Let’s face it. Fear of failure at work is a struggle for almost all of us, regardless of our gender, race, or economic status. I know it has been a struggle for me at times. The fear of doing or saying something wrong that threatens our reputation or employment security makes us anxious.
For those of us who own their own business, the thought of it failing can be overwhelming. We don’t want to let our families, our employees, or our customers down. And we sure don’t want the discomfort of financial and reputational ruin. As Christians, we don’t want to let God down.
The Bible teaches us that failure is one of the main tools God uses to make us more Christ like. He transforms us through these experiences if we allow Him to do so. In addition, God sometimes opens up new opportunities to serve Him.
Failure is Transformational
Gene Veith, in God at Work, provides an astute observation: “Failures in vocation happen all the time. Wise statesmen find themselves voted out of office. Noble generals lose the war. Workers lose their jobs, maybe because they are not good at what they do, despite what they thought.”
Failures get our attention. They cause us to reevaluate our spiritual maturity. God often uses the failures we experience to humble us, remind us of our limitations, make us more willing to depend on God, submit to His commands, and remain open to His leading in our lives.
The Apostle Peter gives us some hope, reminding us of God’s restorative power after we have been broken: “And the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm, and steadfast” (1 Peter 5:10).
Failures Open New Doors of Service
One who failed miserably at work was the late Chuck Colson. He was one of President Nixon’s most trusted staff members. After the Watergate scandal, Colson went to prison. It was during this time the Lord began working on his heart and prompted Colson to begin the Prison Fellowship.
As a direct result of his imprisonment, he became one of the most influential Christian leaders of our modern times. He was radically transformed through his failure, enabling him to minister to many because of his deep understanding of God’s grace, forgiveness, and transforming power.
I am reminded of my own failures at work. I was let go from a church youth ministry position in July 1985. During the first few days of summer vacation, the senior pastor called me at home and asked me to come in for a meeting. He informed me that the church no longer needed me to be the youth director. I had been fired.
However, God had a greater purpose in mind. This providential detour in my career set in motion an unexpected vocational journey that God eventually worked out for my good and for His glory. As a result of being fired, God redirected my life’s work by nudging me to consider joining the military (which I did in February 1986). I spent 20 years on active duty, and 33 years later, I still work for the US Army as a Department of the Army civilian.
I was able to serve God in a greater capacity than I would have experienced in full-time vocational Christian ministry.
Stories of Failure in Scripture
We read many examples of men and women in the Bible who failed, only to be an illustration of God’s power to transform and open new doors.
A well-known illustration of how God transformed failure at work is King David. His moral failures were his own doing. He committed adultery and murder. He chose poorly and suffered the consequences of his decisions. Ultimately, he repented and confessed his sin (see Ps. 51:1-4). Despite his sins, God called David “a man after His own heart,” and used him to pen much of the book of Psalms.
What about someone who was perceived as failing to the world’s standards, yet they were doing what God had called them to do? It is common to see someone labeled as a fool or failure because they are working counter-culturally in line with the Gospel.
The one that best illustrates this is Jesus. The religious establishment of the day treated Him as an enemy. They misunderstood Him. They persecuted Him, tried to trap Him, arrested Him, and eventually shouted to the Romans, “Crucify Him!”
Jesus died a criminal’s death, seen by many as a man who was a total failure. That is, until Easter Sunday, when the empty tomb confirmed His victory.
The Apostle Peter reminds the early church and us how to respond when we experience the kind of undeserved suffering that Jesus went through. Peter instructs us to live good lives in order to overshadow the false accusations they may make about us (1 Pet. 2:12). He exhorts us to submit to our employers, even those who give us a hard time (1 Pet. 2:18). He said it was a good thing when we endure “the pain of unjust suffering” as Jesus did (1 Pet. 2:19-21). Peter taught that we should not be surprised when we suffer for our faith; we are to rejoice (1 Pet. 4:12-13).
How Does God Work Through Failure?
Below are a few biblical principles on how to handle our failures at work:
If we think that we cannot fail, our pride will inevitably cause us to fall (1 Cor. 10:12);
When we do fail, we need to rest in God’s promise to work out all things for His children, even failures, for our good and for His glory (Rom. 8:28);
God makes us more compassionate as a result of our failures; it opens doors to pass on the comfort we received from God in our situation to those in the same situation (2 Cor. 1:3-4).
My prayer is that these truths will comfort the ones of us who need comfort and empower the ones who need the courage to press on or take that leap of faith into a new chapter in your spiritual career journey.
Trust that our God is more powerful, sovereign, and loving than our failures.
(Author’s note: Portions of this article were taken from my book, Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work, published by WestBow Press, 2018.)
We are honored to have Russell E. Gehrlein as a guest contributor in this month’s newsletter. Russ is a former youth pastor and a junior/high school math and science teacher. In 2006, he retired from over 20 years of active duty in the US Army in the rank of Master Sergeant. He currently works as a Department of the Army civilian at the US Army Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear School in Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.