Let’s be honest, failure is bitterly painful.
Have you studied really hard for an important exam, done a long run of all nighters, attended every class, made notes on the notes of your revision notes, walked into the exam believing you understood everything required to ace the test – only to get the mark back and it is much less than you hoped for, or worse – you didn’t pass?
Have you applied for a job interview that you believed was perfect for you, prepped intensely, and answered every question to the best of your ability only to not get the offer?
Have you prayed for victory in a certain area of your spiritual life, only to find yourself defeated by the problem you were fighting to overcome?
Some of these things will have happened to many of us. Perhaps prompting the question:
“Lord. I prayed, I worked hard, I applied myself diligently, how could this happen?”
Where does failure fit into God’s purpose for our lives?
A good place to start might be to confirm two things:
1. Does God care when we fail or others fail us? 2. Does He use these failures to bring about the right outcome?
The Bible offers answers to both.
To the first question:
“He heals the wounds of the brokenhearted, and binds their wounds.” Psalm 147:3
“The LORD, the LORD God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; Exodus 34:6
And the second:
“I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say, ‘My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.” Isaiah 46:10
“The LORD of hosts has sworn saying, “Surely, just as I have intended so it has happened, and just as I have planned so it will stand,” Isaiah 14:24
In other words, yes and yes.
God cares for His children
The shortest verse in the bible is John 11:35 – “Jesus Wept” – describing what happened when Jesus arrived at the house where his friend Lazarus had died. But the interesting thing to note is that Jesus knew He was going to resurrect Lazarus before arriving at the house (John 11:11), yet that didn’t stop Him from weeping when He arrived at the burial scene and saw how distraught everyone was!
One of the great things that Jesus did, was that He revealed to us the character of God in a way that had never been done before. To answer the killer exam question – ‘If God was a human being what would He be like?’ Jesus showed up! He was full of compassion, full of love and full of care – demonstrating all the things that we believed God to be in the scriptures.
So when you are hurting because of something you believe you have failed at, trust God because He cares for you.
God is miraculously powerful
God makes straight lines with crooked sticks, and masterpieces with foolish things because He is incredibly powerful. He will use our failures to bring about His purposes and bring us our joy – often in ways you will not expect. Salvation being the biggest proof of this. Adam’s mistake which brought death was used to exalt Jesus who would defeat death (1 Corinthians 15:57).
So whether we feel we have let ourselves down, others down, or God down, the reality is that these things don’t change God’s character or His ability to use our mistakes to fulfil His purposes and plans. Job puts it best:
“I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted.” Job 42:2
So if God can split the red sea into two, give sight to the blind, raise His Son from the dead, and respond to the prayers of millions of people at the same time, surely it can’t be difficult for Him to ensure you get the right exam result/the job you desired/the victory you’re pursuing.
If He has our best interests at heart, and His arm is not too short to save us, why doesn’t
He intervene to grant us victory all the time?
Why would God let this happen to me?
The honest answer? Only He will truly know.
However, perhaps one reason is that in God’s mind it makes more sense to allow us to stumble, fall down and run back to Him, than to prevent us from ever making mistakes. Sometimes it is through our mistakes, that God out of His love for us, reveals areas in our lives that need to be tweaked and corrected.
A good example is King David – who desired a woman so much that he sent her husband in battle to die in order to marry her.
God didn’t stop David from making this mistake. He let him go through it. But through his experience David learnt that he was wrong, and needed redemption. Now we have an account of someone who failed in one respect, yet still was esteemed by God as “a man after His own heart” (Acts 13:22).
What use is failure then?
Failure reminds us that we are human and don’t have all the answers. This is a difficult pill to swallow, but is an honest place to start if we are serious about progressing in any area of life.
As well as this though, missing the mark helps fine tune our dial a little, to focus our mind and heart on what is truly important. If there is one thing failure is useful for, it’s that it gives us perspective.
When we aspire towards a goal, and we don’t achieve it, the way we feel is a reflection of how much we value it – and it can also reveal to us that we are potentially idolising success in that area.
There is no shortage of people pursuing success on earth – and a lot of the time for opportunities that are limited in number. Only a fixed number of people can study at Cambridge, work at Google, or become the President of the US. But there is always enough room for people to pursue God and live for Him. And here’s the thing, no matter how badly you think you’ve performed as a Christian, you can’t fail at being a child of God. As Paul has said: “By the grace of God I am what I am” (1 Corinthians 15:10) not I am what I do. Just like how you can’t fail at being a child of your parents. To them you are bound by blood, to God you are bound by His Spirit. (Romans 8:14).
When you become a Christian, you accept for yourself the sacrifice that Jesus made when He was crucified, and inherit the relationship that He has with God the Father – by becoming a child of God. Your identity is anchored in Christ, not your performance.
Don’t let disappointment blur your perspective on who God is and who you are. Clouds on occasion try to block the Sun, but they can’t remove it. Similarly failure can only try to test your relationship with God, it can’t destroy it.
So how do I move forward?
You’re human, it’s OK to be upset
Failure/setbacks/unmet expectations hurt! After denying Jesus, Peter “wept bitterly” (Matthew 26:72), Job “tore his robe and shaved his head” in grief when all his children were wiped out in one day (Job 1:20), when destruction and injustice surrounded him, Habbakuk “cried for help” (Habbakuk 1:2).
Remember who God is and who you are
As bad as the situation might look, it does not change who God is, how much He loves you, or who you are in Him.
Your identity is not based on a grade, or an application result. Through the gospel, God is offering something far better for our satisfaction to be rooted in, something more rewarding than an earthly gift, a real, fruitful relationship with Him – something made possible through Jesus.
Take a step back to review where you may have got things wrong
Be honest and review what went wrong. If you failed an exam, take a step back and consider what could you have done differently? Perhaps a change in technique is necessary. Hundreds of hours studying may be helpful, but having a deeper understanding of a topic, through effective studying, is the key to excelling.
Breathe – Don’t condemn yourself
Peter and Judas both confidently betrayed Jesus. In that sense, they both failed. However Peter succeeded in running back to Jesus with a repentant heart, and became the foundation for the church. Judas chose to punish himself, ending his life out of guilt.
“There is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus.” Romans 8:1
Yesterday is gone, today is a new day
History doesn’t have to repeat itself. When we don’t perform up to scratch, it instantly becomes a thing of the past, and it doesn’t have to happen again. We can learn from our mistakes and try again. As Paul has said “Forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14).