Looking Forward When Facing Failure

Failure. It’s an equal opportunity affliction visiting rich and poor alike. Failure defies and levels and confounds even the best laid plans.

Failure is as old as history itself. Just flip through your Bible. Adam and Eve add the wrong fruit to their diet. Babel breaks ground on a skyscraper that fails the ultimate inspection. Abram sells out his wife to save his skin. Samson rejects the good girls and weds Delilah. God’s people demand and get a worldly king, who then tries to kill his replacement. David—the replacement—lusts for Bathsheba. Peter says, “Jesus who?” Paul and Barnabas split.

Like death, taxes, and really bad haircuts, failure finds us all.

Looking Behind Failure

Maybe this is hitting you too early in the morning. Perhaps you’re saying,  “What grand news, Dave! As long as we’re discussing my inevitable failure, why not just tell me I’m overweight and odoriferous?”

First, everyone is odoriferous when they wake up, so let’s move beyond that.

Second, if God is truly sovereign, there must be a place for our failure in his plan. From Genesis to Revelation, the Bible declares God’s supreme control over events. If he can’t work through our screwups, he’s guilty of false advertising.

Like it or not, the sovereign God is Lord over our failures. In fact, he works through them. Failure isn’t simply God’s nightstick to whack us into submission. It’s an experience where we can discover God’s love, his irresistible grace, and the true potency of the gospel.

But why, you might ask, can’t I discover and experience all that through my success?

I’ll give you a one-word answer: Sin.

Each day we must face the hard reality that our definition of success, all those things upon which we set our ambitions, frequently revolves more around our personal gratification and glorification than we would like to admit.

We make wonderful ministry plans, we lay out grandiose visions, we set high ideals for ourselves and others, then pursue all this with great zeal. But sometimes the Lord, in his kindness and wisdom, leads us into failure. Some unseen kink completely derails your plan just as you were getting started. You only accomplish ten percent of the grand vision you set fifteen years ago. Your exercise plan dissipates because of a busy schedule and you find yourself five pounds heavier than when you started.

Looking Above Failure

In all these failures, God draws us away from opportunity for self-exaltation and teaches us that we rely on him for everything. You see, when they ate that fruit, Adam and Eve defied God’s word and attempted to exalt themselves, succumbing to the desire to “be like God” (Genesis 3:5). Rather than exaltation they found humiliation: pain in childbearing, difficulty in tilling the soil, and relational strife (see Genesis 3:16–19). God did not allow them to fulfill their self-centered aim.

We’re all infected with that same desire for self-glorification. 

“But Dave,” you protest, “I’m seeking to serve the church! My aim is for the glory of God.” Mine too. And our hearts (and plans) are less pure than we might think. God guards us from the creeping in of pride, he leads us in the valley of failure and humiliation, that we might not grow too big for our britches and glory in our success, wisdom, and strength.

God is not a prig. He’s not out to harm you. He doesn’t hate you or delight in your failure. He does delight in your good. He does love to see you reflect the beauty and image of Christ. Through your failures, he works for your sanctification. And he accomplishes countless good plans for the sake of many others.

If you’ve had a recent failure, don’t stay in bed today. God is at work. Failure means God denied one direction because he has a better one. 


Tenacious Tuesday Questions

Have you failed at something you set your heart on recently? How did you respond? After reviewing that failure and response, ask yourself, What good might God be doing in your heart through this?


Heavenly Father, you are the Creator of the heavens and earth, you are the Supreme Governor of every event that takes place in them. Give me eyes of faith that I might not wallow in failure but rejoice in the gracious goodness of your work in and through my weakness.

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