I played basketball at R.A. Long High School, home of the Lumberdome. Undersized, I did my best to hammer it out with guys significantly bigger than me down on the blocks. Because of my lack of real size and “johnny-hops” — a term lovingly used to described my white-man inability to jump — I mostly tried to hover around the three-point line and hoist up long bombs. Except, I had this problem. Well, maybe not a problem to some but a problem to my game. Whenever I started to miss, I slowly began to hesitate. As more and more missed shots piled up, more and more times I would hesitate, shoot out of rhythm or not shoot at all. As I failed, I became afraid. 

There is a term used by basketball people for players who aren’t afraid to shoot. Ever. They consistently will shoot over and over again without regard to how many they’ve missed or made. They call these players GUNSLINGERS. For you basketball fans, my favorite of all gunslingers is actually a fictional character, Jimmy Chitwood of the movie Hoosiers. I’m not sure if I ever saw him miss (and a close second favorite of gunslingers – Rex Chapman, a real NBA player!)


Jimmy Chitwood: The Best Gunslinger of All-Time

In some ways, this makes for a long night for everyone watching this player. Whether cold or hot, you knew this player was going to be firing up shots at will. Obviously, on hot nights, this player could drop 20 before half time. On cold nights, well, it was going to be a cold night. 

I, however, had the opposite problem. The more I missed, the more I hesitated, and the more I missed even more. As soon as I missed two, three, four shots in a row (which happened QUITE a bit), I started to worry about what the crowd was thinking, what my teammates were thinking, what my coach was going to do, and so on. Shooting, for those who don’t know, requires a rhythm and a certain confidence. It requires a certain “catch and shoot” rhythm that if you hesitate, if you wait to take your shot, you often end up losing that rhythm and missing anyways.

What does this have to do with anything? Well, I’ve noticed this about myself in life and ministry. I am a thinker, an analyzer, a studier, and a reader. Perhaps because of those reasons, I tend to hesitate, to wait, to carefully plod and plan…and minimize the risk of failure. However, what God continues to hammer on me is this: You must be willing to fail!

All great leaders seem to have a gunslinger mentality. The problem is, we usually don’t remember or see the failures. From Thomas Edison to Michael Jordan, these guys continually failed – and yet, all we remember is the greatness they achieved!

“Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly” – Robert Kennedy.

“The best way out is always through” – Robert Frost.

“It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled, or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes short again and again, who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, and spends himself in a worthy cause, who at best knows achievement and who at the worst if he fails at least fails while daring greatly so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat” – Teddy Roosevelt.

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Thomas Edison.

Jesus addressed this issue too. He tells a story about servants who were supposed to watch over and invest their master’s money. Some servants doubled it, tripled it, took risks and made more money. The only one Jesus reprimands is the one who took the money and hid it in the ground, not taking any risk to lose or fail. Jesus has some harsh words for this dude. God is crying for leaders to not play it safe, to take risks, to fail.  

Risk your life and get more than you ever dreamed of. Play it safe and end up holding the bag.

How often are we left standing holding the bag? How many times have I been too afraid to launch something, to change something, to set forth on what I feel is a God-inspired journey? How many times have I been too afraid to talk to a homeless person, to give the money in my wallet to the man on the corner, to actually spend extra time dreaming of ways to GIVE? How many times have I not attempted something SIMPLY BECAUSE I WAS AFRAID?

What I’m learning is this – At the end of my life, if I have a choice, I want to say I didn’t end up holding the bag. From things as small as confronting another person to giving $5 to someone random, from starting a brand new ministry called The Garage to cutting broken down ministries, the only thing I want to say is that I attempted to FAIL FORWARD and not let each FAILURE add up to anything other than MORE ENERGY, MORE FOCUS, and MORE PASSION to succeed.

May God give us the courage to fail, the grace to accept failures in each other, and the vision to fail toward.

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