Another time, I told a friend, “You play guitar really well! You’ve definitely got a gift.” He responded, “Yeah, well, you should see the guys who really know how to play. I try my best, though…”
Someone told me once, “I really like your artwork. You’re really talented.” I immediately responded, “Well, I like doing it, but I still have a hard time getting the proportions right, and on this one, this part is all wrong, and this part didn’t turn out how I wanted…”
Because I have some natural talent in art, I see all my failures when I make a piece of art. I see the shapes are wrong, the colors are ugly, the piece is expressionless and without emotion… I see these failures because I have a talent here. If I had no talent in art, I would not see my failures. I would have no idea of how far I was from where I could be, should be.
I have no natural gift with music. I can play guitar but I have no idea how to play piano. I can hit keys like anyone who’s not in a coma can do, but if something beautiful comes out when I hit those black and white things, it’s just an accident. I don’t see my faults in piano because I have no gifting or talent here. If someone compliments me, I don’t point out all the things I’m doing wrong, all the growth I hope to see, because I simply have no idea what’s missing. I don’t even see my failures because I can’t play piano.
Sometimes, we focus so much on the failures in our lives that we fail to see the successes. I forget how beautiful a piece of art is because I focus on all the things that I wish were better. My friend fails to appreciate his beautiful music and God-given talent because he’s focusing on the notes he can’t play correctly. The mom doesn’t even recognize the patience that has been growing in her life because she sees only the many times of failure.
But when we see failure in our lives, it’s actually much more a sign of progress than of defeat. Noticing failure means you notice you’re not where you should be. Noticing failure means you see what you could be. Noticing failure means you’re still alive and that you’ve grown enough to recognize you’ve got a lot more of growing to do. And those are all good things!
Think about it. Only a man who’s tone-deaf fails to see a need for improvement in his singing! He thinks he’s awesome and wonders why on earth everyone else is screaming and covering their ears. If only he actually had some ability to sing, then he’d realize his failures… a sure sign of growth.
God grows us, I think, by throwing us in over our heads. It’s like a boy who doesn’t know how to swim is tossed into the deep end of the pool. While he’s splashing and screaming, “I can’t swim! I can’t swim!” he somehow stays afloat… and learns to swim. It’s when he’s in over his head, looking at his inability, that he’s actually growing the most. Standing on the edge confident in his abilities, feeling and seeing no failures, he’s not growing in any way (except older and probably fatter).
But, thrown in over his head, all he sees is he’s drowning. What he doesn’t see is that he hasn’t sunk yet, and that he’s actually learning to swim.
I think of the young men I know who struggle with pornography. They see the constant failures, but they don’t see the determination and godly stubbornness that’s being built in their hearts as they struggle and lose and fail and keep going.
I think of the friends I know who struggle with fear, especially when sharing the gospel. They see that time at work when they didn’t talk to their boss, that time when they were too scared to even tell someone “God bless you” after he sneezed, that time their own friends asked them about Jesus and they gave a confusing, vague answer. They see the failures but what they don’t see is the man who’s recognizing his weakness and learning to trust in the strength of God rather than that of men.
Proverbs 24:16 says that a righteous man falls seven times but gets up again.
A righteous man is not someone who never falls but rather someone who fails quite a bit, seven times in fact. Seven is often a symbolic number in the Bible, representing wholeness. (Does this mean a righteous man keeps on failing, time and time again, that he always fails?)
The key, though, is that the righteous man gets back up again.
Next time you fail, instead of beating yourself up, try a more biblical method. Get back up. Try it again. (Or, if you want to use the religious word, repent.) And praise God for how he’s growing you and for how this failure is a sure sign of coming growth as you struggle in a fight that you can’t win… yet.