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What should we do when we fail?

I have certainly failed many times in my life. I have said hurtful things to friends that I regret. I wish I could take my words back, but my apology does not erase the past. As a thirty-two year old single man who has never married, I’ve failed in some of my dating relationships. Earlier in my career, I made some poor financial decisions. Even this evening, I let my volleyball team down. My teammates were counting on six feet seven inch tall “Big Dave” to bring home the victory. All I brought home was lots of sand.

Have you ever felt like a failure? Maybe you’ve had an unsuccessful career, a botched marriage, or made a stupid mistake that ruined a friendship. Feeling like a complete failure can be a lonely, depressing experience. One mother expressed her feelings of failure to her pastors in this way:

I’m the world’s number-one failure. My marriage is failing. I seem to do everything wrong in raising my children. I’m not very good at anything. I’m not even able to understand the Bible very well. Most of it is over my head. I feel as though I’m not worth anything to anyone. I’ve not been a very good wife, mother, or Christian. I have to be the world’s greatest failure.

As a Christian, one reason I believe in the Bible is that it does not hide the deficiencies of its heroes. In the Bible we see that:

  • Abraham, the “friend of God,” lied to save his life.
  • King David, the “man after God’s heart,” committed adultery with a good man’s wife and then murdered him to cover the evidence.
  • Simon Peter, one of Jesus’ three closest disciples, openly denied his Master three times, swearing that he “never knew the man.”

Thankfully human failure is not the end of the story. In each of these cases, God showed His amazing grace, and these flawed human beings continued on to live productive lives of service to the Lord. In my own life, God has continued to bring success and favor despite my failures. The Lord has provided an abundance of ministry opportunities, despite my shortcomings. My finances are coming back into order, I have paid off all my debts, and now am saving money. Even though some past dating relationships did not work out, I’ve grown as a godly man who hopefully will be ready to lead more wisely in my next relationship. Most importantly, I believe God has used all my shortcomings and even outright failures over the years to draw me closer to him. And, if God can change me, there’s hope for you!

If we submit ourselves to God with sincere humility, God will redeem our failures so that we can be better prepared for the Lord’s service.

John Newton was remembered as a “foul-mouthed sailor whose wild behavior even shocked his less-than-perfect ship-mates. He was a slave trader who had no conscience about buying and selling people for profit.” As Newton was sailing back to England from Africa in 1748, the slave ship Greyhound encountered a severe storm on the Atlantic triangle trade route and almost sank. As the ship filled with water in the middle of the night, Newton awoke and prayed to God to save his life. This terrifying experience was a real wake-up call for him. Newton eventually rejected the slave trade, became a minister, and later became instrumental in the abolition of slavery. Even though Newton had lived a life of many sins, he understood the grace of God.

After reflecting on his wretchedness, Newton penned the words to a famous hymn:

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.I once was lost, but now am found, was blind but now I see.

Newton befriended and mentored the young politician William Wilberforce, who, after many years of persistence, helped to abolish slavery in the British Empire. Newton’s final words are inspiring: “My memory is nearly gone; but I remember two things: that I am a great sinner, and that Christ is a great Savior.”

You cannot do anything to make God love you less. Jesus’s grace and love is for people who have made lots of mistakes. Even when you fail in your spiritual life or in any other aspect of life, God wants to forgive you and extend His infinite spiritual riches to you again.

This piece is adapted from Dave Sterrett  Why Trust Jesus?: An Honest Look at Doubts, Plans, Hurts, Desires, Fears, Questions, and Pleasures (Moody Publishers).


Life has it's ups and downs. This is a reality that we cannot deny. However, it also teaches us a lesson that when we fail, we should do whatever it takes to stand up, and by that, we arise into a new individual, stronger than before. - Carmack Moving and Storage

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Dave Sterrett is the author or co-author of six books, including the Christian best-seller, “I Am Second” and “Why Trust Jesus?” He teaches philosophy and theology at Rivendell Sanctuary in Minnesota.