What to Do When You Fail -- And You Will


It’s humiliating, embarrassing, and sometimes debilitating. Some failures are public, and everyone knows it. Others are private, mercifully so, but still humiliating and humbling. 

I’m not talking about moral failure. That’s an entirely different subject. I’m talking about the times when we simply fall short. Fail to accomplish. Mess up. Drop the ball. Bomb. This happened to me twice in one day recently.


The first was a professional fail. My editor (yes, even editors have editors) updated me on her progress on my upcoming women’s devotional book. “I expected to be further along than I am at this time,” she typed, and then proceeded (kindly) to share the reason why she wasn’t—carelessness on my part had created many extra hours of work and much frustration for this sweet lady. I was mortified.

The second fail was also professional. I submitted a request to a prominent local athlete asking for an interview for the magazine with which I work. I chose my words carefully, hoping he would consent to talk with me, then clicked SEND.

Later that evening I discovered I had spelled his first name wrong.


I know in the grand panorama of life these occurrences are relatively minor, but that day, they seemed huge. As I pondered my failures, I struggled to shake the sludge of discouragement, disappointment, and embarrassment that clung to and tried to defeat me.

But Christians don’t have to be slaves to our emotions. Instead, we can (and should) process life through a biblical worldview. The Holy Spirit, living in our hearts, helps us do this. On that miserable day, before the blush of embarrassment had fully faded from my face, God started speaking to my heart. This is what he said:

How Christians Handle Failure 

1. Ask yourself why the failure occurred. The answer will show you what to do next.

Did you fail because of sin? Were you lazy, careless, selfish, prideful, or negligent?

If yes, the first step to correction is confession. Confess your sin to God, and then to whomever else was affected. This is humbling and embarrassing, which it should be.

The second step is to do what you can to make restitution or correction.

The third step is to do whatever is necessary to ensure it won’t happen again. The sting of judgment, confession, and repentance isn’t wasted if it motivates us to avoid the same sin in the future. Sadly, it sometimes takes multiple failures for us to fully embrace change. I’m glad God continues to work in our lives, gradually conforming us to the image of Christ.

Did you fail because of ignorance or a lack of training? Did the task require skills you didn’t have? Knowledge you failed to possess? Material you lacked?

If the answer is yes, identify where the breakdown occurred and explore ways to gain that knowledge, experience, or resources. Is there a book you can read, a class you can take, or a mentor who might be willing to train and work with you on the next project?

Sometimes we fail simply because we are ignorant. Notice I didn’t say stupid. Stupid is unteachable. Ignorant is simply untaught. Ignorance is curable. Stupidity usually isn’t. If additional knowledge or experience is at the root of your failure, purpose to learn all you can so you’ll be better prepared the next time.

Did you fail because the job was too big for you?

Sometimes we attempt great things and God shows up and supernaturally empowers us. Other times, we try, fail, and wonder if God was out to lunch when we needed him. It’s never wrong to have ambitious goals and attempt great things. I’d rather stretch to reach for something lofty than sit in the dirt and never make it off the ground. Even when I fall short, I’m closer to the goal than if I never attempt it.

2. Process your failure biblically. Repeat these truths to yourself as often as necessary:

Just because I failed doesn’t mean I am a failure. Any great man or woman attempts much that they don’t accomplish. They also attempt much that they do. The only true way to fail is never to try.

This failure doesn’t have to define me. Tomorrow is a new day, filled with new opportunities. The apostle Paul reminds us, “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:13-14).

I'm only human, and humans fail. To expect never to fail is naïve and unrealistic. What matters most is not IF I fail, but how I react WHEN I fail. God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble (James 4:6).

When I examined my failures, they stemmed from a combination of carelessness and impatience (sin) and ignorance (lack of knowledge). I confessed and repented of my sin to the Lord and my editor and asked their forgiveness. They graciously extended it. I sent a new message to the student athlete and apologized for my carelessness. To combat my ignorance, I took note of what I had done wrong and immediately began to implement steps to ensure the problem won’t happen again.

Finally, we must forgive ourselves, acknowledge our frailties, and keep pressing forward. We can rest in the confidence that the Lord is our helper, and his mercies are new every morning. Great is his faithfulness.

 How about you? Have you failed at something and learned a valuable lesson from it? I’d love to hear your story. Leave a comment below and bless us all.

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  1. This is so good. Failure is inevitable and so painful. Thank you for guidance for handling it and moving forward.

  2. Thanks Larry..the key is getting back on the horse. Oh wait, I mean "Lori"....see,... :) you were okay with that. I'm sure this athlete, appreciates your genuineness, as well as your editor. We are all only human. And that's who we were created to be. Humans, made in His image, And thankfully, you chose to reflect going deeper. Thanks, friend.. <3