Edison was known for being relentless with his efforts. While we know Edison for his many inventions and successes, Edison was often outspoken about his failures. He would have an idea, try, and fail. Then he’d fail again. And again. And again. But the failure wouldn’t put Thomas Edison down. He’d keep trying and keep failing until eventually, he got it figured out. He’d be able to piece things together. And an amazing invention would generally be the result.
Edison didn’t see failure as the end… he saw it as part of the necessary pathway to growth. Failures didn’t get him down; Edison famously noted that a failure was just one more way to narrow his options down to what was right.
A few weeks ago, I was reading in the book of Luke, chapter 22. Luke 22 is the narrative of Jesus being arrested and eventually, crucified. Part of Luke 22 covers Peter’s famous denials. Jesus predicted that before his death, Peter would essentially disown him three times. Peter assured Jesus (in a typical, Peter-like fashion) that he was wrong. But sure enough, the chapter ends with Peter denying Jesus three times, feeling the weight of incredible shame for his actions. Luke 22:62 really stands out to me as a testimony to the gut-wrenching emotions that Peter was experiencing. After realizing what had happened, Luke comments that “[Peter] went outside and wept bitterly.” This is intense stuff. Peter was broken by the realization of his failure and what had just happened.
I’ve had some seasons where my failure has made me feel much the same. Much like Peter, my sin and my missed opportunities have often brought me to my knees in shame for how I have failed to follow Jesus well. That’s a rough place to be. For many of us, it’s been a crippling blow. We feel like we can’t get past whatever it was that happened or whatever we did (or didn’t do). It’s easy for us to allow those experiences to sideline us and we just quit following Jesus and get trapped in an endless cycle of guilt, shame, and regret.
That happened to Peter. In John 21, Jesus has already been back from the dead for at least a chapter. He’s already had dinner with Peter and the other disciples in John 20. Yet, in John 21, we see Peter out in his boat fishing. Why? Because he’s a fisherman. He knows Jesus has risen from the dead, but he’s given up on the disciple thing. He tried that and failed. Surely God couldn’t use him. Then in John 21, we see Jesus “reinstate” Peter. Jesus didn’t see Peter’s failure as something that disqualified him, but as a learning experience. Jesus invited Peter to follow him… failure and all.
I have no doubt that Peter would fail many more times. There appear to be a few places in Acts and Paul’s letters where it seems Peter may have “missed it.” But I think this failure experience shaped Peter. He wouldn’t see his future failures as something that would stop him from being able to follow Jesus and lead the early church, but something that inspired him to know that his failures didn’t have to be the end. They could be the beginning of growth. Change. A deeper relationship with God.
I think the same is true for us. Our spiritual enemy, Satan and his evil forces, want to use failures as things that handicap our ability to follow Jesus or to make us even give up entirely. But I don’t think that needs to be the case. Our failures can pave the pathway of our greatest successes. They can teach us a deeper reliance on God. They can create space in our lives for self-evaluation to see where it is that we still need to grow. They can teach us humility. All of those are great things… provided we don’t let them stop us from continuing to trust and follow Jesus.
So if you’re feeling like you’re sidelined or just absolutely despairing because of some sort of spiritual failure in your life, know that it doesn’t have to be that way. Failure can pave the pathway of great spiritual success. It’s not easy, but it’s possible. And it only happens if we let it.