort of company do they make? Crabby, self-centered, and impossible to please, right? And less than respectful to the parents who tried so hard to protect them from disappointment and are now wishing they had it to do over.

Should we be surprised that an all-wise God doesn’t always express His love by “cooperating” with our desires? Did we really ask Him for His input to begin with–did we ever stop thinking of what we wanted, and completely yield to His wisdom regardless of the outcome?

Keep the Faith in Positive Thinking

All that said, there’s an opposite-extreme danger: being afraid to believe for anything specific until we’re absolutely 100 percent positive God will grant it. Which usually ends in getting nowhere, standing indefinitely on the banks of the Jordan where God has said, “Step forward,” and we keep protesting, “I’m just not sure; can’t You turn off the river first?” Remember, faith is being sure of what we don’t yet see, and it takes faith to please God.

Don’t be afraid to believe in your dreams; God often puts them in you to accomplish His purposes. Just remember that:

  • If you believe for something and don’t get it, God may not be saying “No,” but “Keep your hope up, it’s on its way.”
  • You can only hear God’s guidance clearly when you accept that it may take adjustments, course corrections, and sacrifices to reach His best.
  • The best things to believe for are the big things: your life’s calling, human relationships, the good of the world, the winning of souls.

Keep the faith!

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The Limits of Positive Planning

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There are times I feel I’ll scream if I hear one more piece of advice on “how to get a job” or “how to improve your outlook on life.” It’s not that the advice is bad. It’s just that it doesn’t work in the way I feel it should work: a series of clearly defined steps that take you to a specific goal in a predictable manner. That works fine if you want driving directions or DIY instructions, but when it comes to improving your financial situation or your attitude, there are no guarantees–and typically what we wind up with is some version of “Keep trying until something works, even if it takes years.”

Can you tell I prefer things laid out in order, with clearly measurable progress points? And that most of the high-priority items in my life fall into the just-keep-plugging category?

“But, God, I Want to Set the Schedule!!!!”

Like it or not, the important things in life rarely come with a guarantee of specific results for specific actions. Most specific advice falls into one of two categories:

  1. Know your goals and priorities, know the steps to reach them, and write those steps into your calendar.
  2. Practice positive thinking. Know exactly what you want and believe with all your heart that you will get there, affirming and refocusing on your goals every day.

These approaches–and especially approaches that combine the two–do work. Usually. When applied with patience, perseverance, and discernment. But often, that’s not good enough for us. We discourage too easily, giving up after two weeks when it typically takes two months to see obvious results. We get so fixated on things working out in a specific way, we can’t see better opportunities when they arrive in unexpected forms. We look at the most spectacular examples of success, try to do exactly what they did (usually ignoring the parts where they admit struggling for years); and when we don’t get the exact results they got (a $200,000-a-year job offer, out of the blue, within 30 days?), we become bitter that we slaved away at our part and the world didn’t deliver what we thought came with the bargain.

In short, we presume to be like God, with the right to declare how everything should or shouldn’t go.

So What Should I Expect, Then?

Obsessing over what we might have done wrong is little help. Ditto for concluding we have no power at all and might as well let life just happen to us. So what’s the Christian alternative when we’ve tried our best and seen no obvious results–or when we know what we want but have no idea of the first step to get there, and are wondering if it’s even God’s will?

There’s an answer in 1 Peter 5:6 (NIV): “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.” Or as the Good News Translation puts it: “He will lift you up in his own good time.” A major aspect of humility is accepting that we have no right to tell God when, or how, to lift us up. But when it comes to goal setting and life planning, there’s even more involved: Thanking God for the skills and dreams He’s given us. Thanking Him in advance for what He will do through those skills and dreams. Regularly asking for His guidance, and still accepting that He may not show us the big picture until long after we’ve navigated a hundred seeming dead ends to arrive at a different destination than we anticipated. He is God, and He knows how it all will eventually work out for good, even when we haven’t a clue.

And no, He doesn’t want us to stop setting goals and making plans. He just wants us to understand that there’s more to meaningful growth than getting our goals and plans “right” every time.

  • A blog for naturally melancholy Christians tired of being told to "snap out of it"; for Christians who struggle with mental-health issues and long for assurance God delights in them nonetheless; and for naturally optimistic Christians who want to understand their "gloomy" loved ones.

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  • About Me

    I am the go-to writer for people with tough stress issues and special emotional needs—and for those who love them, organizations that serve them, and anyone who just wants to better understand the world of mental/emotional struggles. Or who just wants to pick up some good stress-management tips! Visit my main website at www.PositiveContentFactory.com.

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    Bible quotes used in this blog are from the New Living Translation or the New International Version (1984). See http://www.biblegateway.com/ for copyright details.
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