Lessons from an Epic Failure
Tony Cooke

He had the right idea, but he had the wrong timing and the wrong method.”

I made this statement about Moses during a course I taught on Ministerial Excellence beginning in 1983. I was talking about how Moses had the right idea (that he was going to deliver the children of Israel from slavery in Egypt), but his attempted “implementation” was disastrous.

Moses is a central figure in the Old Testament, and perhaps most Christians think they know his story pretty well. Let’s drill down, though, and look at a vital lesson that we can all benefit from.

Acts 7:22-29 (NLT)
22 Moses was taught all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and he was powerful in both speech and action.
23 “One day when Moses was forty years old, he decided to visit his relatives, the people of Israel.
24 He saw an Egyptian mistreating an Israelite. So Moses came to the man’s defense and avenged him, killing the Egyptian.
25 Moses assumed his fellow Israelites would realize that God had sent him to rescue them, but they didn’t.
26 “The next day he visited them again and saw two men of Israel fighting. He tried to be a peacemaker. ‘Men,’ he said, ‘you are brothers. Why are you fighting each other?’
27 “But the man in the wrong pushed Moses aside. ‘Who made you a ruler and judge over us?’ he asked.
28 ‘Are you going to kill me as you killed that Egyptian yesterday?’
29 When Moses heard that, he fled the country and lived as a foreigner in the land of Midian.

You’ll notice I highlighted two words: “Moses assumed.”

According to Stephen (who was preaching about Moses in Acts 7), a big part of the problem is that Moses assumed something. When we hear that word, it can have the connotation of presuming or misperceiving something. “Assuming” means that we have not tested, proven, and verified the necessary facts. This is where big problems occur.

Mike Krzyewski (Duke Men’s Basketball Coach) said:
One of the worst things anybody can do is assume. I think fools assume. If people have really got it together, they never assume anything. They believe, they work hard, and they prepare—but they don’t assume.

Apparently, Moses knew that he was going to be used to deliver the people of Israel, but he begin doing it the right way until 40 years after his failed attempt. Moses appears to have had this “deliverer” seed (desire) working in him long before he encountered God in the burning bush. The ill-conceived attempt we read of in Acts 7 is called by one commentator, “Moses’ bumbling attempts to start a slave deliverance campaign.” This is why I say: Moses had the right idea, but the wrong timing and the wrong method.

D. L. Moody gave this concise overview of Moses’ life:

Moses spent forty years thinking he was somebody; forty years learning he was nobody; and forty years discovering what God can do with a nobody.

There is a powerful lesson here: It is not enough just to have the right idea about something. God does not want us to just grasp the general concept of what needs to be done, but also to gather the wisdom on how to do it. Moses isn’t the only one that missed it here. Psalm 106:13 speaks of the entire nation, saying “They did not wait for His counsel.”

How many people do we know who have experienced failure when their initial idea was right, bu their implementation (timing and method) was wrong? Has that happened to you? So many times, people then throw out the idea altogether and are reluctant to try again. Think about how reluctant Moses was when God spoke to him at the burning bush about going back to Israel and delivering the children of Israel.

If it was a bad idea to begin with, ditch it. But if it was a good idea (or better yet, a God idea), perhaps you’ll need to get back on the horse and surround your good idea with good timing and good methods. Remember what Proverbs 24:16 (NASB) tells us: “a righteous person falls seven times and rises again.”
Years ago, I preached a message called “How to Fail Successfully.” Here are the ten points from that message:

  1. Stay hooked up with God (People have a tendency to resist God the hardest when they need him the most).
  2. Admit it (Blame-shifting and denial will only make matters worse).
  3. Put it in perspective (Realize there is a big difference between a total failure and a temporary setback).
  4. Learn from it (One of the biggest mistakes you can make in making mistakes is not to learn from your mistakes).
  5. Regroup (Make any necessary adjustments and alignments. Are you planning soberly? Is your plan practical?).
  6. Refuse to give up (Winston Churchill said, “Success is never final. Failure is never fatal. It is the courage to continue that counts”).
  7. Be gracious to yourself (If someone else failed or made a mistake, you would be the first one to encourage them. Be that gracious to yourself. Forgive yourself).
  8. Forget it (Don’t forget the lessons learned, but don’t constantly remind yourself about past failures either. Don’t accept past failures as a rule for future living).
  9. Don’t allow the fear of failure to creep back in (Unless you’re willing to take a chance at failing, you don’t stand a chance of succeeding).
  10. Plan for success (Joshua 1:8, “Study this Book of Instruction continually. Meditate on it day and night so you will be sure to obey everything written in it. Only then will you prosper and succeed in all you do”).