I have been speaking for over 30 years—preaching, teaching, leading seminars—and yet there are still times when I walk away from a speaking engagement feeling like I have failed. There was no energy in the room, I felt like I was not connecting with the listeners, and I wondered if anyone got anything out of the message.
The disciples faced a ministry failure in Mark 9:17-18:
And one of the crowd answered Him, “Teacher, I brought You my son, possessed with a spirit which makes him mute; and whenever it seizes him, it slams him to the ground and he foams at the mouth, and grinds his teeth and stiffens out. I told Your disciples to cast it out, and they could not do it.”
The disciples were faced with a ministry situation—to cast out an evil spirit—but they were unable to do so. When they got alone with Jesus, they asked Him about this.
When He came into the house, His disciples began questioning Him privately, “Why could we not drive it out?” And He said to them, “This kind cannot come out by anything but prayer.” [Verses 28-29]
What were they really asking? Perhaps they were asking Jesus for the right technique for casting out evil spirits. Perhaps they were looking for magical words that they didn’t yet know. Perhaps they were wondering what was wrong with what they had tried.
However, Jesus turns their attention in a different direction. It is not a question of techniques, magic or mistaken actions but of dependence on God. We are a lot like the disciples; we trust ourselves and our techniques instead of putting the focus where it needs to be—on the Lord. Jesus communicates this in verse 29. Prayer is the key; the issue is dependence on the Lord.
What does this passage have to teach you?
1) That a failure is an opportunity to learn to depend on God.
We profess that we have sinful and deceitful hearts but deep down inside we feel we are good people. At times, this perception leads us to act independently. The Lord will sometimes break through that perception of personal goodness and independence by placing you in situations that highlight that you are not good and are, in fact, a failure when you independently trust in yourself. At that point you are ready to learn to turn to Him, to express your dependence upon Him.
2) That a failure is an opportunity to hear God more clearly.
It was the inadequacy and failure of the disciples that caused them to question Jesus and you can bet they were listening for the answer. They didn’t want to be found in this kind of situation again. Your failure may cause you to listen more carefully to God, expressing a desire to hear Him more clearly. It can give you ears to hear.
So don’t despise defeat or failure–God may be teaching you to be more dependent on Him or perhaps He has something that He wants you to hear. He desires to increase your experience of glory in the grind.