Some of the greatest lessons I’ve learned have been scribed on my heart through failure. That doesn’t mean that I love failure. Far from it. But I’ve discovered some fine points about failure.
I read this week about a time that the disciples experienced failure. Jesus had left a group of them alone while he went up into the mountain with Peter, James and John. In Jesus’ absence a desperate father asked them to drive the demon out of his ill son. Their unsuccessful attempts were all very public. They were surrounded by a crowd of spectators. A group of quarrelsome scribes also seemed to have taken advantage of the disciples’ failure, by launching into an argument with them. Jesus arrived on the scene at the height of their failure.
As a person who periodically fails publicly and privately, what struck me first was that the failure made the disciples amazingly teachable. Failure has a unique way of doing that. Following this event the disciples sought Jesus out for more input. “Why couldn’t we drive it out?” You can believe that they were hanging on Jesus’ answer, and his simple instructions were scribed on their hearts.
This situation stretched the disciples so far beyond their comfort level, that they discovered where their limits were. Failure has the acute ability to show us where we need more knowledge, more skills, more practice, or more of God’s grace or power! Isn’t failure great? And failure has the uncomfortable ability to instill humility right where it is needed.
This story so gently reminded me that the secret to discovering the finer points of failure is to go to the Master. Jesus knows exactly why we failed. What did we miss? What else do we need to know or do? We can explore failure in the safety of his presence. And where else will we find the courage to attempt again, but in his gentle presence, instruction, and encouragement. The disciples learned a very valuable lesson here and went on to experience greater ministry and greater power.
I’ve discovered that I need to have a healthy respect for failure because of the finer points of failure. Granted, failure has the potential to devastate confidence and fuel fear, but it can also spark humility, jump start new strategies, highlight limits of knowledge and skill, and catalyze a teachable spirit. And I need all of those. Here’s to the finer points of failure and to the One who can turn the bitterness of failure into the wine of wisdom.