Does the Bible address success and failure?

Yes, it does. Mostly through human stories.

I think of Daniel, in particular, in the Old Testament. He was successful from start to finish. Remember when I wrote about persistence the other day as a component of success? Nowhere is it more evident than in Daniel’s life. He was persistent in his beliefs. He was tenacious. He never compromised his “faith” position.

I think of Joseph as well. There are some authors who suggest he was a spoiled teenager. I don’t really see any evidence of this. What I see when I read about him is a man like Daniel. Joseph was upright in all his dealings. He, too, remained faithful to his beliefs.

But there are lots of stories of failure. Moses, Abraham, David, Peter, and Judas. And, except for Judas, each of these examples went from failure to becoming great men of God.

I think at times we focus way too much on success when we’d be better served by focusing on our failures. I’ve always learned more from my failures than from my successes anyway.

Haven’t you?

Have you ever noticed that the word “failure” seems very personal? It sounds hopeless and permanent. Think about Judas Iscariot and Peter.

But Peter saw his failure as redeemable. Peter figured out that he wasn’t the failure but that he failed.

Judas, on the other hand, saw himself as the failure, a permanent failure. It was all-compassing and he couldn’t live with that.

When we use the word failure in regards to one of our “actions” we need to be very careful that we don’t overgeneralize and conclude that we are a failure.

Although there is a point when maybe if a person did that, the revelation would be so painful, they change their life for the better. But of the people I know who have failed repeatedly in their lives, they almost never see themselves as failures. It’s always someone else or some circumstance that has caused their dismal situation.

When we fail, we need to recognize our failure and call it failure. But not “I’m just a failure.” Besides, the people I’ve known in my life, (and I’ve known a few) who use those words on a repeated basis have never really take responsibility for their actions. They use those words for sympathy.

These last few posts have been tricky to write. I’ve tried to strike a balance between empathy and accountability but it’s hard sometimes, isn’t it?

Especially when it’s someone we deeply care for.

But it’s been my experience as a chaplain, and a lay counselor, as a Bible teacher and a facilitator of “helping” ministries, that people who are truly aware of their failures always seek to change the behavior that caused those failures. Those that don’t seek change are attention-seekers only.

It’s a given.

I hate to be that blunt but it’s true. I attended a service a few years ago and I heard author and pastor James McDonald say something so startling I wrote it in my Bible:

saved you, changed you

Were you able to read it?

If  your faith hasn’t changed you, it hasn’t saved you.

Harsh words, but true. (By the way, the sentence above this one says it’s stupid to tell anyone in heaven to have a good day because every day will be a good day. Won’t that be great?)

I’m talking to me here as well. I can’t say I’ve failed at something and expect any empathy unless I’m willing to work at change. And in case you think Jesus said otherwise let me challenge you to read everything Jesus said and did in the New Testament. Yes, you will find overwhelming love and forgiveness but you will also find much emphasis on personal responsibility.

Yes, we can be forgiven countless time. Yes, we are loved by God beyond measure-no matter what. But God wants more for us. 

As Christians, salvation in heaven is ours but the Scriptures say that we are to live a life full of joy and peace here on earth as well, “joy unbounding and full of glory”.  And that won’t happen until we look at our failures and seek to change the behaviors that caused those failures.

I have a sweet tooth. Big time. I fail miserably sometimes but I’ve come a long way. Now, I actually think before I eat something sweet. If I don’t, I do feel like a failure. I don’t like feeling that way so I practice the needed awareness to change my behavior.


As I write, I’m aware of a couple of people in my life, at opposite ends of the age scale who are setting themselves up for failure. I almost stepped in and addressed the situation but I didn’t. I’ve addressed it often in the past. Now, it’s time for them to take the lead and to accept the responsibility if they fail.

I did a Google search for the word “failure” in Scripture. The word “failure isn’t used but if you want to read what I did find you can click here.

Then I searched for the word “success”. The word “success’ (or variations of) are used occasionally. Almost every time, the success mentioned is tied to personal responsibility. You can read about that here.

Jeremiah 29:11 is quoted often as meaning God wants us to be successful but few people read all the verses before and after. They should. God says in verse eleven that He knows the plans for us to prosper but there is so much more to it than that. God is saying is that He has plans for the Israelites but those plans are connected to certain actions on their part. In other words, there are contingencies tied to those promises. You can read Jeremiah twenty-nine here.

It’s not because God needs us to do anything before he can deliver on His promises. It’s for our sake. God knows that when we invest effort into something, we take it far more seriously. We are more apt to be grateful as well.

For example, if we give a child anything they want and there is nothing expected of them, they are not grateful. They grow up thinking their success is theirs and theirs only and when they run into that employer who demands something of them, they don’t know what to do.

The definition of success and failure is hard to nail down. There are so many nuances. And so much of it depends on one’s interpretation.

But I think it’s a subject each person needs to consider if for no other reason than that it encourages a little self-reflection. I’ve defined for myself where I think I’ve been successful and where I think I’ve failed this past year. But I realize that even with the successes, there were a lot of failures first.

There are few failures that can’t be remedied given enough time and effort.

Nothing I’ve written is truly original. (Is anything really?) It’s all been said before and probably a lot better. But maybe I’ve hit a resounding chord with someone and you now feel encouraged.

I hope so.

Or maybe I’ve made you mad. (I hope not.) But anger is a great motivator sometimes. Been there, done that myself.

I am so glad that as a child of God there is not failure I can’t lay at his feet knowing He will forgive and equip me from failing again. And, of course, God does that for everyone who earnestly cries out.

God bless and have a good day.