If there’s anything we're all universally scared of its failure. Some individual fears may differ, but no one on the planet wakes up and thinks it would be just fine and nothing to worry about if they utterly failed in the things most important to them. We don’t have so many sayings, placards, and inspirational quotes on failure because we feel ambivalent about it. We hate the idea of failure to the point of obsession.
I think there are few greater examples of plain and simple failure in the Bible than Peter. Here’s a man who spent his days witnessing the life and work of Jesus first hand. He shared in the long days, difficult journeys, and uncertainty. He ate at the same table and listened to Jesus tell him and the other disciples time and time again to trust in him. You'd think Peter might have been a little fail-proof spending all that time in close proximity with Jesus.
But no. Peter didn't just fail once, and he didn't fail small. Poor Peter failed all the time and rather spectacularly. There are all the times he just couldn't grasp what Jesus was telling him. There’s that time he panicked walking on water. And of course, there's the horrible and heartbreaking instance of him swearing up and down that he would die with Jesus just before he denied that he even knew him three times.
Peter is a harsh reminder to all of us of the inescapability of failure. You are going to fail. That’s not just a possibility, it’s a certainty. If Peter spent his days right alongside Jesus, learning at his feet, what hope do the rest of us have? There is no way of dancing around or avoiding it. You are absolutely incapable of keeping yourself from failure. To think otherwise is a waste of time.
Cheerful stuff right? Thank goodness it doesn’t end there. The gospel accounts don’t close their pages with Peter’s denial and never speak of him again. Not even close. Peter’s story goes on to tell us one very important, critical thing.
What you do with your failures is a much greater judge of your character than having failed in the first place.
The story does not end with Peter crying over his monumental failure and never trying anything again. Peter does not become a bitter, self-berating character who wallows in his own mistakes. He does not slink away and disappear from the narrative. What does Peter do?
He dusts himself off and rejoins the story.
Yes, there’s definitely some residual guilt and regret. How could there not be? But Jesus brings Peter right back into the fold and Peter makes good on that restoration. Scripture paints a vivid picture of all the things Peter went on to do and they are no small things.
For the rest of his life, Peter dedicated himself to sharing the gospel and building up the early church. He shepherded new believers and reached the lost. He was such a force for the gospel that the only way his enemies could stop his momentum was to martyr him.
Peter may have failed, but he was by no means a failure. The same can be said of you.
In the way that we have the same capacity as Peter to fail, we have the same ability to overcome it. Let’s start assuming we’re going to fail and move forward from there. Why? Because, if you spend all your time focusing on not failing to the point you do nothing, that in itself is a failure. It’s unpleasant but true.
You are going to fail, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try in the first place. If Peter had rolled over and played dead with his first failure, we would have lost one of the greatest forces in the early church. What might we lose if you let failure defeat you? I don’t care to think.
And yes, failure hurts. A lot. The weight of it is absolutely miserable, but it only gets heavier if you choose to keep carrying it. Like Peter, failure can and will sting, but there is more work to be done. So where would you rather put your effort?
And by the way, God isn’t surprised by our failures. He’s not looking down and saying “I can’t believe they messed that up so spectacularly! Looks like I’ll never be trusting them to do anything ever again!” He’s just not that kind of God. Because God is not after our efforts, He's after our hearts. Our efforts fail, but a heart seeking after him? That always gets where it’s trying to go.
So do your absolute best, but also do your absolute best after failing. Because failure doesn’t take you out of the fight. It just slows you down for a minute while you grow from it, and as I’ve seen it, growth is never a wasted endeavor. Go forth, try hard, fail spectacularly, and try again. It’s worth it to be part of the story.
Let’s find some joy,