The Fear of Failure

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Who really wants to talk about failure? A recent article reported the phrase “fear of failure” as one of the top internet search items, so it appears to be on the mind of many today.

Years ago, I experienced a failure “trifecta.”  After nearly 10 years of sweat equity and short-lived successes, my business venture with many investors failed financially.  Despite much prayer and counseling, my marriage of 12 years ended in a difficult and costly custody battle involving our 3 young kids.  My body started to fail as financial and emotional stress coupled with sleep deprivation further diminished my ability to do even simple tasks.  My thoughts became cloudy and my emotions often got the best of me.

While it didn’t happen overnight, it all came crashing down in a matter of a few months.  I had been walking with Christ for over 10 years at this point but often found myself fearing failure more than fearing God.  In one of my worst days while I was cycling through deep anger, sadness, and doubt, I was crying out to the Lord and searching His Word for answers when I came across this passage in 1 Peter 5:6-10.

“Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you. Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. But resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world. After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you.”

This passage jumped off the page.  At that moment I was comforted knowing that I was not alone in my suffering despite all my failures.  Yet my circumstances went from bad to worse.   The next few years that followed were tough financially, physically, and emotionally.

Even when my circumstances started improving, the resounding refrain that I could not get out of my mind was that “I had failed.”  I failed my wife and her family by putting unrealistic expectations on them.  I failed my kids by not leading my family spiritually for many years.  I failed the rest of my family by compromising my faith and being a coward in the face of opposition.  I failed my co-workers and investors by presuming too much financially.  I failed the body of Christ in trusting in my own understanding.

The shame I felt became unbearable as I realized how much I had failed.   My physical strength began to return, yet I could not get over my failures.   I wrestled in prayer and put it before Christ over and over again.

Through prayer and reading God’s Word, I concluded that despite my failures, He never fails and realized all my failures pale in comparison to Him!   I simply could not attribute failure to Christ no matter what I thought of myself or my circumstances.   I repented in tears before my Lord and Savior for focusing more on my failures as a man instead of what He had already accomplished in my life.   

This was a turning point in my walk with Christ.   Since I had always taken pride in my accomplishments and achieving, personal failure was never an option for me.  However, I had to come to accept that it is only my Lord and Savior that never fails.   While I’m responsible before God for my thoughts and actions, He lets me fail to increase my knowledge of His sovereign will and to grow my dependence on Him.  It’s encouraging when God brings me across the paths of men who have faced the “same experiences of suffering.”  Now I better understand and can see more clearly that He’s doing the work to “perfect, confirm, strengthen, and establish” each of us.

Today, God has provided a new business venture that has enabled more ministry opportunities than I could have imagined.   In His mercy, God blessed me with a new marriage to an amazing wife and has given us a new son.  My wife and I continually work to put Christ at the center of our marriage as we raise our four children together.  My physical strength has slowly returned.  When I start to lean on my own understanding, God reminds me just how weak I really am and that I simply cannot rely on my own wisdom (Proverbs 3:5-8):

Trust in the LORD with all your heart.  And do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He will make your paths straight. Do not be wise in your own eyes; Fear the LORD and turn away from evil. It will be healing to your body. And refreshment to your bones.

I thank God daily for teaching me not to allow the fear of failure to become an idol before Him.

Which do you fear more … the Lord or failure? 

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