I hate failure. I hate even the hint of failure. I hate it so much that I often won’t try new things until I am sure they will have the result I expect. Reading Psalm 37:23, I think that if I am good, the Lord will order my steps so precisely that I will never do anything that anyone could call a mistake. I would rather do nothing than to be told I did something wrong.
When things turn out “bad,” I feel I have grieved the Spirit and ignored His leading. I view these “failures” as sin. But are they? Does the Bible promise that those who follow God will never regret a decision or have to change course?
If I purchase something that doesn’t provide the benefit I expected, did I ignore a warning of the Spirit? If someone gets angry at something I said, does that mean I failed to sense the Holy Spirit’s guidance? If I start a project that I must abandon partway through, was that a sinful disregard of a Spiritual warning? Worries like these can paralyze a believer into coasting through life and never taking any bold action.
“If you’re not failing, you’re not trying anything important.”
Motivational speakers often say to fail fast, fail frequently, and fail forward. They claim that if you’re not failing, you’re not trying anything important. But is that Biblical? There are plenty of examples of people failing to follow God’s clear direction, but are there any Biblical models of someone apparently “failing” – even while following the leading of the Spirit? I propose that there are. Let’s look at a couple of possible examples.
Consider David’s desire to build a temple for God. Before he began, he checked in with the prophet Nathan, who assured him it was God’s will (2 Samuel 7:3). The very next day, he had to do an embarrassing about-face. It turned out that, no, building a temple was not God’s will for David after all. How frustrating that must have been! How could he have mistaken God’s direction? This wasn’t the end of the story, though. David could – and did – gather the materials and set the example of generous giving for the rest of the nation.
Acts 16:6-7 shares a series of Paul’s false starts. Here he was on a missionary trip – obeying God’s clear call. Twice he was stopped short. First, he wanted to go to Asia, and God said, “No.” Next, he tried heading to Bithynia, and again God stopped him. What was wrong? Were his desires wrong? Was he out of tune with God? Clearly, he was not. As Paul continued to put forth effort and to be sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s direction, God eventually made His will perfectly clear through a vision sending him to Macedonia.
What do these accounts have in common?
- What they wanted to do was not sinful. In fact, they were both good, God-honoring things that were important for someone (else) to do.
- Their motives were pure. The goal in both cases was to accomplish God’s work for God’s glory.
- Neither David nor Paul sat idle. While waiting for God to lead, they both showed initiative in seeking ways to do God’s work.
- They both were sensitive to God’s guidance. When God said “No”, they obeyed.
- God eventually showed His “Yes.” As Paul and David actively submitted to His authority, God showed them the steps that would lead to His success.
Is God calling you to do something bold for Him? Are you concerned that you might make a mis-step (or three or four) along the way?
Don’t let the fear of failure keep you from starting. Make a move. Take a step. Listen, and let Him guide as you keep walking.
If you are His child and you truly want His will, you won’t get too far off course without a loving correction. When that happens, embrace it and keep going. It’s far better than doing nothing.