rebelling against low expectations

I Did Hard Things, And I Failed: Isaac’s Story


After reading so many great entries for the Do Hard Things Story Contest, we’ve decided to highlight a story on TheRebelution every week for the rest of the year. Each story emphasizes how Do Hard Things has impacted these rebelutionaries. Today, meet Isaac!

When I first read Do Hard Things at 13-years-old, little did I realize the impact it would have on my life.

Soon after finishing the book, God challenged me to do a hard thing in the form of the National Bible Bee. The Bible Bee is a rigorous event beginning in June and reaching its climactic conclusion in the fall when the National Champions are crowned.

There are two levels of competition, the first of which is the regional competition, which is based upon a two-hundred question, SAT-style test required to be completed in under an hour. Following this local competition, the top competitors are invited to a prestigious national contest to compete for prizes ranging up to $100,000.

For the past five years, I participated in the Bible Bee, and in that time, God grew me in ways I would never have imagined!

During my first years in the Bible Bee, God ingrained in me an attribute which is often overlooked: consistency in small things.

Sometimes some of the hardest things in life are simple yet necessary tasks which require faithfulness. I find that it is easy for me to get excited when I look at the big picture goals, but unfortunately, it is extremely difficult to muster up the same amount of enthusiasm for menial tasks like studying consistently.

I found this to be true with the Bible Bee; I was hyped up by the chance of winning $100,000, but quickly found myself falling behind in my study of the assigned book of the Bible.

By the halfway point of the competition, I was two weeks behind from where I should have been minimally. Competing, I was discovering, required consistency in the small tasks.

I was frustrated with my failure and with my pitiful excuses and so sought counsel from my dad. He gave the truth to me straight: I needed to be consistent even if it was hard.

From that day onward, I began to wake up at 5:30 a.m., groggy-eyed but determined to study for the competition.

Many times I was tempted to simply hit the snooze and go back to bed, yet even though I did occasionally sleep in, I persevered in my efforts until I was caught up.

To my utmost delight and complete surprise, despite my initial setbacks, in my first year in the Bible Bee I qualified for Nationals!

In the years which followed, God continued to teach me lessons through the Bible Bee and my scores continued to improve.

In 2011 I barely squeaked into the national competition as the 100th contestant out of 100 spots; what made this even more miraculous (at least in my mind) was that I had tied with five other people for the final spot, but because of a technicality, I was chosen to advance onward.

Each of the following years, my rank improved steadily until in 2014 I qualified as 21st in the nation. That year was my final year competing in the Bible Bee and I decided to give it my all.

The National competition in 2014 was different than years past, however, as I had only eight weeks to memorize nearly 800 verses in addition to my Senior year classes.

Such a demanding deadline required great discipline as there was such little margin for error.

I sacrificed many things in order to compete to the best of my ability – social media, entertainment, time with friends, and sleep. During those eight weeks I worked as never before, waking up at 6:00 a.m. and often not getting to bed until 12:00 a.m.

Nevertheless, a nagging feeling of doubt whispered that all my hard work, sacrifices, and perseverance was futile – I wasn’t going to win anything.

I tried to quench these thoughts, but my fears were realized when I failed to qualify for semifinals at the national competition.

I felt disillusioned and defeated. After working so hard, failure was a tough pill to swallow.

Then God comforted me with a beautiful realization: though I had failed outwardly, He had given me true success.

The intense period of training and study in preparation for the 2014 National competition had grown me in more ways than I can recount here.

It had refined my character, strengthening my work-ethic, increasing my faith in God, and bolstering my diligence. Speaking practically, the Bible Bee taught me the value of time-management; I realized that I am not Superman and therefore must prioritize my life in order to stay sane.

Most important of all, I know my time was not wasted because it brought me into closer fellowship with God. If this had been the only result of my eight-week intensive study, it would have been sufficient.

After investing thousands of hours into Bible Study and memorization over the past five years without ever qualifying for even a single semifinals, some might ask, “Was it worth all your effort and time?”

Yes! It was worth my time!

If I had the opportunity to do it over again knowing that I would not win first place, I would do it over again in a heartbeat – God has blessed me richly as a result of my time in the Bible Bee.

In March, I received a letter from a local university offering a full-ride, four-year scholarship.

The lessons which God had taught through the Bible Bee, namely the importance of consistency and hard work, enabled me to earn good enough grades to win that scholarship. Without those characteristics, I doubt I would have won it.

I did not fail in the Bible Bee, God used it to prepare me for future success. Thank you God for seeing more than I can.

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About the author

Isaac Martin

is a freshly minted homeschool graduate who enjoys politics, people, and practical Christianity. As the oldest of eleven children, life is never dull and responsibility is never hard to come by. He is planning on studying Mechanical engineering at Oakland University while pursuing God's will for his life. He enjoys memorizing God's word, playing ultimate frisbee, and policy debate.


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  • Wow! This sounds a lot like my younger sister’s story. She was in the Bible Bee only because I convinced her to do it, and although I didn’t make it to Nationals, she did. She placed 21st in her age group in the nation… but was 6 spots away from making it the finals. I think she’s struggled with that some since last year, but I think she’s really happy with how she did now. 🙂

  • Isaac, your perseverance is very inspiring. God’s faithfulness really shines through in your story. God bless!

  • This is so inspiring! I think it’s super important to remember that everything does not ride on “success” in the world’s eyes. Success in God’s eyes is so much more than that! You are a great writer!
    -Grace (

        • Doing well. I just endured the toughest persecution ever so far in my life. I know that living for Christ requires way more than I am able to give and if it weren’t for God holding me up through it all I would have fallen. I so thank God that He entrusted me with this trial. I believe that it is preparation for more to come in these perilous times. To Hime be the glory.

          Thank you for asking about me,

          What is God doing in your life now?

          Miss Jean

          • In the last couple of weeks, God has really blessed me with a good girl friend. I have a couple of good guy friends, but because I’m a girl it’s just better to have a girl friend to talk to. She’s an answer to prayer!
            Recently God’s been teaching me to have patience, in the little things as well as the big things. I’m not naturally patient, so as you can imagine it’s taking a while for me to grasp the idea of just waiting on God and not trying to rush ahead of His timing!
            Thank you for asking!

          • On the post comments, it shows that I posted twice. One with my complete comment and one without any comment. Let me know if you didn’t get my full comment. Thanks for letting me know. And bless your parents for raising an amazing young man!

          • Ah, now I see where you answered me. I just didn’t look far enough! 🙂 My parents have indeed been a huge blessing to me.

  • That’s so cool! I did Bible Bee the year it began and didn’t have enough discipline to complete it, but I have friends who have made it to Nationals, and they say that they really enjoy doing it. And it certainly seems like you’ve reaped the benefits as well.

    Also, congrats on the scholarship!

  • Wow, this is really encouraging as I’m currently a contestant in the Bible Bee National level. It’s so easy to get caught up in the competition and forget the true importance of studying God’s Word. Thanks for the reminder!

  • Thank you so much for sharing, Isaac! I am also a Bible Bee contestant (actually, we were in the same orals group last year!), and this was very encouraging to read in the midst of preparing for Nationals. We can all work so hard, but we must remember the why behind the studying. Thank you for the reminder. 🙂

  • Thank you for writing this, Isaac! It was a blessing to read and definitely encouraged me today, while studying for Nationals this year. (I was in your same orals group last year too, like Rachel said, haha). Thank you for sharing this encouraging testimony!

  • A few years ago, our teenage daughter missed out on a medal in a competition. She’d been leading the competition for several days – well in front of the other competitors – and in the very last event, the judges deliberately marked her mega-low. So she slipped from 1st place down to 5th. The “winner” won the competition because of overt favoritism. Even the audience was flabbergasted – they booed, when the “winner” was presented the gold medal.

    Our daughter came home from the competition feeling like she’d tried something hard and failed. My husband hugged her, praying silently for the right words, and the Still Small Voice whispered some lines from this movie (!) called Cool Runnings. If you’ve never seen it, it’s about four Jamaican bobsledders who tried something hard and failed. The quote went like this:

    Irv: Derice,a gold medal is a wonderful thing, but if you’re not enough without it,
    you’ll never be enough with it.
    Derice: Hey coach, how will I know if I’m enough?
    Irv: When you cross that finish line, you’ll know.

    Hebrews 12:1, talks about running the race which is set before us with endurance.
    Philippians 3:14 talks about pressing on towards the goal for the prize. The Bible doesn’t say you’re a failure if you miss out on gold. Rather you’re a failure if you quit before you cross the finish line.

    So if you’ve failed after trying something hard, remember it’s about working hard
    enough at something to deserve the gold medal – irrespective of the outcome.

  • Thanks for sharing your story Isaac!!!! Our family has done the Bible Bee every year except for this past year and it has been a blessing to us as well. I missed it this year because I didn’t have the motivation to memorize…I’m going to work on that this week. 🙂 Thanks again!

  • Thank you for sharing your story, Isaac! I was very blessed and challenged, and it especially spoke to me as I am a current Bible Bee contestant. Studying God’s Word is never a waste, and God has certainly used the Bible Bee in the lives of many young people. Again, so great to hear your story.

  • Great story. It is sometimes hard to keep up the good spirits when your outcome isn’t as good as you would have had it be. I was just in a national music competition in South Africa { I am a missionary kid, and South Africa is my families field} , and I made it through the Audition, and played through the first two rounds, but didn’t make the third. My family and I had just gotten back from a furlough + a year without any lessons, and had about two months {eight lessons}, to learn five new HARD pieces. I think that the best experience I got from it , was being able to accept defeat. It can be even harder than the prep work before.

By Isaac Martin
rebelling against low expectations

The Rebelution is a teenage rebellion against low expectations—a worldwide campaign to reject apathy, embrace responsibility, and do hard things. Learn More →