“I remember well the day I received the result of my public language exam – I’d failed…Dejection. Humiliation. Hopeless. Worthless. Give it up. Go home. All these thoughts and feelings rose to the surface, like scum on a cooking pot.” (Out on a Limb – Janet Dallman)
What does failure look like for you? Failing exams, a marriage falling apart, losing your job, not speaking to your friends about Jesus? We all live with failure, and often the fear of failure.
What do missionaries think constitutes failure? Failure to master language, and not picking up on cultural cues. Culture shock, when they feel they should be ‘over that’. Not sharing Jesus with neighbours, or failing to plant a thriving church. Missionaries live with failure, and often fear of failure too.
Living with failure, or fear of failure, is to have worry as a constant companion, closer even than Jesus. We lose confidence in using the gifts and abilities God has given. We live discontented lives. We may give up altogether, on our job, our marriage, or our life as a missionary or church planter.
What does the Bible say?
The Bible has plenty to say about our failure and how God never fails.
The prophet Isaiah says, “Lift up your eyes to the heavens, look at the earth beneath; the heavens will vanish like smoke, the earth will wear out like a garment and its inhabitants die like flies. But my salvation will last forever, my righteousness will never fail.” (Isaiah 51:6 NIV) Everything will ultimately fail, except God’s salvation and his righteousness.
But what does the Bible say about human failure? We fail when we forget God and his blessings, and don’t obey him. But there is a way back—“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:23–24). We can bring our failure, our sin, to Jesus and he deals with it, not just once but over and over again! “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psalm 73:26).
It’s possible to be content and at peace
If we live our lives based upon the truth of God’s forgiveness and salvation, righteousness and strength—no matter what is going on around us, we cannot ultimately fail. Rather, we can live contentedly and at peace, knowing his comfort, strength, and fulfilment.
Let’s take our failures to God, and allow his salvation, presence, peace, and strength transform our lives.
Please pray for missionaries who feel like they’ve failed, or who fear they might. Pray for God’s comfort, courage to carry on, and strength to persevere. Pray for God’s resurrection power to transform lives, those of the missionaries, and those of the people they are endeavouring to reach.
By Janet, an OMF missionary