The Mercy of Failure

Success is on the same road as failure; success is just a little further down the road. –Jack Hyles, pastor and author

Moses was a very humble man, more so than any man on the face of the earth. Numbers 12:3 (HCSB) 

Have you ever met someone who always seemed to succeed with ease? When it came to hunting and fishing, Amazing George was the man. George was so good at fishing that we often found ourselves in awe; thus, we gave him the moniker, Amazing George—although we never called him that to his face because George was also in the habit of constantly reminding us of his success!

Nothing but a Wannabe

I, on the other hand, was a trout fisherman wannabe. I’ve always loved being on the water, but at that point in my life, stream fishing was mostly a lesson in futility. As a result, even being around George became painful at times. Such feelings made it especially difficult to obey God when we sensed Him leading us to invite George to our annual trout fishing camp experience.

At one point during the weekend, I was fishing a nice hole on Bald Eagle Creek but—not surprisingly—with no success. George meandered down the stream, asked if I minded if he fished the hole, and cast his line into the water before I had a chance to answer. Bang! Bang! Within just a few minutes, George had two strikes and landed both fish. He then continued downstream while I stood there frustrated, shaking my head in disbelief.

Later that weekend, while on Fishing Creek, I somehow managed to hook a nice-sized rainbow trout and brought to within a few feet of my boots. The feeling was exhilarating—landing that trophy would shine at least a little glory in my direction! Having little experience with larger fish, however, I couldn’t bring it into my net. My heart sank as the rainbow broke free and swam back into the current.

Dejected, I re-baited my hook and cast it out to the same spot in the river. Do you know what happened? Exactly the same thing! I hooked that rainbow and lost it at my boots again! The only difference was that my heart sank a little further into my stomach the second time around. I dreaded the thought of facing George.

Eating Humble Pie

I could have chosen to remain silent and hide my failure, rehearsing in my mind how life wasn’t fair—how I, as a faithful servant of God, always seemed to come up short while others around me succeeded. But I choose another course of action—the high (or low, depending on one’s perspective) road of humility. I swallowed my pride and told the story to George, asking what I should have done differently.

After briefly chiding me for my stupidity, George explained the need to keep my rod tip high and my line free of slack. Taking his instructions to heart, I tucked them in the back of my mind for future use.

Failure as the Springboard to Success

The following spring we returned to what was now in my mind Lost Rainbow River, but this time I had the most successful trout fishing experience of my entire life! With all that I had learned from George, I landed three beautiful browns, in addition to several others. That was when I learned that failure, when accompanied by faith and humility, is the springboard to future success.

No one likes to fail. I’ve never met a little boy whose vision for life was to become a failure. Imagine Aunt Betty pinching her nephew’s little cheeks. “Johnny, what do you want to be when you grow up?” “Aunt Betty, I want to be a big failure!” But aside from the damage to the human ego, is failure really as bad as we make it to be? Is it possible that there might be long-term benefits to falling short?

Failure, in a very real way, puts us in our place. The desire for glory is innate to human nature, and, though short-lived, with a sense of satisfaction and superiority, we will milk every ounce of glory for all it’s worth. It is all very superficial, however, for in the grand scheme of eternity, trout fishing (and just about every other human pursuit) means absolutely nothing. Humility before God, on the other hand, has powerful ramifications both in this age and in the age to come.

The Pathway to Glory

The Bible tells us that Moses was the most humble man in all the earth. Why do you think that was? The former rising star of Egypt spent forty years on the backside of a desert living with his failure. The humility worked into Moses’s heart during his wilderness experience led him to become one of the most highly esteemed men in all of Scripture.

Failure opens our eyes to our need for something—or Someone—outside of ourselves, giving us a chance to align our lives with the dynamics of God’s eternal kingdom. It’s an opportunity that a perpetually successful person will probably never have. Like it or not, our failures can sometimes be powerful expressions of God’s mercy.

Most unwanted wilderness experiences are beset by nagging feelings of inadequacy, if not by failure itself. But failure need not have the last word! When navigated wisely, our shortcomings can effectively instill the godly (and necessary) virtue of meekness. The humility and faith forged through a spiritual wilderness experience always pave a powerful pathway to glory.

This post is drawn from Chapter Twenty-Seven of Bob’s devotional: Champions in the Wilderness—Fifty-Two Devotions to Guide and Strengthen Emerging Overcomers