Failure: the Path to Glory - part 2
Our Response to Failure
You fail. There’s a spiritual battle raging here. Are you aware of it? How will you respond?
Option #1: Denial
You are discouraged or frustrated or both. You deny that you failed because the frustration is too uncomfortable to live with. You spin it in your mind as something else. Or you convince yourself that it really doesn’t matter. You make light of it or become cynical. The result? You lose touch with reality and abdicate the power and motivation failure supplies to gain skill and grow.
Option #2: Outward
You are discouraged or frustrated or both. You lash out in anger or keep it hidden, but simmering. You blame others. You blame God. It cannot be your fault. You fracture relationships by your behavior, words and attitude. The result? You are unable to love God or people.
Option #3: Inward
You allow discouragement/frustration to flood your thinking about yourself. You blame myself. You turn inward focusing on yourself. You allow your failure in a specific instance to expand to your entire being. Your core identity is threatened and you begin to think of yourself as a failure. This leads to self-pity and you are unable to hear what God says about your true identity in Him. The result? You are effectively side-lined from spiritual fruitfulness.
Option #4: Resignation
You have been discouraged and frustrated by ongoing failure but have decided that this situation will never change. You are done with it. So you will stop caring about it and stop trying to change and grow. The result? If it is an optional skill failure, maybe it is time to make a change. If it is any other kind, this attitude is deadly: you are refusing to trust God to help you and depending only on yourself.
Option #5: Reasonable
You are discouraged or frustrated or both. Although it may take some time, you will hear God’s offer of mercy and His gentle assessment of you as His beloved son/daughter.
He reminds you that your core identity is in His Son Jesus and nothing can disrupt that reality. He has made you totally acceptable to Him and He is overflowing with affection for you. He reminds you of the very good purposes He is fulfilling in your life to make you perfect like Himself. He reminds you that failure is an integral part of that refining process.
So you consider what response to this particular failure would please your loving Father and expose His beautiful glory. Here are some options:
- If it is skill failure, you learn what you can from it and allow it to motivate you to learn, practice or refocus your goals. You can also acknowledge what went well and give thanks to God.
- If it is moral failure, you acknowledge your wrong doing, confess it to God and a person (if necessary) and God forgives you and makes you clean.
- If it is relationship failure, you pursue peacemaking and reconciliation as much as it is up to you.
- If it is a life failure, you honor God by turning to Him and casting all your anxieties on Him, because He cares for you.
How God views Failure
Failure happens to all of us. The key is the way we think about it. Failure can be a trusted friend or it can destroy us - it all depends on how we think about and respond to it.
Consider Jesus’ story of the two praying men in Luke 18:10-14:
Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.”
But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift us his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!”
I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself, will be exalted.
How does Man #1 assess himself? He considers himself a spiritual success and openly points out each glorious detail to God. He compares himself very favorably with other sinful men.
How does Man #2 self-assess? He is so profoundly aware of his spiritual failure that he will not approach or look up toward God. He acknowledges his sinful failure and cries out to God for His mercy.
How does Jesus interpret these assessments for us? Spiritual failure is common to all men. The second man sees it clearly in himself, knows he cannot fix it but appeals to God’s merciful character to make it right. In that very moment, God declares him not-guilty: no longer a failure. Yet the man who thought he was a spiritual success was actually a failure. He was spiritually blind. Where did he go wrong? Instead of accepting God’s moral standard, he set his own. Then felt proud/exalted because he could meet it.
Surprisingly, acknowledging our spiritual failure is the key to everything we ultimately want in life: meaning, purpose, happiness, peace with God, peace with man, riches, understanding, wisdom, honor and glory. It is the path to everything that our perceived “success” in our earthly life might ultimately provide. Our failure is part of God’s mercy that motivates us to seek Him for help.
Jesus reveals a profound secret here concerning failure. Whoever humbles himself before God (admitting failure and seeking God’s help) will not only be forgiven his wrongdoing and declared clean and free of guilt, but actually be exalted by God! How can this be? In our world, the one who fails never steps up on the medal podium, nor receives the applause of adoring fans, nor is given a pay raise or promotion. But God’s economy is unlike any other because of Jesus and what He has done for us on the cross.
What if you’re in a successful time of life? Failure is subdued and feels far away. Beware! We tend to boast in ourselves apart from God. God tells us not to glory (boast) in our life situation (successes), but that we know and understand God’s character which is everlasting and of greatest value.
“Let not the wise man boast (glory) in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts (glories), boast (glory) in this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight. . .” Jeremiah 9:23-24
The Benefits of Failure
Here are a few:
- You gain vision toward your recurring pride and self-righteousness. If you confess it, then Jesus promises to forgive, cleanse and reconcile you to Him bringing peace with Him and within your heart.
"If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." 1 John 1:9
- You gain wisdom and humility: you don’t know everything.
“Listen to advice and accept instruction so you gain wisdom.” Proverbs 19:20
- You gain new skills. This provides personal satisfaction, develops perseverance and gives you opportunities for ministry to others.
“Do you see a man skillful in his work? He will stand before kings - not obscure men.” Proverbs 22:29
- You gain compassion for others. Failures often include suffering. God has promised to be with you in suffering and provide comfort that you can share with fellow sufferers.
"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God." 2 Corinthians 1:3-4
How to Grow in Dealing with Failure
Specific kinds of failures require distinct but overlapping strategies to confront them effectively. With God’s help, you can leverage failure to benefit you, others and God’s kingdom.
For all types of failure:
- Ask God to help you seek His help when you experience failure. Psalm 107 covers diverse failures and how to respond to them.
- Remember Truth about God and about you. If you are a believer in Jesus, your identity is “in Christ” and He is your ultimate glory. He has already welcomed you into His family as His son/daughter and heir and He has given you significant meaning and purpose in this life and eternally. He is available to you 24/7 to hear and to help.
For skill failure:
As every athlete, musician, artist and artisan knows, gaining skills requires learning, focus, practice and practice and more practice. Failure along the way is a necessary and productive part of the growth process. At each step, temptations accompany intermediate steps of failure: fears of judgment, loss of persistence, doubt that practice will produce improvement. Remember, failure is the inability to meet a standard or achieve a goal right now. Notice the progress that you have already made as encouragement to be persistent. Try to avoid comparisons. God doesn’t compare you with others.
- Be a novice at something at each stage of life. Learning new skills requires regular “failure” that promotes humility, perseverance and focused effort. You will fail if your desired goal is currently beyond you. But you can gain increasing freedom from fear as you work at a skill.
- Resist self-pity for God has designed you for His good pleasure and purposes. It will sideline you from spiritual fruitfulness. You are a son or daughter of the King of Kings!
- Process any perceived failure through the key questions previously mentioned:
- Do you have power to influence your situation?
If yes, what can you personally do to improve it? If no, acknowledge this. Relationships fit in this category. Relationships always involve another person’s will. Even if you pursue forgiveness, reconciliation and personal change, the other person may be unwilling to engage with you. You may need to leave it in God’s hands. If you make reconciliation the goal of your life, it has become an idol and replaced God. To think rightly about your particular situation, seek counsel from God’s word and wise people.
- Who sets the standard or the goal: God, you or someone else?
Clarify what is the specific standard or goal.
- Is the standard/goal reasonable for you?
Be open to adjusting your standards. Joy can be found in any skill pursuit if you accept a reasonable goal for yourself. In relationships with God and people, acknowledge that you can’t meet His standard of love. Ask Him for help and He will do it.
- What could help you achieve/reach it?
A combination of dependence on God’s power and personal persistence.
Embrace failure. It illuminates who we are and that we are not God. It reveals what we love most as a mercy of God.
We need not fear it for God uses it for our good. It need not define us for it will pass away.
For those who accept Jesus’ love and mercy to cover and blot out our failures and sins, it is simply a valuable step on the sure pathway to stunning glory with the King of Kings forever!