Blessed Failure

May 22, 2024 by Colleen C Orchanian

Blessed Failure. Those two words don’t seem to go together. Failure is bad. Blessed is good. Failure means everything went wrong. It was a disaster. A waste of time. A huge embarrassment. Sometimes we want to run away from the situation so we don’t have to face the people who witnessed our great fall. I have rarely felt blessed when I failed.

At the same time, I know that Romans 8:28 says that God uses all things for good for those who love Him. Therefore some good must come out of my failure if I allow God’s grace to work in my life.

Many years ago, I was leading my first training workshop, a three-day class with my boss. She taught the morning and I taught the afternoon. I was terrible on the first day. That’s not just me being overly critical. I was actually awful and I knew it. As we drove back to the hotel that evening, she asked me how I thought it went. I broke down (something very rare for me) and through my sobbing said it was terrible. She tried to comfort me saying it wasn’t that bad, but we both knew it was. That evening I had some time to think about the class and realized what I had done wrong. My focus while teaching was all on me. Did I look okay? Be careful not to trip on the floor. Don’t stumble over your words. Be perfect. All of those thoughts were about me. That’s what was wrong. I needed to focus on the students. Were they understanding what I was teaching? It was obvious what I needed to do the next day: go back and be better. And I remember thinking, You can’t go back and be different tomorrow. They already know how bad you are. You have to be the same. That was a moment of clarity. It was a ridiculous thought. I knew I had failed and I knew what I needed to do. I had no idea about spiritual attacks at the time, but I was definitely under attack, and by God’s grace, recognized the lie and rejected it. I went back the next day and did better, and did even better on the third day. I learned from my failure so I could improve. That was the good that came from the bad.

When we understand why we failed, we can grow from it. It can bear fruit. We can be blessed.

Here are some causes for failure:

Inexperience. That was my case. I did not have any experience as a trainer and needed to develop. You cannot do that without making mistakes. You go in thinking you’ve got this and then – Boom! You fail. It’s humbling. You realize how much you still have to learn. If you take that approach, you can learn from your failures. If you don’t, if you get defensive or quit, you will never grow.

Overconfidence and Ego. This was one reason for Peter’s failure when he told Jesus he would never deny him – and a few hours later he falls. Scripture tells us he wept bitterly. He was devastated at his failure. Sometimes our sin takes us to that place of brokenness. Jesus allows us to go there so we gain self-knowledge and remember our poverty. We can do nothing without him. Every sin is a choice to follow my wants rather than God’s will. Then I feel guilt or shame at my weakness. God uses these failures to keep us from getting puffed up. It’s one thing to be delighted in the gifts God has given us; that is good and right. Sinful pride is when we are overconfident in our abilities and forget that everything is a gift from God. We have to rely on Him more than our own strength. Failure reminds us of that.

Failure is a Temporary State. Sometimes it is part of the process. When Moses went to Pharaoh the first time (and the second through ninth times) he failed. Pharaoh did not let the people go to worship God. When he finally did, they left Egypt and began their journey to the promised land. Moses goes up the mountain and the people build a golden calf. They complain about not having food or water. Maybe Moses felt like a failure. He parts the Red Sea, makes manna come down from heaven, and brings water from the rock. What more did he need to do to get Israel to believe? There were times he wanted to give up. We have to persevere through the failures to reach success.

We are working on the wrong thing. When I’m trying to fix someone, I’m probably working on the wrong thing. King David wanted to save his son Absalom, but that wasn’t going to happen. We all want to save our kids, especially when they are the prodigal child. But that’s beyond our power. So when that doesn’t happen – they aren’t going to church, for example, we feel like a failure, when in fact we can’t control the outcome. We can only control our prayers.

Lack of self-discipline. This can easily lead to failure in a relationship. I get angry and yell. I get hurt or offended and attack. I get insecure and become aggressive. James writes that we must tame the tongue (James 3:7-8) and we have to control our emotions to do that. When we don’t, we will fail in relationships, and we might look like a fool in the process. This kind of failure, brought on by our weaknesses, can still bear fruit. We can learn from it. We can grow from it. We can be blessed by it.

Maybe we didn’t fail, it just looks like it. I have wondered at times whether the work I do matters, whether the podcast or writing or spiritual direction – whatever – is bearing fruit. I haven’t heard any feedback so maybe I have failed. And then someone says something that confirms that I’m on the right track. The doubts and fear of failure are normal. I have to take them to prayer and ask God to show me if I’m doing what He wants and if I’m doing His will.

When we fail, we have choices about how to respond. Usually, my first instinct is to run away and hide. I’m humiliated by my failure. I don’t want to be around the people who witnessed whatever I messed up. That’s a childish response, but very common with adults.

If we want failure to bear blessings, we need a different response than running away to hide, and while we’re dealing with the failure, we are also under attack spiritually. Satan wants to use the failure to disturb our peace and harm our relationships with God and others. He feeds us lies and wants us to carry this wound of failure for a long time. Most of all, he does not want us to experience blessed failure. We have to reject these spiritual attacks and remember God’s words.

Satan is all about condemnation. God encourages. Satan wants us to run away and hide. God teaches us to humble ourselves and ask for forgiveness. Satan tells us to give up, but God calls us to persevere. Satan will always drag us down and God will always lift us up.

How can we cooperate with God’s grace when we fail?

Confirm that you really did fail. Find a wise and honest friend to help you discern. If it was an impossible goal, you were never supposed to be working on that anyway. If it was a temporary failure, was that part of God’s plan, like with Moses?

If it was a true failure, identify the cause. Was it your ego? Did you pursue a path that was contrary to God’s will? Was it inexperience?

Pray about what God wants you to gain from the failure and ask for the strength to do it. Is there some action you need to take to recover or to make amends with others involved? Do you have the humility to take that action?

Blessed failure. It can be a reality. The next time you fail, count it all joy, as we (James 1:2). God wants to use that to teach you something, to draw you closer to Him, to make you holy. That’s why we embrace even our failures. That’s how they become blessed.

Questions for prayer:

When have you experienced a blessed failure? How did God use the failure? How did it bear fruit?

Where are you feeling like a failure today? How can you see the situation in a different light?

What obstacles keep you from experiencing blessed failures? What can you do to overcome those obstacles?