How To Fail Forward

For years I’ve pondered an interesting question. If I wrote a book called How to Fail, and it became a best-seller, would that be a good thing?

In today’s world, there seems to be a subconscious, relentless drive toward being successful. There are countless conferences, books and podcasts on the topic of attaining success in our work, family and social life. But there aren’t a lot of resources on failure. Who wants to be a failure, right?

No one wants to be a failure. But failure is a reality that most people will face at one point in their lives. The truth is, even though I strive for success in all I do, I’ve met just as much failure, if not more. I’ve struggled with the “f” word (failure) in my work, ministry, and relationships. And since labeling oneself a failure can have damaging emotional effects, I want to give some hope and shed some light on the topic. Below are three thoughts to keep in mind about failure.

Failure is an event, not a person

When failure happens, it’s easy to take the blame. I was raised to own up to my responsibilities and take ownership regardless of the results. But when we do that, we can often label ourselves as a failure. We need to remember that failure is an event, not a person.

Being firmly rooted in your identity in Christ is crucial as you work through failure. Your mind can easily tell you, “You’re a loser. You don’t deserve to succeed. You’re a failure.” But contrast those thoughts with the truth of scripture that says you are chosen by God. You are dearly loved. You’re a redeemed child of God (1 Peter 2:9, Colossians 3:12, Ephesians 2:1-5).

Failure is in the eye of the beholder

What you call failure might be considered success to someone else. And vice versa. I was a diver in High School. If I scored an 8 (out of 10) on a dive, I’d be very happy. But a state champion diver who’s used to scoring 9’s or 9.5’s would be disappointed with an 8. A state champion and I could perform the very same dive with the same level of execution, and receive the exact same score. Yet our responses would be completely different. It’s simply a matter of one’s perspective.

Some of my failures have actually started out as success. But they didn’t last. So it might be better to label these experiences as “success for a time.” God often uses what seems like failure for His purpose (see Genesis 50:20).

While painful, failure can teach us unique and valuable lessons that success cannot. Failure stretches us and causes us to lean into God like nothing else. And failure often leads to new experiences. Which leads us to the last point.

God is not finished

The Apostle Paul tells us God is not finished with us yet, regardless of our current circumstances (Philippians 1:6). Many leaders in the Bible failed, yet they didn’t quit. After the children of Israel were defeated at Ai, God told Joshua to, Get up. Deal with Israel’s sin and keep going (Joshua 7:10-15). When all of Israel suffered under the oppression of the Midianites, the angel of the Lord told Gideon, Go, in the strength you have…I will be with you (Judges 6:14-16). After Peter denied knowing Jesus, Jesus commissioned him and said, Feed my sheep. Take care of my flock (John 21:15-17).

With each of these failures came a great lesson. In the same way, God is more concerned with your growth than your success. Yes, He certainly wants you to be fruitful, but fruitfulness ultimately comes through obedience to Him, not striving for success.

NFL Hall-of-Fame Running Back Emmitt Smith was tackled 6,075 times during his college and pro career. But the truly amazing thing is he got up after each of those tackles.

In life, you will get knocked down. The important thing is to get back up. You will experience setbacks and failures. The essential thing is to discern what God is doing through the process. Failing forward allows God to continue to use you for His purposes.

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