Failure that Satisfies God

Sanctifying Failure moves us closer to God through its inevitable twists and turns.

Group Photo

There is a type of failure that isn’t sin! We will call this “sanctifying failure.” This is when we try and do something good, in accordance with the Scriptures, rightly motivated, but fail. This is a good type of failure that can simply mean we need to keep looking for the right solution.

If you’re reading this and are a millennial, born between 1980 and 1994, or part of Gen-Z, born between 1995 and 2010, then you probably have the mindset that failure can be a good thing. Failure doesn’t necessarily mean a moral or ethical breakdown. In other words, there is a type of failure that isn’t sinful! We will call this “sanctifying failure.” This is when we try and do something good, in accordance with the Scriptures, rightly motivated, but fail. This is a good type of failure that can simply mean we need to keep looking for the right solution. It can be a catalyst to good character or it can just be the right warning sign to quit one endeavor and begin another. 

I think God likes this kind of failure, I think it makes him smile to see his sons and daughters using their imaginations, being obedient to the faith and trying different ways to advance the cause of Christ. It’s like a loving mother or father watching their daughter take her first steps. The baby can’t walk very far before she falls, but the parents aren’t frustrated when she does; they’re exuberant that she tried, and that she made it as far as she did. This is a good kind of failure that can be quite edifying and even sanctifying. In fact, this type of failure moves us closer to God through its inevitable twists and turns.

Sanctifying failure:

  • Stirs a deeper sense of dependency on God’s authority and sovereignty
  • Can be good practice for making the most of a later success or window of opportunity
  • Eliminates options and thus narrows us in on the best possibility 

I have experienced this type of failure often in my life. I remember when I was a youth pastor in my early twenties trying to get my students excited about evangelism. I used Matthew 4:19 as our main passage. Jesus said, "Follow Me and I will make you fish for people!" In an effort to create an environment that supported this emphasis, we painted the walls to look like we were underwater and themed the whole thing out with cast nets and so forth. But the icing on the cake was an idea I had that I was sure would galvanize the students to care about their lost friends. I took what little money we had in the budget and purchased a fish tank with the idea that every time someone made the decision to follow Jesus we would add a fish to the tank. Brilliant right? Nope! 

I think God likes this kind of failure, I think it makes him smile to see his sons and daughters using their imaginations, being obedient to the faith and trying different ways to advance the cause of Christ. It’s like a loving mother or father watching their daughter take her first steps.

Brent Crowe in Moments 'Til Midnight

I had never owned a fish tank before and knew nothing about filters and oxygen levels and keeping a tank clean, much less keeping the fish alive. When I introduced this idea to our students they thought it was great, and that very day we put three fish in the tank to symbolize the three students who committed to following Jesus that month. By the next Sunday, I had killed all three fish. From then on I was constantly cleaning the tank, flushing dead fish, and trying to remember how many I needed to replace before the next time the students would be back in our youth room. Then somehow I bought fish that would fight and kill each other and even feast on the dead carcasses.

Needless to say, it was a complete train wreck. Some weeks it was the source of a bad smell, and every week a cause of humor for my students. Questions like, “So when we become Christians you want us to turn into zombies and eat each other?” Or “Does all that algae on the sides of the tank represent sin in our friends’ lives?” My favorite was the eighth grader who waxed on and on about how we could die and be brought back to life as a different human being. The basis for his theological position was that he had seen me flush an orange fish and replace it with a black and gold one. 

I look back on the whole fishers of men fiasco and to this day can’t help but laugh at myself. But as I think about that experiment gone wrong, a complete failure, I don’t think it displeased God. If anything I may have given him a good laugh. And through  it  I learned something by trying and failing but not sinning. I found other creative methods to motivate students, and I learned to trust more in God’s sovereignty. After all, students were still getting saved—and I can promise you it had nothing to do with my fish tank. 

So go ahead and get some good failures under your belt, the type of failures that edify, eliminate options, and cause you to trust God all the more because this type of failure is part of your sanctification, and even satisfies the God we serve.

Excerpted with permission from Moments 'til Midnight by Brent Crowe. Copyright 2018, B&H Publishing Group.


"I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith." In the biblical letter of 2 Timothy, the apostle Paul reflected on his passing life. It was but a vapor. He was a pilgrim, passing through this life and into the next. Moments 'til Midnight creatively peels back the curtain of Paul's final hours. Author Brent Crowe imaginatively retells the last twelve hours of Paul's life, from the perspective of the apostle himself. Along the way, readers will be encouraged to live with purpose, to redeem the time, and to embrace the awesome reality that they too are on a sacred journey. 

With no more letters to write, no more churches to plant, no more sermons to preach, and no more missionary journeys to embark upon, Paul awaited his death sentence. What were his final reflections on life? How did he view the race he had run? How should you view the race set before you