SOURCE: David Jeremiah
Acknowledge Your Failure
Overcoming failure—and profiting from it—begins with us.
Former President Harry Truman knew how to honestly evaluate things, even his own life. When asked if he was popular as a child in school, he replied, “No. I was never popular. The popular boys were the ones who were good at games and had big fists. I was never like that. Without my glasses, I was blind as a bat, and to tell the truth, I was kind of a sissy. If there was any chance of getting into a fight, I took off. I guess that’s why I’m here today.” In modern language, he “failed” at being popular, but he wasn’t afraid to admit it.
Sometimes we hesitate to admit our failure because we think of it like confessing sin. All sin is a failure of some sort, but not all failure is sin. So don’t be afraid to admit it when you fail.
Accept God’s Forgiveness
If our failure is due to sin, the only way to overcome its effects is to confess it to God and receive His forgiveness. The clear testimony of Scripture is that God is a forgiving God. He does not condone our sinful failures, but neither does He hold them against us if we want to be forgiven for them (Psalm 103:10; 1 John 1:9).
Apply the Lessons of Failure Toward Success
We should never accept failure as the final judgment or assessment of our potential. If we did that, we would never move beyond our first failure. We must learn to use failure as a resource, as an opportunity.
An assistant to Thomas Edison tried to console him after a string of failed experiments had produced no results. “Oh, we have lots of results,” Edison said. “We know 700 things that won’t work!” John Keates, an English author, once wrote, “Failure is in a sense the highway to success, inasmuch as every discovery of what is false leads us to seek earnestly after what is true, and every fresh experience points out some form of error which we shall afterward carefully avoid.”
By studying our failures we will discover what we are doing wrong which can only lead us more quickly to what to do right.
Accept Failure as a Fact of Life, Not a Way of Life
Failure is an event, not a person; failure is something that happens, not someone you become.
We carelessly use the phrase, “I’m a failure,” so frequently that we begin to believe it. A person can have hundreds and hundreds of failures in his life and still be a success. Or, if he allows just a few failures to overcome him, he could be on the road to characterizing himself as a failure.
Think about Peter’s failure to identify with the Lord Jesus on the night of His arrest. And then think about him preaching with fire at Pentecost in the opening of the book of Acts. Peter failed, but he wasn’t a failure.
Arise from Failure and Start Again
The temptation when we fail is to wallow in self-pity, to sulk, to feel sorry for ourselves (a sure sign of the influence of the giant of failure). The best thing you can do is stand up, brush yourself off, and start moving forward again.
One of my favorite characters in Scripture is Jonah. You know his story, how God told Him to go one way (east to Nineveh) and he went the other (west toward Spain). Jonah failed miserably in his role and responsibility as a prophet. Yet after he had come back to the Lord, God gave him a second chance (Jonah 3:1–2). He sent him again to Nineveh to preach and 120,000 people repented before God. It was one of the greatest responses to the Word of God recorded in history. And this from a man who just a short time previously had failed miserably.
Sometimes when you try to start over people will say, “You’re a failure.” That’s the enemy talking—don’t listen. You listen to God who wants you to succeed. If you are right with Him He will be right with you.
Avoid Judging Failure in Others
Just as others might judge us, we must be on guard against judging others as a failure. [Consider] the examples of three people who were judged by others as failures, but whom God saw as successes.
1. The rich man and the beggar.
In Luke 16 the story of the rich man and Lazarus reveals two opposite individuals. Outwardly the rich man was the success and Lazarus the failure. But God’s perspective was the opposite. The rich man ended up in agony, and Lazarus ended up being comforted in Paradise. If we had seen the two before knowing God’s evaluation, would we have been quick to judge? God’s values are often very different than ours.
2. A Pharisee and a tax collector.
In Luke 18 we have the story of a Pharisee and a tax collector. The Pharisee was the epitome of success within first-century Judaism, and the tax collector one of the most despised men in town. But when they went to the temple to pray, their true success and failure became obvious. The Pharisee was proud and arrogant, the tax collector humble and repentant. Which would we have chosen as the success and which the failure?
3. A Pharisee and a prostitute.
In Luke 7, we have the story of a Pharisee named Simon and a sinful woman, a prostitute. Simon invited Jesus to his home for dinner. A prostitute came into the dinner and anointed Jesus feet with perfume and her tears. Simon was offended because of her impropriety, but Jesus was offended at Simon’s lack of love. The man who appeared to be successful was a failure when it came to love for God. The prostitute, a failure in life, succeeded in loving God. Which would we have chosen as successful and which as a failure?
These stories warn us to beware of judging others who appear to us to be failures. The man who, from the world’s point of view, was a great failure turned out to be the man God exalted and honored by raising Him from the dead and seating Him at the right hand of the throne of God.
Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you are a failure when you fail. Defeat the giant of failure by striving to receive Jesus’ final words about your life, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
Jeremiah, D. (2001). Facing the giants in your life: Study guide (111–113). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.