Written By Ellen Bargh, UK
There are many different ways to fail. I fail to read my Bible every day. I fail to tell the truth to my parents sometimes. I fail to say kind things to people who annoy or frustrate me. I fail all the time, including my Religious Education class at school. (I got a U, which means unclassified.)
That’s why I’m so glad the Bible is filled with stories of people who have also failed spectacularly. Peter, one of Jesus’ disciples, failed many times. He denied Jesus three times as He was going to the cross. He saw Jesus walking on the water and asked Jesus if He could do the same, but eventually got afraid and sank (Matt 14). Yet, Jesus loved and accepted him all the same.
The Bible never promised us that we would be successful in everything we do. Instead, it tells us how we ought to deal with failure when it happens. Proverbs 24:16 says a righteous man falls seven times but still gets up. Paul tells us in Philippians 3 to forget what has happened before and to strive towards the goal of Jesus Christ.
Failing is not the problem. The problem is when we fail to learn from our failures, and give up altogether.
So for someone who’s an “expert” at failure, here are some lessons I have learned:
1. I learned to ask for help
In the first year of my Master’s degree, I was struggling to pray and read my Bible. It was ironic because my Master’s degree was in the Old Testament. I was reading it and studying it every day for my assignments, but I felt God was distant. I felt like a failure because I knew I should have been close to Him.
I knew I needed help to keep my eyes focused on Jesus and to keep talking to Him, but I struggled because I didn’t like asking for help. To ask for help felt like defeat and failure. But remembering how I had benefited from having someone pray and read Scripture with me weekly in the past, I decided to put aside my pride. After all, God created us for community and to bear each other’s burdens (Gal 6:2).
I am so glad that I asked for help and found a friend to pray, read God’s Word, and memorize the Sermon on the Mount together, because those times drew me back to God in a way I never imagined.
Through failures, we realize we need help.
2. I learned I need God’s grace
During the first term of my Hebrew language class, my professor announced that the lowest mark of our weekly tests during that semester would be dropped.
But that was not on my mind when I decided to go out with my friends the day before one of my tests instead of preparing for it. Though I knew I had not performed well, I didn’t expect my results to be as bad as what they were when the test results came back. That’s when I remembered what the professor said at the beginning of the term. So I anxiously asked my professor a couple weeks after if this was still the case. He cheekily responded that my mark would not be held against me “as far as the east is from the west”. I was so relieved that I almost cried. I knew I had been offered grace when I didn’t deserve it.
The episode helped me to better appreciate what our Heavenly Father did by giving up His son for our sins. God knew we wouldn’t get things right, so He sent His beloved son to bear the consequences of all our failures so that our sins will be forgiven—as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12).
Through failures, we appreciate God’s grace.
3. I learned that I can still be redeemed
At a farm I worked at some time ago, there was a feeding system with a wire that needed to be wound to release the feed and then unwound to stop the feeding. If it was not done properly, feed would continue to come out of the feeder, emptying tons of feed into the animal’s pen.
One night, while working at the farm on my own, I made a massive mistake. I did not realize that I had not unwound the wire properly, so tons and tons of feed was filling the animal’s pen while I was off doing another job. It was only when I went back after some time that I realized what had happened. I unwound the wire and the feed stopped. I went home feeling guilty all night.
The next morning, I went to work early to explain to the farmer what I had done. Instead of sacking me or yelling, the farmer went to the animal’s pen and said, “The situation isn’t good but it is redeemable.” Immediately, I felt the weight of guilt lift off my shoulders. I thanked him for his kindness, said I was sorry, and continued to work there.
Seeing how such an awful situation could be redeemed got me thinking about how God can redeem someone like me—someone who would go to a youth group meeting on Friday, party on Saturday, and then go to church with a hangover on Sunday. Yet God didn’t disqualify me; instead, He gave me the opportunity to learn from my failures and use them to encourage others in the youth group that I now lead.
Through failures, we can be used by God.
4. I learned to persevere
There are times I have failed and felt like giving up altogether, such as when I fall into the temptation to lie, even though I had resolved not to earlier. But Philippians 3:13 tells us to forget what lies behind and press on towards the goal that is Jesus Christ.
It means picking ourselves back up after falling. It means fixing our eyes on Jesus. It means not giving up when we fail. So when I have told a lie, I can go back to the person I lied to, confess, and make things right. It means laying my reputation down and picking up my identity in Jesus.
I persevere in doing what is right, because I know that by doing so, I can gain the ultimate prize, Christ Himself. (Phil 3:14)
Through failures, we learn to persevere.
Even though I fail and will continue to fail, I take comfort and courage in the fact that God is bigger, and He can redeem me and my failures. He paid the price so that I can pick myself up and keep following Him.