Farmers who wait for perfect weather never plant. If they watch every cloud, they never harvest. …  Plant your seed in the morning and keep busy all afternoon, for you don’t know if profit will come from one activity or another-or maybe both.
Ecclesiastes 11:4,6 NLT
Fear of failure paralyzes us; it turns us into farmers who never plant. It stops us from setting goals, trying new things, and taking action on the dreams God puts on our hearts.
Instead of letting fear of failure paralyze us, this passage tells us to take action. Some things will succeed and some things might not, and that’s okay. Also, it’s possible that everything could work out—which is a possibility we usually don’t consider when we’re afraid of failure.
Failure can be scary, but it doesn’t have to be. It can simply be a step toward growing into God’s destiny for our lives.
The LORD directs the steps of the godly. He delights in every detail of their lives. Though they stumble, they will never fall, for the LORD holds them by the hand.
Psalm 37:23-24 NLT
I took figure skating lessons as a kid, and one of the first things the teachers made us practice was falling down and getting back up again. It wasn’t glamorous, and I really wanted to learn the cool moves I saw figure skaters do on TV, but our teachers were wise. Falling in figure skating is a normal part of learning something new; if we were afraid of it, we wouldn’t be able to grow or try new things. We needed to accept that it would happen and learn to get back up again when it did.
The same is true in our spiritual lives. Stumbling is a normal part of learning, growing, and taking on new responsibilities. That’s why we don’t have to be scared of it. God will stick with us through any mistakes, help us get back up again, and even direct our steps towards something good.
The Bible gives us plenty of examples of imperfect people who failed on their way to spiritual growth and success. These inspiring stories teach us to put our fear of failure aside and take steps forward on the path of spiritual growth, whatever that might look like for us.
In this devotional, we picked five examples of successful people in the Bible who went through times of failure in their faith, leadership, parenting, and marriage. We’ll look at how God turned their worst moments into some of the most powerful parts of their story, and he will do the same for us.
Moses: God’s plan works best when we are humble
Moses became one of the most influential leaders in Israel’s history, but we wouldn’t know it by looking at how he started out.
One of his first attempts at leadership failed badly. Driven by his emotion, he killed a man who was beating one of his fellow Israelites:
Many years later, when Moses had grown up, he went out to visit his own people, the Hebrews, and he saw how hard they were forced to work. During his visit, he saw an Egyptian beating one of his fellow Hebrews.  After looking in all directions to make sure no one was watching, Moses killed the Egyptian and hid the body in the sand.  The next day, when Moses went out to visit his people again, he saw two Hebrew men fighting. “Why are you beating up your friend?” Moses said to the one who had started the fight.  The man replied, “Who appointed you to be our prince and judge? Are you going to kill me as you killed that Egyptian yesterday?” Then Moses was afraid, thinking, “Everyone knows what I did.”  And sure enough, Pharaoh heard what had happened, and he tried to kill Moses. But Moses fled from Pharaoh and went to live in the land of Midian.
Exodus 2:11-15 NLT
Moses had the right intentions—he saw that his people were hurting and he wanted to help them—but he was led by his own passion and opinions about the right way to handle the situation, which led him to fall flat on his face. The people he was trying to lead didn’t want to follow him, and the king of Egypt tried to kill him.
Moses handled this mistake by running away in fear. He fled to a foreign place called Midian, isolated from his people and safe from making any other big mistakes.
And then, forty years later, God entered his life.
Then the LORD told him, “I have certainly seen the oppression of my people in Egypt. I have heard their cries of distress because of their harsh slave drivers. Yes, I am aware of their suffering.  Now go, for I am sending you to Pharaoh. You must lead my people Israel out of Egypt.“
Exodus 3:7,10 NLT
Of all the people God could have chosen to lead his people in this pivotal moment, why did he choose the guy who had failed big time?
Moses asked the same question:
But Moses protested to God, “Who am I to appear before Pharaoh? Who am I to lead the people of Israel out of Egypt?”  God answered, “I will be with you. And this is your sign that I am the one who has sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God at this very mountain.”
Exodus 3:7, 10-12 NLT
God had the power to save the Israelites, and he didn’t need Moses to be the perfect leader; he simply needed Moses to be humble and let God work through him.
Eventually, Moses agreed with God’s plan. He took all the help God offered, and succeeded in leading God’s people out of Egypt and towards the Promised Land.
Now Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth.
Numbers 12:3 NIV
Moses wasn’t the most talented or the most confident leader, but he did learn to be humble. He became known as the most humble man on earth. His moments of failure and weakness helped him see his need for God’s help, which allowed God to work through him in miraculous ways.
We can learn from Moses that any of the “failures” we go through in life can turn into successes if we let them teach us to be humble. God’s plans for us are not limited by our failures; on the contrary, they are actually best achieved through our humility.
Pause and reflect
- How could humility help me overcome any feelings of failure I have in the past and any fears I have of failing in the future?
David: God’s power can make us new
David was a warrior and king in the Bible who was known for his close relationship with God (Acts 13:22). He won incredible victories and experienced deep intimacy with God, but he made a lot of mistakes:
- David had marriage issues. His first wife looked at him with nothing but contempt (2 Samuel 16:6). David also committed adultery with a married woman, then had her husband killed to cover it up (2 Samuel 11-12).
- David had parenting issues. His children magnified many of his sins, and he spent a good amount of time running from a rebellious son who was trying to steal the kingdom from him (see 2 Samuel 13-15).
- David made leadership mistakes out of arrogance and pride (2 Chronicles 21).
Those of us who feel like we have failed a lot in our spiritual lives (or are afraid of doing so) can find reassurance in knowing that God is not looking for a perfect performance. He wants a close relationship, which is what David’s story tells us.
“God is not nearly as focused on our record of wrongdoing as he is on the condition of our hearts. When it comes to sin, we might say that in God’s eyes, ‘awareness is health.’ Those who see their sins and seek his help end up with a soft heart and a changed life. Not only can God forgive, but he can make us new.
‘After removing Saul, he made David their king. God testified concerning him: “I have found David son of Jesse, a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do.”’
Acts 13:22 NIV
What made David such a significant figure in the Bible was that he understood that God wanted a relationship, not a performance. David knew that God was not as preoccupied with the sins he had committed as he was with how those sins had affected the relationship between the two of them.”
Russ Ewell, He’s Not Who You Think He Is, pp. 33-34
David took full responsibility for his sins, and chose to turn to God to get the forgiveness, mercy, and change he desperately needed.
Have mercy on me, O God, because of your unfailing love. Because of your great compassion, blot out the stain of my sins.  Wash me clean from my guilt. Purify me from my sin.  For I recognize my rebellion; it haunts me day and night.  Against you, and you alone, have I sinned; I have done what is evil in your sight. You will be proved right in what you say, and your judgment against me is just.  Purify me from my sins, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.  Create in me a clean heart, O God. Renew a loyal spirit within me.
Psalm 51:1-4,7,10 NLT
Because David turned to God in his failure, he was able to overcome, grow, and move past the guilt and regret that could have undermined his life. In fact, David’s prayer of repentance in Psalm 51 has become a map for anyone who feels lost to find their way back to God.
Just like David, we can move forward from any spiritual failures by knowing that God’s love is greater than our performance. He is powerful enough to make a broken heart new again.
Pause and reflect
- In what areas do I need God to make me new? What mistakes do I need his help moving on from?
- How does my fear of failure change when I think about God’s desire for a soft heart rather than a perfect performance?
Peter: God’s purpose for us includes our comeback stories
Simon Peter was one of Jesus’s best friends, and he later became one of the most significant leaders of the early church. But perhaps the part of his life that has helped the most people is his comeback story.
“Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift each of you like wheat.  But I have pleaded in prayer for you, Simon, that your faith should not fail. So when you have repented and turned to me again, strengthen your brothers.”  Peter said, “Lord, I am ready to go to prison with you, and even to die with you.”  But Jesus said, “Peter, let me tell you something. Before the rooster crows tomorrow morning, you will deny three times that you even know me.”
Luke 22:21-24 NIV
Before Jesus went to the cross, he knew Peter would falter. Peter denied it, but only a few hours later Jesus’s prediction came true:
 After a while someone else looked at him and said, “You must be one of them!” “No, man, I’m not!” Peter retorted.  About an hour later someone else insisted, “This must be one of them, because he is a Galilean, too.”  But Peter said, “Man, I don’t know what you are talking about.” And immediately, while he was still speaking, the rooster crowed.  At that moment the Lord turned and looked at Peter. Suddenly, the Lord’s words flashed through Peter’s mind: “Before the rooster crows tomorrow morning, you will deny three times that you even know me.”  And Peter left the courtyard, weeping bitterly.
Luke 22:31-34,58-62 NLT
Peter’s failure probably felt pretty big – rather than courageously supporting his best friend and mentor, he denied he even knew him. He left Jesus alone to be sentenced to death, and he watched Jesus look straight at him while he did it.
But without his failure, Peter probably would have never learned the importance of forgiveness, faith, and love in leadership. Jesus believed in Peter. He knew his friend was going to fail, but he also believed he would turn back. After Jesus was raised back to life, he taught Peter how to love others in the same way:
After breakfast Jesus asked Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” Peter replied, “you know I love you.” “Then feed my lambs,” Jesus told him.  Jesus repeated the question: “Simon son of John, do you love me?” “Yes, Lord,” Peter said, “you know I love you.” “Then take care of my sheep,” Jesus said.  A third time he asked him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt that Jesus asked the question a third time. He said, “Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Then feed my sheep.”
John 21:15-17 NLT
Peter wanted to prove to Jesus that he loved him, but Jesus pointed him outward, telling him that one of the best ways to love God is to love others. There is no failure, flaw, or sin that could prevent us from choosing to love the people around us every day, and even our lowest moments can be used to strengthen others.
It was this mindset that helped Peter grow to become a key leader in the early Christian church (Acts 2). Rather than losing his faith over his guilt and regret, he used his mistakes to show the love and forgiveness of God. He wrote the books of 1 and 2 Peter, encouraging us about the power of love to overcome even a multitude of sins:
Most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other, for love covers a multitude of sins.
1 Peter 4:8 NLT
Pause and reflect
- How could my failures help me become a more loving person?
- Who in my life needs me to love them the way Jesus loved Peter?
Abraham and Sarah: God’s promises don’t change when we fail
Abraham and Sarah were a couple in the Bible who spent years hoping and praying for a child, only to be met with what seemed like silence from God.
So when God told almost 100-year-old Abraham that he and Sarah would have a child that time next year, it’s easy to understand the skepticism that followed.
“Where is Sarah, your wife?” the visitors asked. “She’s inside the tent,” Abraham replied.  Then one of them said, “I will return to you about this time next year, and your wife, Sarah, will have a son!” Sarah was listening to this conversation from the tent.  Abraham and Sarah were both very old by this time, and Sarah was long past the age of having children.  So she laughed silently to herself and said, “How could a worn-out woman like me enjoy such pleasure, especially when my master-my husband-is also so old?”  Then the LORD said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh? Why did she say, ‘Can an old woman like me have a baby?’  Is anything too hard for the LORD? I will return about this time next year, and Sarah will have a son.”  Sarah was afraid, so she denied it, saying, “I didn’t laugh.” But the LORD said, “No, you did laugh.”
Genesis 18:9-15 NLT
Sarah’s response to God’s promise wasn’t very faithful. She laughed at it.
In fact, at many points in their lives, Abraham and Sarah had let their fear guide them:
- Abraham lied to the intimidating Egyptians about Sarah being his sister to protect himself (Genesis 12:10-20).
- Sarah told Abraham he should sleep with her maid Hagar so that he could have a son that way (Genesis 16:1-4), and then out of Sarah’s jealousy and Abraham’s compliance, the two of them kicked out Hagar and her son after he was born (Genesis 16:5-6).
But none of these rash decisions of fear and desperation stopped God’s purpose for them. Even Sarah’s failure to respond to God in the way she probably should have didn’t stop his purpose from being fulfilled. They did eventually have a miraculous child who fulfilled God’s promises to them.
We can learn from this that God’s purpose for us isn’t something we earn; he chooses us for things we don’t deserve, and we don’t have to worry that our failures will disqualify us from it. Abraham and Sarah fell down a lot, but they kept going. They didn’t let one failure define them. Instead, they kept coming back to the promise of God.
Even when there was no reason for hope, Abraham kept hoping-believing that he would become the father of many nations. For God had said to him, “That’s how many descendants you will have!”  And Abraham’s faith did not weaken, even though, at about 100 years of age, he figured his body was as good as dead-and so was Sarah’s womb.  Abraham never wavered in believing God’s promise. In fact, his faith grew stronger, and in this he brought glory to God.  He was fully convinced that God is able to do whatever he promises.  And because of Abraham’s faith, God counted him as righteous.
Romans 4:18-22 NLT
Abraham and Sarah learned to trust in God’s promises instead of reacting in fear. They went from people who doubted and laughed at God to models of powerful and unwavering faith. We can do the same when we learn to trust God’s promises more than our own experiences or fears.
God cannot tell lies! And so his promises and vows are two things that can never be changed. We have run to God for safety. Now his promises should greatly encourage us to take hold of the hope that is right in front of us.  This hope is like a firm and steady anchor for our souls. In fact, hope reaches behind the curtain and into the most holy place.
Hebrews 6:18-19 CEV
Pause and reflect
- What hopes and desires have I given up on?
- What would it look like for me to hold onto persistent faith in God’s promises?
Gideon: God’s patience calms our fears
The angel of the LORD came and sat down under the oak tree at Ophrah that belonged to Joash, one of the Abiezrite people. Gideon, Joash’s son, was separating some wheat from the chaff in a winepress to keep the wheat from the Midianites.  The angel of the LORD appeared to Gideon and said, “The LORD is with you, mighty warrior!”  Then Gideon said, “Sir, if the LORD is with us, why are we having so much trouble? Where are the miracles our ancestors told us he did when the LORD brought them out of Egypt? But now he has left us and has handed us over to the Midianites.”
Judges 6:11-13 NCV
When God appeared to Gideon, Gideon was in a tough spot. Having been oppressed by the Midianites for years, Gideon was living a very small life. His main goal was to survive, and that was evident as he hid in a winepress to thresh wheat so that the Midianites wouldn’t steal food from him. If he had made any attempts to courageously stand up for himself, they had clearly failed. And if he hadn’t, he must have been carrying around a lot of emotion about his failure to act.
He didn’t feel like God was with him, and he didn’t feel like a mighty warrior. How could he possibly lead a nation if he couldn’t even get himself out of a winepress?
Gideon’s story shows us that God is incredibly patient with us, and he wants to give us courage when we are afraid. He is always trying to pull us out of our own fears and “winepresses” to show us what we are capable of if we just choose to go through life with him on our side.
The LORD turned to Gideon and said, “Go with your strength and save Israel from the Midianites. I am the one who is sending you.”  But Gideon answered, “Lord, how can I save Israel? My family group is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least important member of my family.”  The LORD answered him, “I will be with you. It will seem as if the Midianites you are fighting are only one man.”
Judges 6:14-16 NCV
God told Gideon that if he just went with the strength he had – however large or small that strength was – God would take care of the rest. Gideon eventually listened to God and led the Israelites to victory, but not until he was honest with God.
Before Gideon could move past his fear, he had to first express his fears, doubts, insecurities, and failures to God. He felt too weak, he felt unimportant, and he felt like God wasn’t going to follow through. As he expressed these things, Gideon built a relationship with God that helped him overcome his fears. God was patient with him and responded to what Gideon needed.
And at each step, God listened to him and showed Gideon that he could be trusted.
God will do the same for us when we unload all our fears, doubts, anxieties, and insecurities to him, but decide to trust him even in the midst of what we feel. Even when we fail, we can overcome any obstacle when we take our fears to God. As we do, we’ll discover that God who calms our fears, just like Gideon did:
Gideon built an altar for worshiping the LORD and called it “The LORD Calms Our Fears.” It still stands there in Ophrah, a town in the territory of the Abiezer clan.
Judges 6:24 CEV
Pause and reflect
- What fears, doubts, or insecurities stop me from believing that God has chosen me for a great purpose?
- What has my fear stopped me from doing, and how can I choose to trust God and take action in that area today?
No failure is too big for God. As long as we humbly, faithfully, and honestly turn to him, he can turn anything in our lives into something good. With this deep conviction, we can move forward and try things, knowing that even our failures can be powerful parts of our story.