The Biblical View of Failure


So many of us are driven to succeed more from a fear of failure than by the call of God on our lives.

Failure is an important topic because so many of us are driven to succeed more from a fear of failure than by the call of God on our lives. This is partly because in this nation we have a “black and white” view of success and failure that makes failure unacceptable. The following are points each of us need to understand to enlighten us with the biblical view of failure.

I. Failure is something we are all born into

Psalm 51 teaches us that “in sin did my mother conceive me,” Romans 3:23 teaches that all of us have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. In light of these passages, we understand every human being from Cain and Abel to us has started from a foundation of falling short of God’s perfection, standards, and expectations. Some people try to get around this by rationalizing it away, justifying sin, or becoming despondent and living a life of guilt and depression without hope.

God has given us another way out. He uses our failures to make us aware of the sin in our system so we would seek out a savior. The law becomes our schoolmaster to lead us to Christ because of how utterly sinful we are; read Galatians 3:24 and Romans 7:13.

II. Failure is meant to teach us the truth

If scientists viewed failure the way most do in sports, business, relationships, or personal achievement, then we would still be living in the Dark Ages! Instead of becoming discouraged and quitting when their hypotheses fail, they look at failure as part of the continuum of finding the truth since each failure in experimentation narrows down the field of possibilities that lead to the truth. When we fail, in most cases we can look at it the same way: as a learning experience that enables us to get closer to knowing what to do in the future when faced with similar situations. The trick is, we need to learn how to “fail forward”!

This idea is strongly opposed the way our present culture is set up. Men love sports so much because there are always clear winners and losers. I will never forget the sports headline on one of the major New York newspapers over the past two years after the Mets blew a seven game lead late in the season two summers ago; last year they also fell out of contention on the final day of the season. The headline read “Choked” or something with that word in it. But unfortunately this all-or-nothing approach often wreaks havoc with our psyches from undue stress that is based on the expectation to always be a clear winner in everything we do.

I believe having high standards is necessary to gauge excellence in sports, grading students, and so on. But I also believe that in the complexities of life we are meant to fail at times so we can have epiphanies and learn the greater lessons we would have never learned had we been “successful” in our initial course of action.

III. God has to orchestrate success or failure

The Scriptures teach that God works all things for good if we love Him (Romans 8:28). This means God maneuvers things because we do not always get it right the first time. I am convinced that sometimes, in order for us to really learn certain things, we need to initially fail as part of the process of God ingraining truth into our souls. Also, if we were successful with everything we did then we would get the glory instead of God. The fact that God has to step in and work all things out for good in response to our sincere love for Him demonstrates that, ultimately, all success is really attributed to God based on His divine intervention, whether overt or subtle.

Scripture is replete with examples of leaders who, at first, lived lives as failures so that God could have a chance to turn them around:

• Adam had to be covered after he fell (Genesis 3).

• Jacob was a deceiver whom God had to wrestle with and change before he would become a man of God (Genesis 27-32).

• Moses had to flee Egypt as a murderer and live in the desert for 40 years before God was able to teach him enough to use him (Exodus 1-3).

• Samson failed as a son, husband, and believer before he was able to defeat the Philistines with his last act (Judges 15-16).

• David lost everything including his wife, best friend, and possessions before he was anointed as king (First and Second Samuel).

• Peter denied Jesus three times right before he became the leader of the early church and won three thousand people to Christ on the Day of Pentecost (Matthew 26-27; Acts 1-2)

• Saul was a murderer and persecutor of Christians before he became the great apostle Paul (Acts 8-28).

As you can see, failure is part of the redemptive method of teaching God uses to mature us into His people with purposeful assignments to enlarge kingdom influence. As much as we hate it, and in spite of the fact God has called us to avoid failing intentionally (if we fail intentionally in life we will not learn, because we are not properly stewarding the gifts and grace God has given us to serve Him and humanity), we will all experience failure–some on greater levels than others.

In closing, Hebrews 12:5-11 teaches us that “whom the Lord loves He rebukes and chastens.” I am thankful that, in spite of my weaknesses and failures, I have a mighty God and a community of covenant people God uses in my life who can teach me when I am wrong, pick me up when I fall, and push me forward when I fail.

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