THE VALUE OF FAILURE

I heard a leader once say, “Don’t hire someone with no failures on his resume. He’s playing it too safe.” People who want to make a difference take well-calculated risks, which means that they don’t bat 1.000.

Failure really hurts, which can make it a great teacher if we are listening. Ade Christenson, former football coach and athletic director at St. Olaf College and the father of my mentor Larry Christenson, said to a group of us, “Nothing feels better than winning, and nothing teaches more than losing.” In football, it can teach us where we are weak. Maybe we need to shore up or defense or strengthen our running game. Teachable people learn from failure rather than letting it take them out.

Peter almost left the game after an empty promise turned into a wipeout. Thanks to the reinstatement from the Master, he was able to capitalize on his failure and turn it into a glorious string of victories. It put reality into his overly confident heart that had declared, “Though they all forsake you, I will never forsake you.” Yeah, right! “Let him who thinks he stand take heed lest he fall.” He needed to build up his defense against the enemy. He held too much trust in his own ability and not enough in the words of Christ meant to warn him.

Thomas Edison failed five times before he succeeded. (He said he failed 10,000 times). Samson lived as a self-centered womanizer. Delilah spelled his biggest failure. He lost his strength when the Philistines gave him a haircut, then cut out his eyes. But hair grows in prison. God’s Spirit was still with him, and he finished strong, even making it into the “Faith Hall of Fame” (Hebrews 11). Winston Churchill said, “Failure is not final; it is courage that counts,” and Samson’s last act of courage severely weakened the Philistine foe. Way to convert your failure, Sam!

Failure can humble us and build character if we let it. For some it only hardens them, and they give up. Or they grow cynical and doubt their ability. Infants learn to walk by falling their first thirty or more tries. We applaud them for their effort. Finally they get the hang of it and manage a few steps, building confidence for their infant future.

When I took a study leave at Cal Lutheran as a young pastor, John Wooden, the legendary coach at UCLA, was conducting a basketball camp and living next to me. I had the privilege of interviewing him and discussing a variety of subjects, but mainly his faith in God. He said, “Failure isn’t fatal, but failure to change might be.”

Motivational speaker Denis Waitley said it this way: “Failure should be our teacher, not our undertaker. Failure is delay, not defeat. It is a temporary detour, not a dead end. Failure is something we can avoid only by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.” And Henry Ford said, “The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing.”

Any failures that discouraged and defeated you? Learn from it and watch God turn it into a success! It’s called grace.

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