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A friend of mine once told me: “My fear of failure has caused a big problem between my family and me. I don’t spend much time with them during the week. I dread failing at my job so much that it drives me to work day and night. But I don’t spend much time with them on weekends either. The fear of failing at something that I’m not used to doing absolutely paralyzes me.”
Even if we don’t go to extremes like my friend, the possibility of failure is not something we enjoy. We all fall short of what we ought to do. We fail in our marriages, in raising our children, in our friendships, in school, in our careers, in our church life—and often with devastating consequences. It’s no wonder, then, that at one time or another we all have a fear of failure.
The Scriptures present a number of crucial outlooks that help us deal with this challenge. We will touch on two facets of what they teach: why we fear failure and how failure can be a positive opportunity for hope.
WHY DO WE FEAR FAILURE?
All of us have our personal reasons for being afraid of failure, but the Bible takes us to the root of the problem. We dread failure because we were not created for it. God has always been in sovereign control over our shortcomings. Yet from the beginning, God did not create us to fail but to succeed in service to Him.
The opening chapters of Genesis plainly teach this perspective. In Genesis 1:26 God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” And what does this mean? In verses 28–31 we find that we were created to succeed in a very important mission: “God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion.'” The rest of Scripture elaborates on the goal of this mission. We are preparing for the day when God will fill the earth with His glory and receive endless praise from every creature. We were made to succeed in this mission, not to fail.
Why, then, do we fall short so often? Genesis 3:17–19 indicates that the frequent futility of our efforts in life is the consequence of sin. Our confinement to failure did not occur at creation; it resulted from God’s judgment against us. So, it is only right that we should long to be redeemed from all failure and every fear that it brings.
HOW CAN FAILURE BE TURNED INTO HOPE?
The Scriptures do not leave us longing for redemption from failure and fear. They tell us that Christ took on flesh and fulfilled every command of God to reverse the effects of Adam’s sin. Christ even gave Himself on the cross in payment for the sins of His people and was raised into newness of life in our behalf. This is what Paul meant when he wrote, “For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead” (1 Cor. 15:21). As His just reward, the Father raised Christ and seated Him at His right hand. From there He continues the task that God first gave to humanity. And when He returns in glory, He will make all things new. At that time, God will fill creation with His glory so that “every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:10–11).
How can all that Christ has done help us turn our failures into hope? On the one side, His victory turns us away from every false hope we have. As strange as it may sound, success actually creates big problems for people throughout the Bible. It gives birth to the lies that we gain victory on our own and that success in the affairs of this life is what matters most. Yet these lies never satisfy us for long. As time passes, they set us up for more dreadful failure.
On the other side, when we acknowledge that only Christ has succeeded in fulfilling human service to God, we receive the sure hope that we will one day overcome all of our failures. Christ’s life, death, resurrection, and ascension have proven that He has defeated the tyranny of sin and the consequence of failure, and—here is the wonder of it all—He shares His success with all who trust and follow Him. With this sure confidence in Christ, we know that every success in this life results from His work within us and not our own efforts. More than this, even our failures in this life keep our eyes fixed on what should matter most to us. Rather than placing our hopes in this life, we put our hopes in the world to come. There we will fully share Christ’s victory and never have the slightest fear of failure again.