Copyright 2016 by Bob Rogers
Above are photographs of fans of the pro football team, the New Orleans Saints. One is a photo of Saints fans in 1980, when the Saints were consistent losers. The fans wore bags over their heads and called the team the “Aints.” The other photo was taken in 2009, when the Saints won the Super Bowl, and fans chanted, “Who dat? Who dat? Who dat say dey gonna beat dem Saints?” What a difference between the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat!
Scripture gives us a powerful example of the difference in success and failure in the story of Joshua and the Israelites in the first and second battle of Ai. After their great victory over Jericho, when the walls came tumbling down, The Book of Joshua, chapter 7, tells the story of how they went up to the small city of Ai with only a small army of 3,000 men, and were soundly defeated. When Joshua cried out to the Lord in prayer, the Lord told him that the entire nation was suffering the consequences of the sin of one man, Achan, who had hid for himself some of the loot from Jericho which was supposed to be sacred to the Lord.
Joshua and all of the Israelites took drastic action, destroying Achan and his family, and then went up a second time to fight Ai. The Book of Joshua, chapter 8, tells how this time, they involved the whole Army, and devised a battle tactic that tricked the men of Ai into chasing a small Hebrew army. When the men of Ai abandoned the city to pursue the Israelites, a larger Hebrew army of 30,000 attacked the city, burned it down, and then both armies attacked the men of Ai from both sides, catching them in the middle with nowhere to run. It was a total victory– all of Ai was destroyed. Afterwards, Joshua took the people to Mt. Gerizim and Ebal and read to them to law of Moses and had them repeat the blessings and curses that Moses had told them to repeat.
For many years, my father, U.S. Army Chaplain Robert H. Rogers, preached a message on this passage called, “The Difference in Success and Failure.” Here are some important lessons that this story teaches us about the difference in spiritual success and spiritual failure:
HOW TO FAIL SPIRITUALLY
1. Belittle the task God gives you. In Joshua 7:3 they said, “Don’t send all the people… since the people of Ai are so few…”
2. Leave God’s work to a few people. In Joshua 7:3 they said, “but send about 2,000 or 3,000 men to attack Ai… don’t wear out all our people there.” The attitude of spiritual defeat says, “I don’t need to share the gospel or minister; that’s what we pray the preacher to do.”
3. Rest on past laurels. Victory at Jericho did not guarantee victory at Ai. Just because you have experienced spiritual victories in the past does not guarantee victory in the future. Celebrate the past, but don’t linger there.
4. Do no more than necessary. They were lazy, trying to get by with minimum effort to conquer Ai. Spiritual losers are apathetic like that, lacking passion for the word of God.
5. Ignore the slide into sin. This is very important. Notice the gradual slide into sin in four steps. Achan confessed in Joshua 7:21: “I saw,” “I coveted,” “took,” “concealed.” First he saw the gold and silver, then he desired it, then he took it, and after he took it, he hid it. This is exactly what I did in major sin in my past. I saw something, then I desired it, then I acted on that desire, and then I tried to hide my sin. People rarely plan ahead to get addicted to drugs or commit adultery and embezzle funds. Instead, they fall slowly into temptation. We cannot ignore those early warning signs against sin.
6. Ignore sin in your midst. This final caution is one that we Americans struggle with, because America is highly individualistic. We red in Joshua 7:1, “The Israelites… were unfaithful… Achan… took some of what was set apart, and the LORD’s anger burned against the Israelites.” How is it that God held all of Israel accountable for one man’s sin? This is the Biblical concept of corporate sin. Because we tolerate sin in our midst, and turn a blind eye, we are all complicit. Don’t you think somebody saw Achan hid the loot in his tent? If we fail to address sin in our own families, our own churches, and our own nation, we we fail spiritually.
HOW TO SUCCEED SPIRITUALLY
1. Become deeply concerned. When they were defeated by Ai, Joshua 7:6 tells us how Joshua responded: “Then Joshua tore his clothes and fell before the ark of the LORD…” We, too, must become deeply concerned about sin and spiritual apathy.
2. Depend upon prayer. Joshua 7:7 tells us that Joshua expressed his concern by prayer. He didn’t run out and get the latest book on “10 Easy Steps to Church Growth.” Instead, he knew it required the hard step of humble prayer. This is a lesson he had to learn again, as we read in Joshua 9:14 that he and the Israelites failed to inquire of God in prayer in the matter of Gibeon, and they were deceived. We must depend on daily prayer to succeed in the daily spiritual battle against sin.
3. Remove sin from your midst. Joshua 7:10-11, 24-26 tells the graphic details of how they discovered that Achan was guilty, and they stoned Achan and his family to death in the valley of Achor. The judgment seems harsh to the modern reader, but it is a reminder that sin cannot be taken lightly. Jesus warned that if the right eye causes you to sin, to gouge it out, and if the right hand causes you to sin, cut it off (Matthew 5:29-30). Yes, the wages of sin is death– that’s the harsh reality of sin. But the good news is that the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ (Romans 6:23).
4. Follow Godly leadership. After facing the sin, it says in Joshua 8:3, “So Joshua and the whole military force set out…” Joshua chose to be obedient to God, and the people chose to follow his godly leadership.
5. Enlist everyone for God’s work. The word “all” is repeated frequently in these two chapters. Joshua 7:25 says, “all Israel stoned them…” Joshua 8:3 says, “the whole military force set out to attack Ai.” Joshua 8:11 says,“All those who were with him went up…” At the first battle of Ai, they sent a small army of 3,000 against a city of 12,000 and were defeated. At the second battle, they went over 30,000 to ambush the city from behind, while an army of 5,000 attacked and withdrew, then attacked again in a well-planned tactic to entrap Ai. This required the involvement of all of the people. Families and churches that involve everybody in the spiritual battle will win every time.
6. Re-commit to God. Joshua 8:30-35 tells how they went to Mt. Gerizim and Mt. Ebal and renewed their covenant with the Lord, to obey His laws. If we wish to see a lifestyle of continual spiritual victories in our own lives, we too must continually return to God’s Word and pledge ourselves anew to faithful obedience. The end result for them was the conquest of the Promised Land. What will it be for you and me?
Copyright by Bob Rogers
Most people would name Abraham, Moses, David, Peter and Paul.
It occurred to me that there is something surprising that all five of them have in common: failure.
Yes, they all failed. Blew it. Messed up big time. Did things so bad that if we did them today, we might consider our lives destroyed, over, kaput.
Let’s review, class. First, we have Abraham. He agreed to the foolish request of his wife Sarah to make love to her servant Hagar and try to leave a legacy through the servant girl, since it seemed like God would never fulfill His promise for Abraham and Sarah to have a son. Major mistake. Caused all kinds of problems: jealousy, broken hearts, abandonment, and ultimately, hatred between the Arabs and the Jews. And it just gets worse after Abraham.
Next up is Moses. He gave us the Ten Commandments, but he was already guilty of what most of us would consider the worst violation of the commandments. He murdered an Egyptian and hid his body in the sand. When his crime was discovered, Moses ran for his life, and went from being an Egyptian prince to being a herdsman in the middle of nowhere.
Third, we have King David. He not only murdered a man named Uriah, but did so to cover up his adultery with Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba. When the prophet Nathan confronted him, he turned white as a sheet and could only weep and confess he was a sinner.
Turning to the pages of the New Testament, we come upon Simon Peter. He denied the Lord Jesus. Yeah. Even used profanity. When he was confronted, he went out and wept bitterly.
And last but not least, we have Saul, later known as Paul. He assisted in stoning to death the first Christian martyr, and then went all over Israel and even to Syria to drag Christians out of their homes by the hair and throw them in jail. When Paul was confronted, he went blind.
The fact that all five of the greatest men in the Bible failed so miserably gives me incredible hope and encouragement. Abraham went on to become the father of Isaac, and a nation, and is considered the father of faith. He was called the friend of God. Moses saw God face to face, and set his people free from slavery and gave us the Ten Commandments. David became the greatest king of Israel, the ancestor of the Messiah, and was known as a “man after God’s own heart.” Peter became the leader of the early church in Jerusalem, forgiven by Jesus and charged by Christ to “feed My sheep.” Paul became the greatest missionary and theologian of the early church, who was sent to take the gospel to the Gentiles, and wrote half of the New Testament.
Could it be that part of the reason for their success was their failure? Could it be that the experience of painfully facing their own weakness caused them to depend more completely on the power of God– perhaps more so than people who think that they have it all together and they could never fall? As Paul said, God’s “power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
Let that be a reminder to all of us who are burdened by our sinful past and who feel that our lives are failures. God uses broken people! As David wrote in his great prayer of repentance, “The sacrifice pleasing to God is a broken spirit. God, You will not despise a broken and humbled heart.” (Psalm 51:17).
So if your spirit is broken and your heart is humbled, if you feel that you can’t go on anymore, just open the pages of the Bible. From the Old Testament to the New Testament, God shows how He often accomplishes His greatest successes through people we would consider great failures. (And I didn’t even mention how God used the prostitute Rahab, the unwilling missionary Jonah, the bad girl Mary Magdalene, or tax collectors and cheats like Matthew and Zacchaeus.)
If God can use them, then need I state the obvious? He can also use you and me, if we will put ourselves into His hands, and trust Him.
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A hymnal in my left hand, a Bible in my right
Tossing a communion cup on a one-foot hop.
Cascading with a committee on Sunday night
Spinning a budget, now what will I drop?
A juice-stained Bible by my foot on the floor
Heart cut on the cup, fingers shut in the door
I thought diabolo was a juggler’s trick
But I ended up falling on the devil’s stick.
(If you see a video ad below this post, please understand that I have no control over these ads, and that I do not necessarily endorse the product.)