We All Need to Learn How to Fail Forward

Abraham Lincoln
Remember, Abraham Lincoln endured a lifetime worth of failure before becoming the 16th president of the United States. (Wikimedia Commons)

I heard it said once that "failure is the parent of innovation." This is a very true statement because before every successful career or endeavor there are usually a multitude of failures. We all have to learn to "fail forward."

As we entered a new year, we should have reflected on the successes and failures of the past year, using both as a trajectory toward a more productive experience this year. Each time we enter a new year, we should reflect on the successes and failures of the past year, using both as a trajectory toward a more productive experience this year.

By "failure" I mean anything we initiated or participated in that did not bring glory to the name of Jesus and/or bear any immediate, noticeable fruit. Failure can also be defined as when a paradigm, strategy of life, or ministry is no longer producing the results we set out to obtain.

Recently I celebrated 37 years as a believer and follower of Jesus Christ. I have served in official full-time church ministry since November 1980; hence I have had to deal consistently with numerous people with a plethora of challenges in the context of a complex metropolis like New York City.

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During these years, I have been through many stages and cycles of life and have experienced both success and failure. I have learned the hard way to embrace failure as part of the normal process of learning; the older I get, the more experience I have, and hopefully the less intense lessons of failure I need to experience in my life journey.

Since Christ is the redeemer of all failure and sin, the Bible is replete with success stories and has a narrative that involves utilizing failure and evil for good. Let's look at the patriarch Joseph, for example. Joseph was sold into slavery by his biological brothers. Many years later he was providentially promoted to second in command in Egypt. After Joseph encountered these siblings as their political leader, they feared vengeful retribution.

But he told them that what they meant for evil, God had ordained for good (Genesis 50:20). The Apostle James wrote that we should count it pure joy when we fall into diverse trials because the outworking of these tests develops our character (James 1:2-4).

Furthermore, Jesus' suffering resulted in His glorious resurrection (Philippians 2:5-12). No matter what the devil tries to do, God outdoes him and turns the tables on him every single time! Thus, the Bible has a theology of success that can come out of any failure we experience, if we respond to God in faith and humility.

Romans 8:28 teaches us that all things work together for good for those who love God. One of the greatest discoveries I have made is that I can't lose as a Christ-follower. Even when I fail, I can seize failure as an opportunity for further growth so I can go to another level of success! Every situation and circumstance, no matter how difficult, can be redeemed for good!

We have to realize that since all of us are sinners who fall short of the glory of God—failure of some sort is inevitable for every one of us. This does not mean that we stop trying to succeed or have a defeatist mentality; it merely means we have to have the right perspective if we are going to breakthrough to success. As a case in point, Abraham Lincoln—arguably the greatest president of the USA—had a long list of failures on his résumé before he actually made it to the top.

The following was his path to the presidency: He failed in business at age 21. Was defeated in a legislative race at age 22. Failed again in business at age 24. Overcame the death of his sweetheart at age 26. Had a nervous breakdown at age 27. Lost a congressional race at age 34. Lost a congressional race at age 36. Lost a senatorial race at age 45. Failed in an effort to become vice-president at age 47. Lost a senatorial race at age 47. To the shock and surprise of many, he was elected President of the United States at age 52!

Psalm 37: 23-24 says, "The steps of a man are established by the LORD, when He delights in his way; Though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong, for the LORD upholds his hand." Proverbs 24: 16 says, "A just man falls seven times but will rise again..."

Anybody who thinks they will be exempt from severe tests and failure just because they serve God is mistaken. All they have to do is read the book of Psalms, which is replete with the stories of people who have experienced both failure and success along with emotional depression and exultant joy. In light of this, it is extremely important for every person to understand how to turn every failure into (eventual) success.

Adapted from Bishop Joseph Mattera's latest book, 12 Ways to Turn Your Failure Into Success.

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