The book of Proverbs says that “a righteous man may fall seven times” and get right back up again! How can you grow the faith to overcome any trial life throws your way and build on your failures?
Running down the basketball court, I felt my feet getting tangled and I began to fall. The concrete, littered with loose bits of gravel and dirt, seemed to rise to meet me. For a moment, time seemed to slow while other players careened past.
I braced for the inevitable crash landing—and then, in a flash, I remembered the coach’s cautionary words for such a moment: “Tuck and roll!” He had instructed us to not try to break a fall, but just “tuck” the elbow and shoulder and roll through it.
I followed the coach’s advice, rolled through the fall, and was surprised by how quickly I was right-side-up and back on my feet. I had saved myself from an ugly concrete burn and avoided nasty gravel cuts on my arms and elbows. I may have prevented a broken wrist. It was a powerful lesson; there is a “right” way to fall and a “wrong ” way. The right way saves one from unnecessary cuts, bruises, and even serious injury.
“Failure,” according to Merriam-Webster.com, springs from an original French root meaning “to fall.” It refers to an omission of occurrence or performance, a lack of success, or a falling short. From time to time, we all fail; everyone living a human life faces setbacks and disappointments. Those who have not can be certain that they will fail—or fall—in something eventually!
But how do we react when failure comes? Do we become discouraged, or do we pick ourselves up and try again? As we find ourselves stumbling time after time, it can be all too easy to let life’s setbacks crush our spirit. But, thankfully, your Bible reveals how Christians can instead not only overcome failure, but use it as a springboard to success!
Anyone who attempts anything will make mistakes. This is part of the learning process. The famous American basketball player Michael Jordan is reported to have said, “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed” (Nike Culture: The Sign of the Swoosh, 1998, p. 49).
Political and military leaders also have recognized the importance of dealing with failure with a positive attitude. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill once said, “Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.” And United States General George S. Patton was known to have said that success isn’t measured by what you do at the top; it’s “how high you bounce when you hit bottom!”
God wants us to have the same attitude. He does not always exempt us from the consequences of our mistakes—but He does teach us to deal with problems positively. How can we make sure trials do not destroy us? How can we make failure a springboard to success?
Every time we fall down and make a mistake, we must make a decision. We are forced to choose how we will react. Whether setbacks are small or large, insignificant or life-changing, we have a choice; which path do we take?
In the bitter hours after he denied Christ, the Apostle Peter did some hard thinking. It became a critical juncture in his life. As he came face to face with his own human weakness, he was horrified to discover how vulnerable and fearful he could be. This strong dose of reality shook him to his very foundation. But Peter made the right choice, and we read of it today in the Bible. Generations have been inspired by reading how Peter rebounded from an unspeakable setback to be a powerful tool in the Church of God. In the words of the Apostle Paul, he sorrowed “in a godly manner…. For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death” (2 Corinthians 7:9–10).
Peter’s choice led him to deep repentance, powerful zeal, and a strong desire to overcome his human frailties (v. 11). It enabled God to use him as a dynamic leader in the fledgling Church, changing his life forever. As we face trials and difficulties in life, what can we learn from Peter’s example? How can we learn to bounce back better?
Before His death, Jesus Christ gave some powerful and encouraging instructions that would inspire the Apostles throughout their whole lives. Having foretold that they would all desert Him, He also said, “You will be scattered, each to his own, and will leave Me alone. And yet I am not alone, because the Father is with Me. These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation” (John 16:32–33).
The Bible shows that troubles are part of life—even for those striving to obey God. Some, admittedly, we bring on ourselves. Some are caused by our own weakness or pride, or even our own stupidity—but, sometimes, difficulties involve circumstances beyond our control. We will always have problems in this life.
The same Peter who denied Christ also wrote, years later, “Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy” (1 Peter 4:12–13). Yet how many times do we grow flustered because bad things happen? How often do we think, Why is this happening to me?
Jesus told us not to be despondent when we face setbacks. “These things I have spoken to you, that you should not be made to stumble…. Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:1, 33). Admitting that we have problems does not take them away—but it does help us deal with them instead of denying them or running away from them. If we do not face our problems squarely and courageously, they can spawn new, unrelated problems. Frustration erodes our faith. Running from our problems does not make them go away, but admitting them and confessing our mistakes (1 John 1:9) is the first step to successful bouncing back.
During His final conversation with His disciples, Jesus explained why Christians suffer problems at all: “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit” (John 15:1–2). God is in the process of helping His people grow, and growth sometimes means cutting away damaged or unproductive branches in our life. That is why we sometimes suffer pain and difficulties.
But do not confuse “pruning” with rejection. Anyone who grows fruit trees knows the joy of planting and working with them year after year. It is exciting to see them healthy and strong, yielding good fruit. Do not assume, just because God allows you to suffer emotional, mental, or physical pain, that He has deserted you! In reality, God will not reject anyone who is truly conquered by and surrendered to Him. He allows us to suffer as a part of our growth process and He promises us the help we need.
On the last night of His human life, Jesus Christ encouraged His disciples by telling them they would never be alone; even after leaving them, He would send His Spirit to guide and help them. He said, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever” (John 14:16, New International Version).
The Holy Spirit, the very power of God, would be the vehicle through which God and Christ would live in the disciples. Jesus went on to describe “the Spirit of truth, which the world cannot accept, because it neither sees nor knows it. But you know it, because it remains with you, and will be in you. I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you” (John 14:17–18, New American Bible, Revised Edition).
The Holy Spirit would come, and through it Christ would literally live His life in His true followers (Galatians 2:20). Jesus promised that His Holy Spirit would be sent—as it was on the Day of Pentecost—to be His presence in them. He promised that this Spirit would “teach [them] all things” and “bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you” (John 14:26). The disciples would be able to remember, with understanding, everything Jesus had taught them during His ministry. The Holy Spirit would guide them “into all truth” (John 16:13).
If we are really seeking and crying out to God for His understanding, He will give it to us as well. Notice what Christ also said, earlier in His ministry: “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!” (Luke 11:13).
Peter remembered the promise of the Spirit, and that encouraged him during the worst days of his life. When the Holy Spirit was sent, God used Peter powerfully as a leader among the disciples on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2). When we stumble and have problems, we need to remember that God can help us. If we cry out to our Father in humble obedience to Him, willing to forsake our own will for His, He will guide us. And if we are truly repentant and obedient, He will put His Spirit in us (Acts 2:38; 5:32).
When we drop the ball, make mistakes, or suffer from problems, does God want us to hang our heads and feel like failures? Does He want us to slink away in self-pity? No—He wants us to focus on the future. He desires that we recognize the great potential He gives to those who are willing to submit to His will and Spirit.
What is that potential? Shortly before His death, Jesus told His disciples of His coming Kingdom. In doing so, He was not referring to something abstract “in our hearts,” nor was He describing an organization of carnal human beings vying for worldly power. Rather, He was foretelling the establishment of a literal kingdom on earth.
He went on to say, “Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you” (John 14:1–2).
Some mistakenly believe that Christ’s reference to “mansions” has something to do with going to Heaven. In fact, Jesus was describing that each would have a place within the “household” or Kingdom of God when He returns. Those “dwelling places,” then, seem to be referring to the saints fulfilling positions of responsibility in His government (Luke 19:17).
This is what was on Jesus’ mind during the last night before His crucifixion. Think about it—in practically the same breath with which He told Peter that he would deny Him, He turned around to tell the disciples of their inspiring destiny, speaking about the positive future. He was not just focusing on the suffering He would endure, or on the discouragement they would feel upon His leaving. Instead, He focused on the encouraging vision of what was coming. He fixed their eyes on His Kingdom—and the part He wanted them to play when it would be set up on planet Earth.
Jesus told His disciples, “You did not choose Me, but I chose you” (John 15:16). He extended that calling to those yet unborn, whom the Father would call through the Apostles’ testimony (John 17:20). A calling from God into His truth and His Church is truly an awesome opportunity. God has big plans for us, and they will come to fruition if we are willing to submit to His rule in our lives—if we come to understand the purpose for problems and grow through God’s own correction and pruning, asking Him to empower us through His Holy Spirit.
We will make mistakes. We will stumble and suffer in life. We will have problems for as long as we are in the flesh. But God tells us to face our trials and difficulties positively. In the end, it is not the setbacks that He is most concerned about; it is how well we bounce back!