The only place we should look when we want to know how to succeed is the Bible. But do you know that it also gives many instances concerning how to fail? It’s true! God actually wants us to understand how to fail. Look at the following examples.
Right at the beginning of the human race, we find one of the first failures. God specifically told Adam and Eve not to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil—a simple command to follow. Don’t eat the tree’s fruit, and their relationship with God would remain in good standing. But sadly, it didn’t work out that way. After Eve was deceived by a serpent, she took a bite of the forbidden produce. But this was only part of the actual failure. The remainder came when she then gave the fruit to Adam. At this point, he could have refused her kind gesture and rebuked her for yielding to the deception.
Instead, he willfully took the fruit and ate of it himself. He failed when he deliberately chose to disobey God. Their relationship with God was broken as a result, and sin entered the picture.
Now all humanity from that point forward would also inherit a sin nature. This meant that we are born inclined toward sinning, rather than against it—and it was all due to Adam and Eve’s failure to obey God.
In another example God told Saul, one king of the Israelites, to “go and [strike] Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and [donkey]” (1 Samuel 15:3). The Amalekites had previously hindered and tried to destroy the Israelites back when they left Egypt through the wilderness.
Saul dutifully followed God’s command by mustering up thousands of soldiers and heading to Amalek. He was even kind enough to warn the Kenites, who dwelt among the Amalekites, to leave the region so they would not be killed too. They had been helpful to the people of Israel in their past journey, unlike the Amalekites. When Saul reached Amalek, “he took Agag the king of the Amalekites alive, and utterly destroyed all the people with the edge of the sword” (1 Samuel 15:8). The failure was Saul not fully obeying what God had ordered. Verse nine says, “…Saul and the people spared Agag, and the best of the sheep, and of the oxen, and of the fatlings, and the lambs, and all that was good, and would not utterly destroy them: but every thing that was vile and refuse, that they destroyed utterly”.
He let their king live and kept the best livestock, thereby acting upon own his best interests, not what God had required of him.
Not only did Samuel fail to obey God, but he also lied to Samuel, the priest. “…Saul said unto Samuel, Yea, I have obeyed the voice of the Lord, and have gone the way which the Lord sent me, and have brought Agag the king of Amalek, and have utterly destroyed the Amalekites” (verse 20). In very next verse, we find him playing the victim and shifting the blame for his failure to obey God to the people: “But the people took of the spoil, sheep and oxen, the chief of the things which should have been utterly destroyed, to sacrifice unto the Lord thy God in Gilgal.”
Samuel was able to see through all of this. He told Saul that obedience to God is more important than sacrifice. Then He solemnly declared: “…rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because thou hast rejected the word of the Lord, He hath also rejected thee from being king” (verse 23).
Saul failed by wanting to do what suited him, rather than what suited God. So, God rejected him as king.
Look now at a New Testament example. Here we find failure in one of the Jesus’ own disciples. “…Peter answered Him and said, Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto Thee on the water. And He said, Come. And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus. But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me. And immediately Jesus stretched forth His hand, and caught him, and said unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?” (Matthew 14:28-31).
Peter was not a bashful individual, to say the least. He had little problem though with speaking his mind, as we find later on, when he insisted that he would stand by Jesus even unto death—only to be informed by Him, “Wilt thou lay down thy life for My sake? Verily, verily, I say unto thee, the [rooster] shall not crow, till thou hast denied Me [three times]” (John 13:38).
Yet, in the first case, Peter did believe he could walk on the water, all the way out to where Jesus stood. His downfall came when he took his eyes, his focus, off Jesus, and onto the conditions around him. We see in verse 32 of Matthew 14 that the winds were still rough until “…they were come into the ship, [and then] the wind ceased.”
Peter failed when he gave doubt room to work in his heart. He no longer trusted in Jesus’ faithfulness, but slipped back into believing in himself.
That was the point when he grew fearful and began sinking. “There is no fear in [godly] love; but perfect love [drives] out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love” (1 John 4:18). Peter’s relationship with Jesus was not yet strong enough for him to completely let go and trust Him.
Throughout the Bible we read that failure comes about when God’s Word is disobeyed. When we listen to or follow something or someone other than what God has commanded, we will fail. Adam and Eve obeyed a serpent. King Saul looked to himself. Peter let the wind distract him.
Over and over, the Word of God demonstrates that failure is the product of disobedience.
God does not want us to fail Him. Yet we find so many places of man’s failure in His Word. He wants us to learn that when we turn away from Him and do what we consider to be right instead, we will ultimately fail. He wants us to read and study His Word, and then to obey and follow it. If we do, we will learn from the failure of others and keep from becoming another example of failure ourselves.