Asking Questions of Failure

12 Apr

1. What upsets me most about this failure?

Failure provides an excellent opportunity to see what is really in one’s heart. It slices through all the words a person might say about why he is doing something, to reveal what actually motivates him. Thank God for this. If you are being motivated to succeed because of idolatrous desires, even your success will be a failure. If you fail however with a sincere heart, have you really failed?

2. Why do I think this was a failure?

Sometimes the reason we think something is a failure has little to do with what matters most and more to do with other people’s expectations of us. This can be kind of funny, because you go around felling like a failure about something that isn’t really a failure at all and might not even be a failure to you if you sat and thought about it a little while. Like a mid-level businessman feeling like a failure because he isn’t the CEO when really he wouldn’t even want to be the CEO if he was given the chance.

Personally, I would rather line myself up with God’s evaluation of an event than people’s. Therefore it is wise to ask oneself what God’s perspective on what happened might be by using biblical principles as a grid for evaluating failure and success.

3. What can I not take responsibility for in this failure?

That sounds a little like an unwise way to begin evaluating a failure, given the fact that we are so quick to shift blame. But that’s not really this question’s purpose. Instead, this question is designed to help the person who takes too much responsibility on himself. For example, if I witness and the person isn’t saved I might beat myself up because the person wasn’t saved. But really, is that something I am even able to do in the end? No. I can’t raise dead people. So when I think about my witnessing and what I can do better, I can’t think about it in such a way that puts the responsibility of saving people on me or else I will never be a success because I simply can’t do that.

4. What is my responsibility in this failure?

We sometimes have a very difficult time taking responsibility for failures because we are finding our identity in the wrong place. We can’t admit we are wrong because that would mean there is something wrong with us. Get over it. There is something wrong with you. There is something so wrong with you that you deserve hell. But because of Jesus Christ’s work on your behalf and God’s great mercy, if you are a believer, you are dearly loved. O.k. If that is true, you can look your failures square in the face.

5. What could I have done differently?

This question looks at your actions. What did you actually do, what didn’t you do that contributed to the failure?

6. Why didn’t I do it differently? What did I want at the time? What was I thinking that caused me to do what I did? What was I wanting that cause me to think the way I did?

Now you are looking at what you did a little more closely. What was going on in your head at the time you made that choice? This is vital. Were those thoughts true? Were they accurate? You did what you did because you thought what you thought (and you might have thought what you thought because you wanted what you wanted) so to change in the future you have to get at those thoughts and make sure they are in line with God’s Word.

6. Does this failure reveal any patterns in my life?

Now again this can be a hard question to ask yourself because sometimes people are shouting too loudly about what your failure means, but if you dial their yelling down a notch, do they have a point at all?

For example, I have recently been seeing in my life that while I can be good at giving ideas and that even sometimes these ideas have been helpful, I am not nearly as good at giving specific instructions to people on how to accomplish these ideas and I am not nearly as good at following up with them to see if they are putting those specific instructions into place. So I can say let’s disciple, get people excited perhaps about discipleship, everyone is pumped and then, what?

7. If there is a pattern, what is the root sin behind this pattern?

I once heard someone talk about sins underneath other sins and obviously if you are going to truly change, you are going to want to get at that. One great place to look for the sin underneath other sins, is to ask yourself what am I not believing about the gospel that is causing me to act like this? For example, if a person has a pattern of not confronting sin that he sees and he believes that is at the root of some of his failures, he might ask why don’t I confront sin? It might have something to do with fear of man. Why do I fear man the way I do? What am I not believing? Now, to change, he needs to begin looking at those opportunities to confront as opportunities to believe the gospel. This is not just about confronting someone else, this is about that person believing that God is for him enough to confront the other person.

8. What can I give thanks to God for in this failure?

Sometimes failure is so overwhelming that we miss out on all the blessings that come to us through failure. When I look to Scripture and history it seems the God we serve is a God who loves to use failure to accomplish His purposes, so we better get used to failing and we should learn to be thankful to God for what we can in it!

9. Who can I talk with to help me evaluate what happened and what I can learn and how I can grow from it?

One of the blessings of failure is that it sometimes drives proud people to ask for help and really mean it. Don’t miss out on this great benefit! If you have failed, go to God first and ask Him to show you what you need to learn. But also go to God’s people, someone that you respect, that’s living a godly life, a mature person, and help him help you think through what actually happened. Don’t be embarrassed about that. Can you imagine a golf professional who didn’t have the help of a coach at some point in his life? I can’t either. Every great person needs this and if you are going to change and succeed where you have failed in the past, you probably need this kind of help too.

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