Everyone has painful memories of ill thought plans, misguided ventures, and heartbreaking disappointments. Failure is very difficult to overcome. At the very least, it produces a twinge of regret in our hearts when we think about how things did not turn out the way we had hoped. Worse, sometimes we allow failure to make us afraid to ever try anything else in the future.
What if we looked at failure in a different way? Everybody makes mistakes. Failure is a part of life. There is not a person in this world who is so successful that he has never experienced disappointment or found that he had chosen a wrong path. In fact, if you look back over the last year and do not see any mistakes at all, it is probably because you haven’t been trying to do anything. Those who push forward and make progress are going to slip every once in a while. Success does not come in the absence of failure, rather it rises up when people who fail learn from the experience and move forward.
We could even go so far as to say that without failure, it is impossible to succeed at anything. Failure cultivates humility, and pride is very destructive (Proverbs 16:18). Peter says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (1 Peter 5:5).
Not only does failure help us develop humility, but it is also a learning experience. Some people allow failure to produce disappointment, regret, and sorrow in their hearts; some people allow it to produce lessons. Maybe this is why God wants experienced Christians leading his churches. The term “elder” suggests a man of experience, and one of the qualifications for an elder is that he should not be a “recent convert” (1 Timothy 3:6). Before a man can rise to the office of a shepherd of the Lord’s church, God wants him to have failed a few times. Through the mistakes of the past, he has developed wisdom that can be used to lead God’s people.
Luke tells the story of John Mark in the book of Acts. Mark was evidently a very talented young man, for he was handpicked by Paul and Barnabas to accompany them on their first missionary journey. But Mark deserted them in Pamphylia and returned to Jerusalem (Acts 13:13). When the time came for Paul and Barnabas to make another journey, Barnabas wanted to give Mark a second chance. Paul disagreed. He did not think this young man was ready, and the two argued to the point that they decided to separate from each other, Barnabas and Mark going away to Cyprus, and Paul taking Silas to going to new territories. But that is not the end of the story. Years later, when Paul was in prison awaiting a death sentence, he wrote to Timothy saying, “Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry” (2 Timothy 4:11).
John Maxwell has written a book entitled Failing Forward. That is a great strategy for us to follow. Like John Mark, we should not allow a mistake to haunt us the rest of our lives. Mistakes are opportunities to learn. And the lessons we learn from failure can prove to be invaluable.