The original version of this article was written for Through the Roof (www.throughtheroof.org) and is reproduced here by kind permission.
I was talking to a friend recently about the difficulty she has in finding people willing to get involved and take leadership roles in groups and church activities. “People don’t want to do it,” she told me, “because they’re afraid to fail. I wish I could get them to see that it’s better to have a go, even at the risk of failing, because they will grow through the experience and others will step up to help them.”
That started me thinking. Is failure really the worst thing that could happen? Sure, it can be embarrassing and dent one’s pride, but is that such a bad thing? I remember when I started a community service from our church, giving practical and emotional support to families with seriously ill and disabled newborn babies in our local hospital’s Special Care Baby Unit. I woke up in a cold sweat one Sunday morning as the realisation hit me that if I messed up on this it wouldn’t just be personally embarrassing, it would tarnish the church’s reputation in the whole community. Self-doubt crept in: could I really do this? And then I went to church and that morning someone got up to share a quote he had just read: “Attempt something so big that it’s bound to fail unless God intervenes.” It was God’s answer to my self-doubt. I set up the project, and God did intervene. Over the next seventeen years until it closed it became a lifeline to almost 100 families in our community.
When you look at the stories of the great people of God in the Bible, many of them arrived at their greatness via the route of failure. Moses allowed his fear of public speaking to cause him to refuse God’s assignment for his life, to the point where he really tried God’s patience: “Then the Lord became angry with Moses. ‘All right,’ he said. ‘What about your brother, Aaron the Levite? I know he speaks well. And look! He is on his way to meet you now. He will be delighted to see you. Talk to him, and put the words in his mouth. I will be with both of you as you speak, and I will instruct you both in what to do. Aaron will be your spokesman to the people. He will be your mouthpiece, and you will stand in the place of God for him, telling him what to say.’” (Exodus 4. 14-16).
And what about Elijah? Even after his defeat of the prophets of Baal he allowed himself to be overcome by fear and fell into a deep depression (1 Kings 19). When Mordecai asked Esther to plead with the king for her people, she at first refused, fearing that she might be killed. It was only when Mordecai pointed out that unless she persuaded the king to change his mind she would be killed along with all her people anyway, that she submitted to Mordecai’s words and God’s plan for her life (Esther 4. 7-13).
Joseph confidently followed God’s will; once in Egypt, he didn’t put a foot wrong. And yet he had to go through unjust accusations, a long imprisonment and being forgotten by those he had helped until he saw the fulfilment of God’s promises for his life (Genesis 40). Hot-headed David would have wiped out all of Nabal’s family and incurred bloodguilt, if it hadn’t been for the pleading of a wise lady who dared to challenge him and cause him to turn back from the course he had set out on (1 Samuel 25).
Martha misunderstood the heart of following Jesus, and blamed her sister when she should have been following her example. Jesus had to correct her publicly, in front of her sister and the disciples (Luke 10. 38-42). Peter denied Jesus out of fear for his own life, and came to bitterly regret it (Matthew 26. 69 – 75). Paul made a mistake about the character of Mark, assuming that if he had blown it once, he could not be trusted. But Barnabas, whose name means son of encouragement, gently showed him that God had a better way. (Acts 15. 36-39)
Even Jesus had his own experience of failure, both in private and in public. He reached out in love to the rich young ruler, only to see him turn his back and walk away (Mark 10. 17-22). He preached in his home town and far from receiving a standing ovation, the crowd tried to kill him. (Luke 4. 16-30)
So if you have ever thought about starting some venture for God (see here for some suggestions if you’re stuck for ideas), but you’ve stepped back because you’ve thought, “I’m not good enough” or “What if I mess up and look a fool?” I would encourage you to think again. Many of the people we now honour as having served a vital role in God’s purposes arrived there via the route of failure. In some cases, God used them in spite of their failures; in other cases, the journey through failure was an essential part of their spiritual growth and character development.
What if God is challenging you to trust Him in spite of your self-doubt? What if He plans to intervene in your venture so it doesn’t fail? What if failure is one of the ways He intends to grow your character? Would you turn down the chance of being schooled by Him into someone who can make a difference and bring about change in the world? So I would encourage you to think again, dare to step out and see what God will do with you and through you.