When you till the ground, it shall no longer yield its strength to you. A fugitive and a vagabond you shall be on the earth – Genesis 4:12
The scripture quoted above talks of the story of Cain, the first born of Adam and Eve (the first couple on earth), who murders his younger brother Abel. In this biblical saga, Cain starts off as a successful tiller of the ground (who had enough to make offerings) and ends up as a man who loses his livelihood and becomes a fugitive and a vagabond in a short period of time. Why did he go from success to poverty in such a short time period? It is because of the 3 things discussed below.
Taking Failure to Heart
The story goes that both Cain and Abel made offerings to God. While Abel’s offering was accepted, Cain’s was not. At this Cain became angry and ‘his countenance fell’. Instead of taking this failing as an opportunity to learn and find out exactly what he had done wrong from God, he simply became downcast and stewed in his failure, thus opening himself up to unhelpful and outright immoral and dangerous thoughts. In other words, he had taken his failure to heart.
By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain… – Hebrews 11:4
Like Cain, there may be times where we do not do things excellently…either because we do not seek the prior input of knowledgeable others (in Cain’s case this was God or Abel) or for any other reason. No matter the reason for our failing, the key is that we do not take our failure to heart but that we learn from it, brush it off, and move on to the next thing. Just because you have failed does not mean you are a failure.
…But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining towards what is ahead… – Philippians 3:13
Being Prideful and Unrepentant
Knowing that Cain had taken his failing to heart, God immediately stepped in and warned him of his heart condition saying:
Why are you angry, and why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door… – Genesis 4:6-7
God was telling Cain not to mope around but to offer a more excellent sacrifice. Moreover, he warned him that sin was waiting to pounce on him if he did not budge. Well, as the story goes, Cain did not heed the word of God and so did not change his mind. In other words, he remained unrepentant – he did not act in accordance with what he now knew. What did he know? He knew that he could try his sacrifice again and that he could ask for instruction on what to do! Did he ask for instruction? No! He became prideful. It was now his way or the highway. The problem was that his way led to the highway of poverty and lack.
Friends, there is no recipe for disaster quite like pride (being dogged about one’s way being the best) and unrepentance (unwillingness to change ones mind and do things differently) even in the face of failings. When this recipe is cooked with the fire of an external loci of focus, we get the end result of calamity.
Having an External Loci of Focus
Now unable to admit his own culpability in his failing because of his pride, he had to find a suitable scapegoat. Seeing that he could not take out his frustration at God, he chose to lash out at his brother.
Now Cain talked with Abel his brother, and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother and killed him – Genesis 4:8
The truth is that our reaction to events depends on our loci of focus – whether internal or external. Pride and unrepentance always leads us to have an external loci of focus. An external loci of focus tells us that we cannot do anything about what is happening to us and that we are not at fault. This focus leads to bitterness and leads us to point the finger of blame. This is what happened to Cain. Note that while an external loci of focus leads to external blame, an internal loci of focus leads to internal change.
So friends, instead of trying to change everything and everyone else, remember that real change starts with us.
Change the way you see failure, change the way you respond to failure (respond in humility and repentance), change your focal point, and you will change the trajectory of your future.