-Learning From Failure

The sinking of the Titanic (1912), the meltdown of the Chernobyl nuclear reactor (1986), the collapse of the World Trade Center (2001) and the earthquake/tsunami destruction to a Japanese nuclear reactor (2011) all forced engineers, architects and scientists around the world to address what became known as deadly failures. Each time, governments asked them to redesign structures that will not fail.As we look at our lives, we see failures that have caused pain, suffering and loss. But we also need to see how to correct these failures for future blessing. We know we have to change, but how do we overcome the sinful habits that go against biblical standards? This question has worried believers through the ages. As we read the Word we learn how to avoid those failures that have hindered others. Paul wrote this about the failures of the Israelites in the wilderness: “These things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did” (1 Cor. 10:6 niv).

The apostle John pointed out the basic character flaws that cause failure when he wrote this: “Everything in the world – the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does – comes not from the Father but from the world” (1 Jn. 2:16). We know that all these sinful practices infringe on the Father’s holiness. In the same section of his epistle John also stated: “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” A major part of the problem is relational. Do we really love the Father? John goes on to make another comparison: “The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever” (1 Jn. 2:15,17).

Each of us needs to ask these questions: Is God’s will a priority in my life? Am I only thinking of the here and now, and just trying to satisfy my own desires? Or am I thinking of my progress toward becoming more like Christ, of “being transformed into His likeness with ever-increasing glory” (2 Cor. 3:18)? Does this seem to be beyond our reach? Paul felt the same way about this spiritual challenge when he asked, “Who is equal to such a task?” (2 Cor. 2:16).

Recent Failures
Recent failures of well-known preachers like Jimmy Swaggart, Jim Baker, and Ted Haggard have brought dishonor to the Lord, to themselves and to believers everywhere. These men were corrupted precisely in the areas described in 1 John 2:15-17. Their lust for position, power and riches resulted in moral failures that saddened all believers. They may have learned from their failure, but at what cost?

In the Bible, God’s wisdom is seen in how He worked with His servants through the ages. He not only detailed their victories but He also included their failures. He allows us to look back and see how and why they failed – and then recovered. As we look at some examples we can readily see that the nature of man hasn’t changed even though times have changed dramatically. Their stories help us learn from their mistakes and develop a closer walk with the Lord. Let’s look at some of them.

Abraham’s Failure
Abraham demonstrated exceptional faith in God: “By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going” (Heb. 11:8). But when there was a famine, he took matters into his own hands and sought refuge in Egypt. Instead of standing up for his wife, he gave in to his fears and told Pharaoh’s men that she was his sister. Had it not been for God’s intervention he would have lost his wife (Gen. 12:10-20).

God promised Abraham and Sarah that they would raise up a nation. But instead of patiently waiting for the birth of the son God had promised, Abraham gave in to Sarah’s suggestion that he take her maid to produce the promised son. The birth of Ishmael to Hagar caused great sorrow for Sarah and has been a thorn in Israel’s flesh ever since (Gen. 16).

Eventually God confirmed His promise to Abraham and at a very old age Isaac was born to Sarah. Again Abraham’s faith in God was seen: “Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead … and that Sarah’s womb was also dead. Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what He had promised. This is why ‘it was credited to him as righteousness’” (Rom. 4:19-22; Gen. 15:6).

James 1:3-4 says, “You know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete.” We often fail in our Christian walk because we impatiently take matters into our own hands. This is an area where I often fail. Being impulsive and wanting to get things done now has been the cause of my making mistakes and hurting others. God’s timing is best, and there will be times when we need to “be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord” (Ps. 27:14). Our impatience often contributes to our failure; but failure should bring us to our knees in repentance, in submission to the Lord and with a deeper insight into God’s great love, grace and care.

Elijah’s Failure
Elijah the prophet spoke forcefully to king Ahab and challenged 450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of Asherah to a duel by fire (1 Ki. 18:19). Elijah had prayed for a drought (which lasted three and a half years) and after the false prophets failed miserably to call down fire on the sacrifice, Elijah prayed and fire from heaven consumed the sacrifice and the stone altar on which it was laid. After the false prophets were slain he prayed for rain, and within a short time a cloud appeared and there was a downpour. What spiritual victories for Elijah and Israel!

One would think that after all these victories Elijah would fear nothing. But when Jezebel threatened to kill him he became afraid, fled the city and prayed that he might die (1 Ki. 19:1-9). God sent an angel who encouraged him and gave him food and rest before sending him on a journey to Mount Horeb. There the Lord asked him, “What are you doing here?” Elijah, still feeling sorry for himself, told God that he thought he was the only prophet left and now others were trying to kill him. In the quietness of that place, Elijah had a fresh encounter with God, who not only spoke to him but commissioned him for future service.

Sometimes when we are serving the Lord things don’t go the way we think they should and we get discouraged and want to quit. Discouragement is one of Satan’s chief tools for hindering God’s work. When it overtakes us we blame God for not doing things our way, and we blame His people for their lack of support for our projects. But instead of giving up, we need to find that “mountain of God” where we can be quiet, read the Word and pray. There we’ll hear God’s “gentle whisper” to help us refocus on His plans and continue with renewed strength (1 Ki. 19:8-12).

David’s Failure
David was a strong leader who God called “a man after His own heart” (1 Sam. 13:14). He feared God, obeyed Him and was made King of Israel with great power and personal glory. However, he was also a man just like us. At a time when he should have been leading in battle, David was at home on his balcony watching a beautiful woman bathe (2 Sam. 11). Instead of turning away he had a servant bring her to him and committed adultery. His pride, boredom and bad judgment led to sin. When Bathsheba told David she was pregnant he tried to get her husband Uriah to come home from battle in an effort to cover his sin. But when that scheme failed he arranged to have him murdered. One thing led to another and David soon found himself out of fellowship with God and totally miserable (Ps. 32:3-6).

It wasn’t until he repented that the process of restoration began. We see the steps to David’s repentance and restoration in Psalm 51: he confessed his sin (1-4); he asked for cleansing (7-9); he asked God to create in him a new heart (10); he begged God to restore the joy of his salvation (12). With a broken heart and a contrite spirit he was restored and able to again offer sacrifices and burnt offerings (17-19). We can follow these same steps as we repent and seek renewed fellowship with God: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn. 1:9).

Peter’s Failure
The apostle Peter was a man who loved God and followed Jesus throughout His earthly ministry. He often spoke his mind with an exuberance that characterized him. But he too was human. While the Lord was preparing His disciples for His coming death, Peter said that he would follow Him even to death if necessary. The Lord gently corrected Peter and warned that he would actually deny Him three times before the cock crowed at dawn. Peter rejected that idea as did the other disciples (Mt. 26:33-35). Peter did follow the Lord at a distance to the high priest’s palace and was soon challenged three times about his relationship with Him. As the Lord predicted, he denied Him three times. When the cock crowed and Jesus looked at Peter, he “wept bitterly” (Mt. 26:75; Lk. 22:61-62).

Peter felt terrible shame for having failed so miserably, especially after he said so forcefully that he would never deny his Lord. It wasn’t until he had time alone with the Lord after the Resurrection and at a seashore encounter (Jn. 20:19-23; 21:15-19) that Peter was restored and received the Lord’s forgiveness. Peter went on to become a leader in the Church at its inception and to preach messages that would lead to the salvation of thousands (Acts 2:41). When there is repentance and confession, God restores us and uses our failures for His glory and our instruction.

John Mark’s Failure
John Mark was a disciple who had his failures, just as we do. While we do not know the reasons why he decided to leave Paul and Barnabas during their first missionary journey, he did quit; and Paul did not want to take him on their second journey. This caused a rift between the two leaders; Barnabas took John Mark with him while Paul chose Silas to accompany him (Acts 15:36-40). Despite this failure, John Mark later became a helper to the apostle Peter and was also chosen by God to write the gospel which carries his name. Whatever his earlier failures were, years later when Paul was in prison he actually gave Timothy these instructions: “Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry” (2 Tim. 4:11).

What We Can Learn
These few biblical examples should encourage us as we seek to walk in a way that pleases the Lord. We will continue to fail in one way or another, but we should learn from our failures as did that “great cloud of witnesses” (Heb. 12:1-2) who went before us. We will come to understand that there is a spiritual battle going on and our only recourse is the power of the Holy Spirit who indwells us.

If you are hurting from failure just now, don’t give up. Realize that there are steps you can take to “live a life worthy of the Lord and … please Him in every way” (Col. 1:10). Make sure to take time each day to read God’s Word, listen to His voice and talk with Him in prayer. Eventually you will be able to apply these words of John to your life: “I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the Word of God lives in you, and you have overcome the evil one” (1 Jn. 2:14). And you will be able to say with Paul, “I can do everything through Him who gives me strength” (Phil. 4:13).

By Ian Taylor

The greatest hindrance to success is the fear of failure!

With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA. Website:


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