Success Out of Failure
“Master, we have toiled all the night, and have taken nothing; nevertheless, at Thy word I will let down the net.”—Luke 5:5
If you have ever climbed a very high mountain, you have, for many miles before reaching it, gone up hills and down into valleys. From the hilltop you have a good view; in the valley you are among the shadows. Such is the road to success in life. Success followed by failure, followed again by success; day following night, night following day; sunshine after shadow, and shadow after sunshine.
All this for our good. “Spring would be but gloomy weather had we nothing else but spring.” If you have been uniformly successful in all your undertakings, you have not really been a success. Unless you have been developed by failure, one side of your character is still undeveloped. These thoughts are illustrated by the dealings of Jesus with the disciples in the miraculous draught of fishes. We have here the good effects of failure and the good effects of success.
The Good Effects of Failure
[Failure has a good effect] when it puts us to preparing for larger success. The fish were not running; the wind was in the wrong direction, or there was something the matter with the moon; anyway there were no fish to be caught. They toiled all night and had caught nothing but grass and mud. The grass and mud on the net, however, gave them something to do; they were not idle. In the flowing stream or on the pebbly beach of the lake they were washing their nets and preparing for fishing in the future.
Has your health failed? God perhaps desires to lay you aside for a while that He may cleanse and mend the net. He takes the net in hand in order that we may be cleansed and mended for a larger draught of success in the future. Whatever the failure, you may prepare, during the leisure that is given you, for the larger success in the future.
Failure has a good effect when it leads us to put what remains at the disposal of Jesus. Peter had no fish, but the boat was left. If he had caught fish the boat would not have been clean, but this very failure made the boat more ready for occupation, and as the crowd presses upon Jesus, almost pushing Him into the sea, Peter brings the boat around, takes the Lord in, pushes a little from the land, and sits and listens to His discourse to the people. Put into the hands of Jesus what remains of the wreck of faith, of business, of health, or of life, and He can use it for His glory.
Failure has a good effect when it leads us to do what Jesus commands, regardless of apparent reasons against it. Peter thought there was no use in launching out and casting the net, but he yielded his own judgment to the judgment of Christ, submitting his will to the will of Jesus, and throwing the responsibility of success upon Him. When we pursue that course, depend upon it, there will never be real failure. Have you asked God to give you something which He has refused, in order that He might answer your real life-motive by glorifying Himself through giving you something else? Have you worked for Christ year after year without being able, so far as you can see, to win any souls to Him? Have you failed in the purpose of your life to make a large amount of money with which you hoped to glorify Him? Do not on that account cease praying and striving to win souls, or working. Though you have failed, at the command of Christ cast your nets still farther out into the deep.
The Good Effects of Success
They caught so many fish that their nets were breaking, and by and by the boats were sinking. The greatest failures of all the world have been successes large enough to sink the boats with men and nets to the bottom of the sea. And after we have succeeded in any undertaking it is difficult to hold our success. It is harder often to keep money than to make it. Holding the fish in the net is more difficult than throwing the net around them.
So with Christian work. Enlarged success often brings larger burdens and responsibilities and makes stupendous failure possible. We may need to beckon to our partners to keep us from failure, after we have succeeded, and thus a blessing may come to others.
We need faith in Christ to help us in our successes more than in our failures. It is more difficult to bear success than failure.
And this leads us to the second effect of success.
The sense of unworthiness. Peter was overwhelmed with a consciousness of sinfulness as he stood in the presence of this miracle-working God. Not only the power of Jesus, but His purity, in contrast with Peter’s weakness and sinfulness, led him to exclaim, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” The tendency of success is to puff us up and make us forget God, who gives us success. Peter might have said: “Oh, we might have caught the fish anyway; the presence of Jesus had nothing to do with it. We came out just at the right time.” But he did not say it; he attributed the success to Christ; and his sense of unworthiness humiliated him before the Lord.
The best effect of this success was promotion. “From henceforth thou shalt catch men.” Jesus at once promoted them from catching fish in Galilee to catching men in Jerusalem and the world; from following a secular to a sacred employment; from everyday routine work against wind and tide to everyday spiritual work against greater opposition; from working for money He promoted them to working for souls. And the climax of this promotion was the privilege of sacrificing for Him. “They forsook all and followed Him.” Men who acquire much think they are successful. Those who succeed in getting fame, wealth and influence pride themselves on large success, but really the highest success in the kingdom of God is the privilege of sacrificing for His glory. These disciples left their boats full of fish that they might go with their Lord. They left present success with the hope of a larger success on a higher plane.