How Can We Deal with Failure Biblically?
We will all fail at some point. Maybe several times over. However, we can learn and grow through our mistakes. After all, life is not about success after success without any sign of struggle. Failure is part of the human condition. Things do not always go to plan and even our best intentions for something good may actually lead to failure.
Adam and Eve failed in following the one command from God, which was to not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:17). Since then, every human being is born with a sinful nature (Romans 5:12), and sin separates us from God (Isaiah 59:2). It was an epic failure, like the first domino to fall and start the fall of all the others.
However, it is God’s response to their failure that gives us hope of how to deal with failure in our own lives. God did not fail them. God is described as “a faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he” (Deuteronomy 32:4). It is always His perfect faithfulness that covers all of our failures.
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What Does the Bible Say about Failure?
Failure can be defined as a lack of success or falling short. Sin is moral failure against God and His holiness. We all fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). The Bible is filled with real stories of failure. Some of the biggest names in the Bible had the greatest failures. Abraham lied and said that his wife Sarah was his sister (Genesis 20:1-3) and tried to give himself an heir with Hagar rather than Sarah who was barren (Genesis 16:2). Moses killed an Egyptian (Exodus 2:11-12) and also asked God to send someone else to Pharoah (Exodus 4:12-13). David slept with Bathsheba and killed her husband Uriah (2 Samuel 11). Peter denied that he knew Jesus three times on the night that He was betrayed (Luke 22:54-62).
There are many more examples of failure throughout the Bible. Far from showing people who were completely perfect and kept every command, God’s Word includes those who had failed, sometimes repeatedly. It is also a testimony of how God was the one who restored, forgave, blessed, chose, pursued, and comforted those in their failure. In the fallenness and weakness of a sinful human race, only God is perfect, holy, merciful and just. The Bible reveals the truth about us and the incredible majesty and hope found in God who saves us.
We are weak in our flesh. We do make mistakes and we sin against God and others. There are consequences when we fail. At times it may feel like our faith, strength, and patience might fail. However, Psalm 73:26 says, “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” We depend on God alone who is our strength; He remembers that we are dust, and His compassion and love is with those who fear Him (Psalm 103).
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How Does God Deal with Our Failure?
Where we see the failures of others in the Bible, we can see God’s loving-kindness, forbearance, patience, and faithfulness. Without God we would be left without hope in our sin and failures. It is God who can work in all things, even our failure, for our good and His glory.
The cross of Christ is where our moral failure or sin toward God and others has been dealt with once and for all. Jesus does not define us by our sin or any other failures we may experience. Our identity is not wrapped in our failure.
Jesus knew about Peter’s failures. Yet Jesus said to Peter: “But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:32). Jesus predicted what Peter would do in denying that He knew Him the night He was arrested. But He also know Peter would repent and would be reinstated, strengthening the early church. What seemed like the greatest betrayal was worked into a beautiful transformation in the heart and life of Peter. Jesus intercedes for us in prayer too as He sits at the right hand of His Father in heaven (Romans 8:34).
Even when others think that we may fail, God still has plans and purposes for us. In Acts 21, Paul was warned by others not to go back to Jerusalem, knowing that he was likely to be arrested by the Jews. However, Paul did not see chains as a failure. He said, “What do you mean by unnerving me with all your tears? I am perfectly prepared not only to be bound but to die in Jerusalem for the sake of the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 21:12-13). We know that although Paul was in prison, he penned much of what we read in the New Testament from those chains. What seemed like a failure to others was God’s way of bringing His Word to the whole world.
Ultimately, we cannot deal with our failure apart from Christ. We need Jesus, and our failures and weaknesses are dealt with at the cross of Christ. He became the sacrifice and the priest we all need. The gospel is good news for failures and failing is not the end of the story.
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How Can We Move Forward from Failure?
In our weaknesses, God can be glorified as we turn to Him in trust and let His power work in our lives by the Holy Spirit. As we yield ourselves to Him, assured of His love for us, we can bring our failure to the throne and instead find freedom and forgiveness. Here are some ways that can help us move forward after going through failure:
- If it was a moral failure, we can confess our sins, knowing that Jesus is faithful and just and will forgive us (1 John 1:9).
- Be reminded that nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus. That includes our failures. “No power in the sky above or in the earth below — indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:39).
- We should come to God in repentance, and ask for help in our time of need and God will help us (Psalm 46:1).
- Lamenting before God can bring healing for the pain of experiencing failure. Psalm 51 is a heart cry of David before God after committing adultery with Bathsheba. It was a prayer for God to have mercy, to cleanse and wash away his sin, to create a pure heart within him, and to restore to him the joy of salvation. It is an acknowledgement and sincere plea before God who is the only one who can renew the mind and transform the heart. May we lament and seek God’s face, knowing He is a merciful and faithful high priest (Hebrews 2:17).
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How Can We Handle the Failures of Others?
If someone has experienced failure, we can embrace them like the father who ran toward his prodigal son who had asked for his inheritance early and squandered the lot (Luke 15:11-32). When people fail, there can be a time and place for comfort and an opportunity for forgiveness and restoration. They may have tried to do something good, but it did not turn out as they had envisioned. Disappointment, sadness, anger and a sense of loss can accompany us when our best intentions fail. Even in someone’s worst moments, there is a time for coming alongside those who are walking in the shadow of failure.
We also live in a world surrounded by others who are both sinful and yet image bearers of God, just like us. Even if their sin is not the same as our sin, we have all still fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). We are also made in God’s image (Genesis 1:27), so we should remember others as fellow image bearers as we walk through these difficult times.
Handling the failures of others can bring its own challenges, especially if it impacts us personally and directly. We can find it hard to show grace and forgiveness toward someone who has let us down. It is vital to reflect upon the cross of Christ and remember how much we have been freely forgiven, and ask Him to help us.
Jesus has lavished us with His love and grace. Whilst we were still enemies toward God, dead in our sin and at enmity with Him, Jesus came and took the punishment that our sins deserved (Romans 5:6, 10). He knows the very worst about us and chose to enter into our humanity to open a way back to be in communion with Him forever. When we struggle to accept the failures of those around us, we can pray for the strength to forgive and extend grace to them, and to surrender our desire to sin against them.
There is freedom in handing our grievances and pain into the nail-scarred hands of the one whose blood poured out for us all. If He could willingly offer up His life for us, we can willingly lay down our rights and entrust it all into God’s care.
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A Final Reflection on Failure
“You build on failure. You use it as a stepping stone. Close the door on the past. You don't try to forget the mistakes, but you don't dwell on it. You don't let it have any of your energy, or any of your time, or any of your space.” - Johnny Cash
Ending with a Johnny Cash quote rather than a Bible verse may seem like a failure. Forgive me. However, I will change it slightly to reflect the hope found in biblical truth for our failures:
“You build on Jesus. He is the cornerstone and foundation of faith and He will never fail you. Jesus closes the door on your sin because of the cross, choosing to remember your sin no more. He opens the door for a relationship with Him where He invites you to dwell with Him forever. Your energy, time and space is best spent in knowing Jesus.”
It is only because of Jesus that we can deal with failure, both inside of ourselves and with those who fail around us. Thanks be to God that no word from Him will ever fail (Luke 1:37).
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Ruth Clemence is a wife, mom, writer and award-winning blogger based in Cardiff, Wales. Read more at: ruthclemence.com.