Having Faith in the Midst of Failure

Failure is unavoidable, but how we respond to failure will determine our ultimate success.

by Sabra Engelbrecht
If you’re frustrated by a recent failure, you are in good company. Scripture is full of epic failures. One of my favorite such stories is from the Old Testament, with Moses as the lead character. Having received a call from God, Moses bravely seeks an audience with Pharoah and demands the release of the Israelite slaves (Exodus 5:1-3).

Instead of letting the Israelites go, Pharoah doubles down, instructing the slave drivers to make the work harder for the slaves by requiring them to gather their own materials while producing the same daily quota of bricks. I can just imagine the sick feeling in the pit of his stomach as Moses stands there witnessing the slaves’ abuse. He must have felt like a colossal failure.

Adapt, Persist, Repeat

We’ve all been there. The moment you realize things are going to get worse before they get better. Like Moses, you’re trying to follow God’s call and yet somehow you feel like you’ve made matters worse. Whether it’s tackling our fears, facing a significant change in our lives, or recovering from failure, we may have to endure a period of worsening circumstances. It is tempting, like Moses, to become angry, blame God, and concede defeat. We might let our circumstances inform who God is instead of letting God inform how we should respond to our circumstances. 

God, in infinite patience, reminds an angry Moses of two things: “I am the LORD,” and “I made a promise to my people.” From that point forward, Moses dug in. It took him multiple (10 to be exact!) audiences with Pharaoh to free his people, followed by 40 years of wandering in the wilderness before he delivered them to the Promised Land. Along the way Moses experienced both successes and failures, but he learned to adapt to changing circumstances. Despite physical threats, intolerable people, and massive leadership challenges, Moses persisted and remained faithful, trusting in God’s promise.

Moses’ first failed audience with Pharaoh was not the end of the story but instead marked the beginning of his fulfillment of God’s purpose for his life. When we remain focused on God’s promises and purposes we, too, will find the strength and courage to stay the course.

Reframe how you see yourself

Remember, just because something doesn’t go as planned, just because you have failed, doesn’t mean you are a failure. Instead, failure presents an opportunity to reflect on what actually happened. Sure, we should reflect on what went wrong, but we should also recognize what went right. We can see a dramatic example of a pretty incredible failure in Matthew 14. There, we find the disciples stuck in the middle of a lake during a nasty storm. Out of nowhere Jesus appears, walking on the surface of the lake toward the boat. Caught up in the excitement, Peter says to Jesus, “tell me to come to you on the water.” Like it’s no big deal, Jesus responds, “Come.” In a moment of brazen confidence, Peter steps out of the boat and walks on the water toward Jesus!

You probably know how the story ends. The storm kicks up and Peter begins to sink. Jesus reaches out to catch him and asks, “why did you doubt?” In other words, why did you lose confidence in yourself, Peter? Peter might have felt like he failed, but you know what? HE WALKED ON WATER! I have to believe that after his initial feeling of failure, Peter forever remembered those incredible minutes when he was doing the impossible. He could rest in the knowledge that he was capable of so much more than he ever thought possible. And this confidence would prepare him to be the “rock” upon which Jesus chose to build his Church.

Failing at something doesn’t define who you are. Instead, by celebrating your wins and learning from your mistakes, your failures can lead to greater resiliency, endless creativity, and a clarified purpose. It is through our failures that God shapes us into the person we were created to be. In the words of Winston Churchill, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”
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