Understanding Failure 

Falling, stumbling, failing is something we all experience at various stages in our lives. In fact its part of the human experience to stumble, to fail whenever we take risks, do new things, take a new job, start a new business. All of these imply that at some stage or other in our life’s journey, we will encounter failure. ( Prov 24:16, Jas3:2 )

Some failures are easy to shake off like ‘water off a duck’s back’. You get up and try again. For instance, failing your driving test, failing to pass an exam, a young child learning to walk. Then there are people who have a noble dream and failed numerous times before they cut it or make it happen. Then there are inventions in the world that didn’t come about without a considerable number of attempts.

Failure that is not that easy to ‘shake off‘ 

There are expressions of failure that are not that easy to shake off. They leave a negative residue that keeps us in bondage and captivity unless we consciously seek to invite God’s power to work in us. Too many people end up sitting on the sidelines of life feeling washed out, having experienced this aspect of failure.

Definition of failure: (a) To fall short or be wanting (b) To prove deficient under trial or pressure (c) To miss achievement (d ) To disappoint or desert.

The Bible gives us some examples of people who experienced these in their lives:

  • Adam - Fell short by failing to manage what’s entrusted to him. Feelings of shame caused him to hide from God. 
  • Moses - In his zeal killed an Egyptian and ran away, thinking he had messed up. He deserted. 
  • Elijah - When threatened by Jezebel he ran away, asking God to take his life. He thought he fell short and was wanting ("I am no better than my fathers") - Discouragement and loss of courage. 
  • Peter - Who vehemently denied Jesus and went away in bitter regret that he had proved deficient under trial. 

These people grappled with accompanying negative emotions of shame, loss of confidence, guilt, discouragement, regret. Failure was real and it hurt!

Sense of failure brings with it a myriad of negative emotions in our own lives and we can become imprisoned by these. Some expressions of failure that can hurt and hold us captive: (a) Failing to making wise decisions at the right time and struggling with the consequences, (b) marriage situation, (c) as a parent, (d) Not making good of investments or opportunities that came, (e) questionable lifestyle or other life issues e.g. an abortion, (f) not handling crisis well.

The negative residue of failure if not dealt with becomes a toxin in one’s life. It can poison’s ones outlook to life, bringing about a spiritual death. A person can lose their sense of self-worth, blame God, and take on a passive disposition – just existing but not living. Can cause one to become cynical about other people’s successes.

These only serve to put a lid over our own lives, cause us to lock down on life, never make good of future opportunities and impede ones’ own spiritual progress.

(Lk 9:56). Jesus did not come to destroy (to leave us in destitution) lives but to save (to heal, cure, preserve, rescue from danger or destruction). Jesus has come to reach down, forgive us, give us a new life and shift us to a ground of transformation and massage us back into fit shape!

Paradox of life is there is no such thing as playing it safe. Moving forward, growing in life requires change, requires us to take risks, requires us to step out of the comfort zone. The key is turning our lives over to God who cares and partnering with the Holy Spirit to see that failure does not leave damaging effects upon our lives.

Securing freedom from failure involves a few things 

  1. Release it to God. 
    Release that setback, negative experience to God. No point in living in the land of regrets or keeping it hidden and letting it fester like a toxin. If failure was a result of acting out of selfish ambition, stubbornness, rebellion or wrong motives, then confess it to God and receive mercy and draw on His grace. (Prov 28:13, Heb 4:15, 16). Don’t make excuses. Don’t camp around that failure and condemnation.

    At times failure is not related to disobedience, it could be just circumstantial. ( Rom 8:28). Don’t fret, release it and trust God to bring the best out of that experience. Set your heart to please Him.

  2. Rebuild and restore your soul.
    A sense of failure can have a damaging effect upon our soul, which is our mind and emotions. We can withdraw in shame, discouragement, and fear of failing or trying anything ever again. Our soul plays a vital role in helping us move forward spiritually. Our mind and emotions are vehicles through which we express our love and service to God and others. If our soul is unhealthy and we are held captive by negative emotions and mindsets it will impede our progress. The residue of that experience continues to hold that person down.

    (Ps 23: 2). We need to consciously bring our soul under the influence and healing power of the Holy Spirit. Holy Spirit, renew my mind, set me free from these debilitating negative emotions and strengthen my soul. Only the Holy Spirit can remove the splinters that still cause that hurt. Jesus said a bruised reed he will not break a smouldering wick he will not quench, he will not put it out. Jesus by His Spirit wants to heal, set us free from the effects of that failure.

  3. Reset your life .
    Change your thinking pattern. ( Rom 12:1, 2). Break free from negative thinking pattern for your life. Change your vocabulary Chart a new course. Sing a song of victory (Deut 32:3-4). Construct a pathway forward. Example GPS – Navigation system in the car. The Holy Spirit is the GPS for our lives!

    Repetitious failure. If you keep stumbling in the same area, check to see if your foundations are flawed. Don’t keep doing the same mistake over and over again. Learn from it. (Jn 4)
    Redefine failure. Comparing yourself with others, trying to fulfil unrealistic expectations and then seeing yourself as a failure is like to trying to reach this imaginary line or height or place that doesn’t exist. Redefine failure.

  4. Reach out to free others
    (Lk 22:21-38) ...And when you have turned back, strengthen (others) . 
    The devil will seek to take advantage of some of these failures in our lives to keep us discouraged, down. He wants to bind us with feelings of condemnation and guilt and keep us ineffective. But Jesus works in a totally opposite spirit. Jesus reached down to the hilt of Peter’s failure and drew him back on his feet, breathed afresh upon his life and strengthened him. I believe Jesus is saying to many who are grappling with failure “I have prayed for you, I have given my life for you, now its time strengthen yourself, so that you can strengthen others. Receive restoration.

    There are people around us who are down, feeling washed out as failures and we need to reach out and help them back to their feet. Pass on the good news that God forgives, heals and sets captives free! ( Js 5:19,20) 

Concluding Response 

Freedom from damaging effects of failure can only occur as we partner with God.

  • If you have wandered away from God because you are trying to work at that failure in your own strength, you will be wasting your time. Take that step towards God today. Receive mercy. Draw on His grace. 
  • There may be others who are bound by negative emotions of shame, discouragement, loss of confidence and these are like splinters in your soul. Your mind is given to negative thoughts that continually wear you down and keep you despondent. The power of God is present to dismantle these strongholds in your mind and to restore your soul. 
  • There may be others - just because you failed and stumbled in the past, you have fear of venturing out again, you have desires and dreams within but you live an unexciting and passive life because you are afraid of failing tomorrow. You play it safe, don’t invest, and don’t try new things. God wants to put courage and boldness within your heart once again. Stir up your spirit. 

Sample Discussion Questions 

  1. Identify a time in your life where you experienced a setback or failure 
  2. What damage did that failure have on your life or on those around you? 
  3. What appropriate steps can one take to deal with this? 
  4. Can you think of someone whom you can help strengthen through your own experience?
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