Some people refuse to use the word failure. Instead, they substitute words like slip-up, setback, glitch, mistake—or at least frame the failure in a positive light.
Take IBM founder Thomas Watson, for example. He was legendary for his ability to turn a serious mistake into a learning opportunity. On one occasion, a young executive lost $10 million in a risky venture. When called to Watson’s office, he expected the worst and blurted out, “I guess you want my resignation.” Watson replied, “You can’t be serious. We've just spent $10 million educating you!”
Although failure is never enjoyable, neither is it final—at least for those who believe in the sovereign God who is working everything in their life for good. They believe that since they still have a pulse, they still have a purpose and it’s always too soon to give up. Consider the failures endured by this man whose résumé you’ll recognize:
- Age 22: Failed in business
- Age 23: Defeated for state legislature
- Age 24: Failed in business—again
- Age 27: Nervous breakdown
- Age 29: Elected to state legislature, but defeated for Speaker of the House
- Age 31: Defeated for Elector
- Age 46: Defeated for the U.S. Senate.
- Age 47: Defeated for Vice President.
- Age 49: Defeated again for the Senate
By anyone’s standard, Abraham Lincoln qualified as a failure. Who would have blamed him if he had given up? But he didn’t, and at age 51 he was elected President of the United States.
Nope, failure’s not fun, but it doesn’t have to be final. It’s also part of life in a fallen world--and none of us is exempt. So when failure comes, the key is to see it from God’s perspective and to fail forward:
Remember who God is.
God can take the most desperate situations—and the most weak or dastardly people—and turn them into something wonderful. Consider Jacob, a lying schemer: God blessed him and made him the father of the Israelite nation. Or Jonah, the bigot who refused to offer grace to his enemies. God used him as His spokesman in the greatest revival outside Israel in Old Testament history. And then there’s Paul, murderer of early Christians. God made him the greatest missionary and theologian of the early church—and the author of 13 books of the Bible.
But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions--it is by grace you have been saved. (Ephesians 2:4-5)
Get a grip on reality.
Don’t feel singled out or shocked when your efforts fail. By His grace, God restrains evil but does not prevent its influence in our fallen world. For us to expect Him to shelter us from every storm would be to expect more than Jesus experienced.
No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it. (1 Corinthians 10:13)
Deal with the sin.
If even a portion of your loss is due to your own moral failure, face it and confess it before God. Accept His forgiveness and forgive yourself.
“He who conceals his sins does not prosper; but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy.” (Proverbs 28:13)
Celebrate God’s goodness.
When things go wrong, it’s easy to focus on our loss. But God tells us to be thankful. Even when we don’t feel thankful, we can do so out of obedience. We can thank Him for things we take advantage of every day--our health, our family, our home. If we lose these, we can thank Him for air to breath and the beauty of creation.
Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful. (Colossians 3:15)
Withdrawal is self-destructive. Isolation only reinforces depression. It cuts us off from fresh, healthy perspectives that can help us heal. We need each other not only for support, but for encouragement and creative stimulation as well.
Let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:24-25)
Never give up.
If we do, we’re saying “yes” to Satan. Only one Person can answer our most needling questions and nagging doubts. Don't abandon Him now. He will never abandon you.
God has said, "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you." "Hebrews 13:5)
Reframe the situation.
Call that next failure a glitch or a setback--and call yourself wiser for the experience. Tell yourself the truth--out loud. When failure pounds you, say, “I know I’m not worthless. I am a child of the King of Kings, greatly loved and greatly valued by Him. ‘Here I am, Lord, ready for Your next open door in my life.’”
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39 )
Failure is something none of us can avoid. We can fail forward by seeing it from God's perspective.