A couple of months ago, I had a job interview. It went really well and I was called for a second interview. That one went really well too and I was told by some people I knew in the organization that the interview team was very impressed with me. I had prayed about the job opening before I applied for it and I felt completely at peace about it – like I had gotten the green light from God. I was excited that I was finally going to have a job! Imagine my surprise and disappointment when I got a letter a few days later saying that the position had been offered to someone else. Part of me was able to say, “Ok God. I trust You”. But the rest of me just didn’t understand what had happened. I was so sure this was my job. I was so sure God had finally answered my prayers (and the prayers of countless other people literally around the world who’d been asking God for a job on my behalf). But He hadn’t. And I was confused.
A similar thing happened to the people of Israel in the book of Judges. Some men in the tribe of Benjamin had committed a horrific sin against a fellow Israelite and the rest of the nation decided to go to war against Benjamin to punish them for what they had done.
They gathered themselves at Bethel and asked God who should go fight the Benjamites first. God told them to send Judah first. So the men of Judah went and were soundly defeated. The Israelites went back to God, confused and disappointed. They asked God what they should do and He told them to go fight again. And again, they were soundly defeated.
What was going on here? It wasn’t as if they just went up to fight Benjamin on their own. They specifically asked for God’s guidance and they did exactly what He told them to do. And they failed. Repeatedly.
This story makes me see something I had never seen before. Sometimes, even when we ask for (and receive) God’s blessing in an endeavor, we still fail. Our first instinct is usually to throw our hands up in frustration and get mad at God for leading us into a trap. But look at what Israel did: They went back to God a third time and asked again what they should do. Again, God told them to go fight, but this time, He told them that they would win. I see some principles here that we can apply to our own failures and disappointments:
- God’s blessing does not always equal immediate success. This one is hard to accept, but it’s true. We’re so conditioned to believe that if we’re following God’s will, life should work out well for us. The Bible does not teach that and we do ourselves a great disservice if we refuse to accept the truth of God’s word.
- Failure is sometimes ordained by God, and is not always punishment or a tool of satan. Failure is an opportunity. We can either react to it with bitterness and resentment, or we can take hold of it and use it to make changes in our lives, to increase our faith and to get a better understanding of God’s sovereignty and faithfulness.
- When faced with failure, our best course of action is to revisit the issue with God to make sure we’re still moving in the right direction. Perhaps we missed something or allowed our own desires to cloud what we thought God was telling us to do. On the other hand, we may very well be doing exactly what He wants us to do and we are simply in a time of testing and growing. But unless we remain in constant contact, we will never know.
- Even after we succeed, we may never understand the reason behind our past failures. There is no explanation in the Bible for Israel’s defeats and there is no explanation for their final success. We’re simply told that they prayed, they failed, they prayed, they failed, they prayed, they succeeded. Nothing more.
All too often, we see failure as a negative thing. We see it with finality. But the Bible doesn’t see it that way. Failure is part of life and it’s necessary for growth. It’s not something we should be afraid of. In fact, for the mature Christian, perhaps it’s something we should look forward to…
What have you learned about failure? Has success ever ended up being a bad thing for you?