Failure is hard because it’s not part of God’s initial design for us. Failure can make us feel crappy because there’s something inside of us that wants more, or expects better of ourselves (and is super disappointed we didn’t get there on our own).

We don’t think God shrugs his shoulders when we fail. 

But we are also very convinced that God is not looking down from above, rolling his eyes, or getting frustrated with us when we fail. After all, he is super patient with us (2 Peter 3:9).

We’re really good at beating ourselves up anyway though, aren’t we? 

We want to remind you (and ourselves): don’t be afraid of failure—it’s something we all deal with. And don’t believe that you are a failure because you failed. You are not a failure. Your mistakes are mistakes, not the sum of who you are. And there is hope for growing through your failure. 

We’re taking a look at three stories of failure in the Bible that give us hope that failure is not the end. In fact, God uses failure.

Failure in the Bible: Moses’ Opposes His Calling (Exodus 3:1–4:17)

Think about the times we’ve failed because we never even tried. We had a sense that God was leading us to do something, but out of fear, stubbornness, or simply because we were preoccupied or distracted, we did nothing. 

Those times can make us feel like we’ve failed in our career, failed our spouses, our kids, or our friends. When we should’ve stepped up, we laid low instead.

When God showed up to Moses in the burning bush and revealed to him all the amazing, powerful things he wanted to do through him, Moses for sure tried to take the “lay low” route. 

Moses doubted God’s decision to work through him (see Exodus 3:11, 13). Moses didn’t think Pharaoh would take him seriously. When God alleviated his first doubts, Moses had more up his sleeve: 

“What if they do not believe me or listen to me” (Exodus 4:1)? 

“Pardon your servant, Lord. I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue” (Exodus 4:10). 

Finally, he just straight up asked God for a way out, “Please send someone else” (Exodus 4:13).

Maybe you know the rest of the story, and maybe you don’t. But a really short version is that God did end up working through Moses. In fact, God led an entire nation out of captivity through Moses’s leadership. And Moses ended up becoming a hero, and a cornerstone figure of the entire Old Testament. 

Moses failed by resisting an invitation to trust God. He failed by opposing (or least trying to oppose) God’s plan for the things God wanted to do through him. 

But guess what? God did his work anyway. Failure (and a string of excuses) didn’t scare God away, and he did something remarkable through Moses. 

God’s remarkable work isn’t dependent on how remarkable you are (though we’d argue you are remarkable, but maybe that’s for another day). It’s dependent on how remarkable HE is. That’s why, even if you’ve failed to step up, or you feel totally ill-equipped for something God is asking you to do, don’t be afraid of failure

Success is not up to you, it’s up to God.

Failure in the Bible: David’s Lust (2 Samuel 11:1–17)

We fail in small, persistent ways when we let a stray, lustful thought take up space in our minds. We fail in big, dangerous ways when we let temptation carry us into relationships, videos, images, and internet spaces where lustful, unhealthy thoughts run rampant. 

That kind of failure feels really bad. That kind of failure leads to self-loathing, and wrecks us with guilt. 

This kind of failure isn’t new to our generation. David’s story of lusting after Bathsheba can feels sickening to read through, it’s such an extreme example of lust gone horribly, horribly wrong.

He starts out by seeing a beautiful woman. Though she’s married, he sleeps with her. And if you consider the power dynamics of David as king and Bathsheba as a woman, this is more than adultery—it’s rape. 

She gets pregnant, and David’s first failure leads him to yet another evil decision: he has her husband killed in battle.

If anything should disqualify someone from God working through them…it seems like this would fit the bill. And yet, God ultimately remembers David as “a man after his own heart” (Acts 13:22). And David even ends up writing a huge portion of Psalms—amazing Psalms that still encourage and inspire many Christians on a daily basis.

We don’t know about you—but when we read the account of David’s failure, we don’t feel compelled that he deserves forgiveness. He messed up really bad. He hurt other people in terrible ways. And this resistance to forgiveness translates to how we view our failure, too. When we fail, it’s hard to accept forgiveness, because we know if we were the ones in charge, we might not dole it out.

Here’s the good news (for David, and for us!): God’s forgiveness isn’t determined by what we deserve. This Psalm tells us what forgiveness is based on: 

“Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin” (Psalm 51:1–2, emphasis added).

No matter how big your fail, God’s compassion is greater. The severity of your mistake is not examined before God decides whether or not to forgive you. His own mercy and compassion is what’s considered (and it’s endlessly good). 

Don’t be afraid of failure, because there is healing forgiveness we can find in God’s great mercy.

Failure in the Bible: Peter’s Betrayal (Luke 22:54–62)

We can feel like failures when we lack courage—when we wish we would’ve spoken up about the thing we stayed quiet about, or we regret a choice we made out of fear. 

Peter’s betrayal of Jesus is another example of failure in the Bible.

Peter and Jesus were tight. It wasn’t a casual acquaintance. Peter was a dedicated disciple of Jesus. So much so, that Jesus called him the foundation on which he’d build the church (Matthew 16:18).

Yet, when Jesus was seized by the authorities and on track for his eventual execution, Peter’s concern for his own safety seemed to overtake any sense of loyalty he felt towards Jesus. Peter denied even knowing Jesus not once, not twice, but three times.

Peter’s story doesn’t end with his betrayal of Jesus though—or even his bitter tears when he realized the gravity of what he’d done (Luke 22:62).

Peter still becomes a founding leader of the early church, just as Jesus promised.

Instead of wallowing in his failure, Peter found a way to trust Jesus’ promise that he would be a great leader of the church. He didn’t walk into that role perfectly qualified for it, or full of great courage. We’re sure it was a bumpy road getting there…but ultimately, Peter’s failure did not define his story. 

Failure doesn’t have to define your story, either. 


God Is Bigger than Your Failure

We don’t look at these Bible stories about failure just to humanize great leaders like Moses, David, and Peter. Yes, they were people, too. They made mistakes. But our key takeaway isn’t, “they made mistakes, so it’s okay if we do, too.”

Rather, the powerful encouragement in their stories is the assurance that God uses failure. God didn’t toss Moses aside when he doubted, David when he committed murder, or Peter when he betrayed Jesus. Instead, God did his work through imperfect, broken people. 

So don’t give up. Don’t be afraid of failure, or believe that it’s the end of your story. Believe that your mistakes and your failure are all part of your journey of God working in you to refine you and make you more like him. God is bigger than your failure.