Who is Vinko Bogataj? He’s the “agony of defeat” guy on the old ABC: Wide World of Sports. He is a Yugoslavian painter who participated in a world ski championship in 1970. He fell on his first attempt. In his second attempt he fell before he even took off andlost his balance completely and hurtled out of control off the end of the inrun, tumbling and flipping wildly, and crashing through a light retaining fence near a crowd of spectators before coming to a halt. Bogataj suffered a mild concussion and a broken ankle. His 5 seconds of fame forever marked him as a failure.
We all feel like failures at times. Even the best of people fail. Babe Ruth hit 714 home runs but struck out 1,330 times. Terry Bradshaw led the Pittsburg Steelers to 4 Super Bowls championships in 6 years but threw more incomplete passes than 99.9% of the players who ever played the game. Abraham Lincoln is considered the greatest U.S. President but he lost 8 elections, failed in business twice, and had a nervous breakdown. If there is one thing we notice about great people is that they fail a lot.
The Bible is full of failures. Adam committed the first sin. Noah got drunk. Abraham lied about his wife. Moses killed man. David had adultery and had one of his best soldiers killed. Simon Peter denied the Lord – not once, not twice, but three times in one night.
Here’s the story…
Then took they him, and led him, and brought him into the high priest’s house. And Peter followed afar off. And when they had kindled a fire in the midst of the hall, and were set down together, Peter sat down among them. But a certain maid beheld him as he sat by the fire, and earnestly looked upon him, and said, This man was also with him. And he denied him, saying, Woman, I know him not. And after a little while another saw him, and said, Thou art also of them. And Peter said, Man, I am not. And about the space of one hour after another confidently affirmed, saying, Of a truth this fellow also was with him: for he is a Galilaean. And Peter said, Man, I know not what thou sayest. And immediately, while he yet spake, the cock crew. And the Lord turned, and looked upon Peter. And Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said unto him, Before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice. And Peter went out, and wept bitterly. (Luke 22:54-62)
Jesus warned Peter not to follow at all. Had Peter obeyed, he would not have walked into the courtyard and failed. Why did he go? Curiosity, Loyalty, Bravery, Love.
What contributed to Peter’s failure? Self-confidence. Ignored warnings. Prayerlessness. Followed far off. Wrong company. Took the easy way. Lied. Panicked. Be careful of these in your own life.
Peter failed 3 times. He denied being with Jesus. He denied being one of Jesus’ followers. He denied even knowing Jesus.
But it is not Peter’s failure that helps us most. Rather, what happened later becomes our source of hope. The best part of this sad story is that it did not end here. Peter’s repentance and the Lord’s restoration of him gives us confidence that God can handle our failure.
Why is failure not the end?
We learn something here. Great people fail. Just because you fail at one thing does not make you a failure. Peter broke down and wept. He realized what he did wrong and acknowledged it. Great people admit their failures.
God is not dependent on your success.
Just like Peter, God knew you would fail before you failed. He still loves you and has a plan for you. No matter what sin you have done, Jesus died for you and still loves you. The story of Christianity is the story of failed people who find new futures. It’s not about you. It’s about Jesus.
Few of us get repeated opportunities, as Peter did, to profess or reject our allegiance to Christ. But today, God is giving you a second chance. Take advantage of your failure. Don’t waste it. God will go to great lengths to help you, but He will do nothing for you if you just lie there. If you accept your failure as final, then you’re finally a failure. Failing does not make you a failure; quitting does. Get up and try again. Next time, with God’s help, you’ll make it!
Failure reveals weakness.
Peter found it easy to be self-dependent. No disciple speaks as often as Peter. No disciple was reproved like Peter was, and he is the only disciple who thought he could reprove the Lord! He was impulsive. He had the great natural disadvantage of being the kind of person who always did it for himself somehow. When he became a follower of Christ, he naturally carried that style right into his service. He had the strength and will. Whatever the cost, Peter would follow Jesus.But in spite of his strength, Jesus tragically let him realize the weakness of his strength. Your failure will highlight your weaknesses like nothing else. Take those to God and let Him strengthen you.
Learn all you can from your failure. Every bitter experience can teach us something – about ourselves, about our friends, about God. We must never use failure as an excuse for quitting. God was not through with Peter. The best part of Peter’s story is not written (Mark 16:7). After His resurrection, Jesus had a private meeting with Peter (Luke 24:34); then Jesus helped Peter make a public confession when He met the disciples in Galilee (John 21). He became a great disciple and leader of the early church. God can use your failure to build greatness in you.
Failure is not final. At the 20th anniversary of ABC’s Wide World of Sports they invited some of the best athletes who competed on their show: Nadia Comaneci, the first female gymnast to score a perfect 10 in an Olympic event; Peggy Fleming, Olympic gold medalist: The 1980 Olympic ice hockey team, which won the gold medal after defeating the Soviets in the famous “Miracle on Ice” game: Muhammad Ali, 1964 Olympic gold medalist and first 3 time heavyweight champion of the world. Many others. They invited Vinko Bogataj, 57th place finisher who fell off a ski jump. When he was introduced to the room, he received a standing ovation – the only other one went to the U.S. Olympic team. Then, Muhammad Ali, the greatest himself, the most famous person in the world (at the time), asked him for his autograph. Why did these superstars react to him as a celebrity? They weren’t praising him for falling. They were cheering him because he got back up. Even the most successful athletes know the agony of defeat. But they know they must get back up and get back in the game. To see an ordinary guy become the personification of defeat and continue in life, stay in the sport, raise a family, and stand before them – He was a somebody.
Here’s a great true story about another successful ‘failure’. There was once a little boy the other children called “Sparky,” after a comic strip horse named Sparkplug. He hated that nickname. School was difficult for Sparky. He failed every subject in the eighth grade. He flunked physics in high school. He still holds the school record for being the worst physics student in the school’s history. He also flunked Latin, algebra, and English. He didn’t do much better in sports. He made the school’s golf team, but his poor play ended up costing his team the championship. Throughout his youth, Sparky was a loser socially. It’s not that he was actively disliked by other kids—it’s just that nobody paid much attention to him. He never dated or even asked a girl out. He did have a hobby – he drew cartoons. But no one thought they were any good. When he was a senior in high school, he submitted some cartoons to the school yearbook and they were rejected. After graduating from high school, he wrote a letter to Walt Disney about a job and submitted his cartoon work. He received a form letter requesting samples of his artwork. He submitted it and received a form letter telling him that there was no job for him. Sparky was disappointed but not surprised. He had always been a loser. In a weird way his life was kind of funny. So he tried telling his own life story in cartoons about a little loser boy, a chronic underachiever. This cartoon character has now become known by the whole world. The boy who failed the eighth grade, the young artist whose work was rejected not only by Walt Disney studios but by his own high school yearbook, was Charles “Sparky” Schultz—creator of the “Peanuts” comic strip and the little boy loser whose kite never flies: Charlie Brown.