“Hey, I’m only human.” Ever heard that excuse? Sure. Everybody has failures. Screw-ups are part of the human condition. On the other hand, there’s no reason for us to make all the mistakes in life. So, since forewarned is forearmed, it might be helpful to consider a few proverbs that warn of potential causes of failure in order that we may take steps to avoid these pitfalls.
One sure way to fail, according to Proverbs, is to inadequately plan: “A sensible man watches for problems ahead and prepares to meet them. The simpleton never looks and suffers the consequences” (27:12).
“Never looking” played a dominant role, for example, in Hitler’s decision to order his 6th Army, encircled at Stalingrad, to fight on, rather than break out and retreat. “Der Fuhrer” listened to his air marshal’s assurances that the Luftwaffe could supply the army with an “air bridge.” What the careless air marshal failed to take into account was that while the Luftwaffe’s maximum daily lift capacity was 300 tons, the 6th Army needed 500 tons of supplies each day. The consequence of this planning failure was that only 6,000 of the 6th Army’s quarter of a million soldiers made it back to Germany. He who fails to plan plans to fail.
A second pitfall leading to failure that Proverbs warns against is pride. When we start believing, “Well, you know, I really am too good, too smart, too experienced, too whatever to fail,” a downfall is not far away: “Pride leads to destruction and arrogance to downfall” (16:18).
One symptom of pride is thinking we don’t need anybody’s advice. The tragedy is that we’re surrounded by friends, colleagues and counselors who because of hard-earned, examined experience have a wealth of wisdom to offer on business decisions, money issues, relationship quandaries, etc. But too often because of pride we say, “I don’t need any help.” So in our arrogance we set out to reinvent the wheel, vastly increasing the odds of failure.
Third, Proverbs tells us that failure comes when we avoid taking risks: “Fear of man is a dangerous trap” (29:25). Allowing concerns for our image to drive our decisions – “What will others think if I fail? – positions us to lose. During the Civil War, General McClellan, fearful of risk, fumbled the opportunity to end the war three years and half a million lives early. On the Confederate side, General Ewell, equally risk averse, squandered a chance to seize the high ground at Gettysburg, arguably the cause of Lee’s defeat in the battle that was the turning point of the war. Fear of trying assures failure.
So does giving up too soon: “A lazy fellow has trouble all through life” (15:19). We fail when we are too lazy to work at it and just quit. Somebody pointed out that the value of a postage stamp is its ability to stick to one thing until it gets there. It’s also true that an oak tree is just a little nut that refused to give its ground. Sometimes we fail simply because we give ground too soon.
But perhaps the most common cause of failure is turning a deaf ear to our Creator. Proverbs notes that, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death” (14:12). Getting, chasing greatness, seeking to be honored – these things seem so obviously the path to success, but, ironically, they instead lead to failure. Who would guess that success in life comes through things like giving, sacrificing and serving others? But then, according to the Scriptures, God does say, “My ways are not your ways.” It turns out that intuition is a poor substitute for the Bible’s guidelines for living.
Dr. Jim Furr