Dan Trathen DMin, PhD Clinical Psychologist & Certified Business & Life Coach

Overcoming Failure

By Daniel W. Trathen, D. Min. Ph. D.

One of the many challenges of life is overcoming failure. Have you ever noticed how many books are written on being successful in comparison to what to do when we experience failure?

One of the central themes of the Bible is overcoming failure. As Christians, we know that without a relationship with Christ, there is no way in which we can overcome our estranged condition and have peace with God. Throughout the Scripture we read that failure is caused by disobedience (Numbers 14: 40-45); sin (Joshua 7: 3-12); lack of prayer (Matt. 9: 24-29: 17;15-20); lack of counting the costs (Luke 14: 28-29) and unbelief (Hebrews 4: 6). Examples of these causes abound in Scripture. A few Old Testament persons who lived lives of failure include, Esau (Gen. 25: 29-34); Eli’s sons (1 Sam. 2: 12-17); King Saul (1 Sam. 16: 1); Absalom (2 Sam. 18: 6-17); Hananiah (Jer. 28: 1-17) and Haman (Esther 7:1-10).

Failure is defined by Webster’s Dictionary in several ways: An omission of occurrence or performance; a failing to perform a duty or expected action; lack of success and falling short. We know that in the eyes of God we are not considered failures. In fact 1 John 1: 9 clearly states, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Our relationship with God allows us to be transformed from failures to successes as long as we admit, confront, and confess to God our disobedience or ways in which we “miss the mark”. If we chose not to follow this principle of overcoming failure, then we play with the worldly rules. C. S. Lewis in Screwtape Letters vividly describes Satan’s strategy. When Christians fail and focus on themselves as failures, they become preoccupied with their failures to the point that they begin or continue to believe that they are failures. This preoccupation reinforces itself and the person continues to feed their self-esteem with negative self-talk and a lack of self-confidence. Preoccupation with the fear of failure can distort our perspective and keep us focusing on the fear versus trying to be over-comers.

Probably one of the most famous accounts of a person overcoming failure happened during the late 19th and early 20th century. In 1879, a child was born to a poor Jewish merchant. In his early life, the boy suffered a haunting sense of inferiority, partly due to the anti-Semitic climate of the day. Shy and introspective, the young boy was so slow in learning that his parents had him examined by specialists to see if he was normal. In 1895, he failed his entrance examinations at the Polytechnicum in Zurich, Switzerland. A year later he tried again and succeeded. Later, he received his doctor’s degree at the University of Zurich. He obtained an obscure job as a patent examiner. Who was this person who overcame failure? The man who formulated the theory of relativity–Albert Einstein. He wouldn’t let early failure defeat him. Individuals who overcome failure decide that they are going to succeed. Conrad Hilton is quoted as saying, “Success seems to be connected with action. Successful people keep moving. They make mistakes, but they never quit.” There are four important “mind-sets” or “keys” to never quitting and overcoming failure.

Overcoming failure is a conscious decision. Those of us who make mistakes and miss the mark, need to seek the Lord’s forgiveness, forgive ourselves, put the mistake in perspective and move on with life rather than feeding it with fear. Each of us comes to our own “Jordan river” experiences sooner or later, and has to, with faith, face the fear of what lies ahead or we too can wander in the wilderness for years. We can choose to brood on our failures or meditate on the hope we have in Christ.

Overcoming failure is a conscious decision to live by new rules. I once heard this definition of crazy, “finding what doesn’t work any more and continuing to do it.” Christians live because God provided a “new way” in Christ. The children of Israel continued to fail when they slipped away from God and “exchanged the creature for the creator.” We are new creatures in Christ and in all ways must put God first (Matt. 6:32-34). With this perspective we realize that failures can be aspects of success. In essence, all things do work together for good (Romans 8: 28-30). With this perspective we will hopefully realize that failures can contain aspects of success. In essence, we can learn from them and become wiser.

Overcoming failure is a conscious, daily decision to live successfully. God’s word is very specific when it comes to who is successful. Joshua 1: 7-9 contains some of the most famous verses on success. “Only be strong and courageous; be careful to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, so that you may have success wherever you go. This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful then to do according to all that is within it; for then you will make your way prosperous and then you will have success. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

Overcoming failure is a conscious, daily decision to keep focused on the goal. If someone is sincerely afraid that they will make a mistake, they will seek to be as prepared as possible. They focus on the long view or goal versus the shortsighted circumstances. As Benjamin Disraeli once said, “All my successes have been built on my failures.”

Furthermore, we know that much in this life is a spiritual battle fought in the unseen realms. The goal for each of our lives must be to live each day in the full armor of God with an attitude of “forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead… press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus ” (Phil. 3: 13-14). The goal is a changed attitude and a resolve to never give up (Gal. 6:9). This is coupled with a desire to do all we do for Christ (Phil. 1:20-21) and a confidence that we are not alone in seeking this goal.

In the midst of life’s failures we can be successful in our thoughts, emotions and behaviors by confidently following new rules and seeking to “hit the mark”. So no matter what the failure, there is power in proper perspective and perseverance with a focus on our strengths, spiritual resources, and long-term goals. Let the words of Peter Marshall become our motto in overcoming failure, ” It is better to fail in a cause that will ultimately succeed than to succeed in a cause that will ultimately fail.”

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