The purpose of failure


Failure is part of God’s plan for us. That was the last post. If you survived that, here are four specific God-designed purposes of failure.

Failure teaches us we are really nothing. Life is not all about us. Failure teaches us the only thing that matters is God’s opinion of us and God’s plan for us. If that plan took Jesus to the depths of humiliation in the eyes of the world, maybe the same will be true for us. Never accept the world’s standard of failure or of success. One of the worst problems is when those wrong standards enter into the church and into our thinking as Christians. Prosperity, ease of life, personal fulfillment, no challenges, no fears to face.... that’s what we all want. The problem is not just that these are wrong, it is that they are a delusion. The main cause of disillusionment is because we have believed an illusion. We need to prepare ourselves for failure, or for what will look like failure.

Second, failure leads us out of our plan and into God’s plan. Many years ago, I had a great plan to return to England, take a very promising ministry position, and get out of the dead end rut I had sunk into in Canada. God had a different plan. He kept me in Canada. Years of apparent failure were the result, but I hung on because I knew it was God’s plan, and I never believed I was a failure in his sight. Eventually I realized there were areas of pride and need for recognition that the failure was forcing me to confront. Dealing with that brought release, but there were more years of failure before God’s plan started to come to deeper fruition. Something in me had to die. I came to realize that God was using my apparent failures to reveal his sovereign plan. Now, looking back, I can see that God uniquely positioned me for a day he knew was coming. I had to be there waiting and preparing. My plan would have taken me out of human failure and into human success, but God’s plan took me out of human failure into Kingdom success.

Third, failure proves I am loved and valued by God. Even as Christians, we think of our failures as proofs that God has judged us, forsaken us or forgotten us. The opposite is the case. God loves me enough to use failure to deliver me from the delusion that success by the standards of this world is the goal I should live for. God loves me enough to save me from the kinds of superficial success that would rob me of achieving my eternal inheritance. C.T. Studd gave away his fortune and spent his life in poverty on the mission field, achieving little human recognition. He was a failure by the standards of the world. Yet the money he gave away financed significant Christian advances in various parts of the world, and the seeds he planted in China, along with others like Hudson Taylor, laid the foundations for the greatest revival in history. C.T Studd is a hero primarily because, by the world’s standards, he was a failure.

Finally, failure proves we are children of God destined for glory: “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs -- heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him” (Romans 8:16-17). Suffering, including failure, is a privilege which proves we are God’s children. In fact, it is a necessary prerequisite for our being glorified. Why? Because we must follow down the same road as our Saviour. The greatest apparent failure in history involved a naked man hanging on a Roman cross. Mission failed? No, mission accomplished.

In 1774, the poet William Cowper wrote an amazing hymn, God moves in a mysterious way. The words of the third verse of this hymn were used powerfully by the Lord 35 years ago to strengthen me at one of my many times of failure:

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take

The clouds ye so much dread

Are big with mercy and shall break

In blessings on your head!

Whatever your circumstances, may his mercy clouds break with blessings on your head today.