God’s Perspective on Failure

I’m afraid of failing.

I imagine most of you can resonate with me to some degree. There are a lot of emotions tied into the experience of failing – embarrassment, shame, disappointment, anger, discouragement, confusion, weariness. It doesn’t sit on my list of “Top 5 Favorite Life Experiences.” When I consider the things God has called me to, both in my personal and my professional life, it’s too easy for me to slip into the mindset of believing that success – and only success – in all these areas is what will bring Him glory.

God in His wisdom allows us to experience a mix of great victories, painful failures, realized dreams, and disappointed hopes. Scripture is full of beautiful examples of God’s glory overcoming the potential or very real failures of His people. He does not fear potential or real failure in our lives, because He knows He is and always will be sufficient.

He is not a God who shies away from challenging us to do things that have tremendous potential to set us up for failure. In Matthew 14, we read about the beheading of John the Baptist and the grim, painful job the disciples have of retrieving and burying the body, and then breaking the sad news to Jesus. After this emotionally exhausting experience, Jesus and His disciples are met with a crowd at least 5,000 people strong, and are presented with all sorts of needs. And as we know from this famous story, Jesus tells His disciples to feed the crowd with their five loaves and two fish. Now if that doesn’t feel like a setup for failure, I’m not sure what does. But Jesus remains unwavering and unapologetic as He nudges the disciples forward to do what He has asked. We don’t get enough detail from the passage to know exactly how the abundance of bread began to appear, but we do know that God challenged the disciples to step into the impossible – into seemingly certain failure – in faith, and He glorified Himself by providing all they needed to succeed. There was no uncertainty that God was the One who multiplied their food and brought about the successful provision for the crowd.

There are times in our lives when we sense God challenging us to step into something that feels not only daunting, but outright impossible given the resources we see in front of us. Within all human reasoning, we should fail, and yet He nudges us on nonetheless so that He can receive great glory in subsequent successes. We are humbled and our faith is strengthened.

In other cases in Scripture, however, we also see that God is not necessarily a God who always rescues us from every single experience of failure. We see this very clearly in the life of Peter, who receives this incredible call from Jesus to be a key figure in building the kingdom of God (Matthew 16:18-19). Peter doesn’t seem to wrestle with much fear of failure (Luke 22:33) and in response to his confidence, Jesus actually has to basically argue with him, “Look, there’s coming a point in your life when you’re going to fail me” (loose paraphrase mine). It is a fascinating exchange.

“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” Peter said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death.” Jesus said, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day, until you deny three times that you know me.” (Luke 22:31-34)

Jesus certainly seems sober, but He is not afraid as He foretells Peter’s failures. Because before He tells of Peter’s failures, He tells of His own intercession for Peter and plans for his restoration (v. 32). The Lord is perfectly confident that the building of His kingdom will happen not because of Peter’s seemingly unshakable bravado but because of His sufficiency.

God doesn’t fear our potential failures, because He loves to build our faith when He provides the miraculous means to succeed. God also doesn’t fear our real failures because, once again, He loves to humble us and then build our faith – not in ourselves, but in Him - when He provides the restoration and redemption. While Scripture clearly does not condone embracing the grace of God as an excuse to sin (Romans 6), the story of Peter tells me He is not afraid even of our profound capacity to dishonor Him. He remains beautiful, secure, faithful and victorious, which means at the end of all of our stories, all that will really ultimately remain is Him and His all-sufficient glory.