How Can I Overcome Failure?

Never Give Up

The longer you live, the more you will have to deal with failure. When you do fail, don’t give up.

The key to overcoming failure is to recognize that it can be beneficial. God wants us to learn from our failures. He especially wants us to learn not to make the same mistake again. We need to face our weaknesses and accept personal responsibility for our actions. You cannot correct a problem you are not willing to face. But, by the grace of God, you can turn your failure into victory.

Sometimes we fail simply because we are humanly incapable of accomplishing a certain task. Even though you may love to snow ski, you may not have the physical ability to ski in the Winter Olympics. That does not mean you are a failure. God does not call you to do something unless He equips you for it. Don’t spend the rest of your life feeling like a failure because you could not succeed at something you were never called to do.

Most of us have dreams that we never fully realize. That does not mean we have failed. Sometimes we overlook our successes because we focus all our attention on what we cannot do. There are many things you can do to the glory of God. But if you let failure discourage you, you will never accomplish what you might have if you had just kept on trying.

Accept the Reality of Failure

All human beings fail. God is fully aware of your limitations. The Scripture says, For he knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust (Psalm 103:14). God knows our limitations, and we must accept them as well. True success is not avoiding failure, but learning what to do with it.

In his day, Babe Ruth not only set the record for home runs in a single baseball season, but he also led the league in strikeouts! The same was true of Reggie Jackson in more recent times.

It is better to attempt things and fail, than never to attempt anything because you are afraid to fail. We never learn the limits of our ability until we reach the point of total failure. Thomas Edison tried over five thousand different types of light-bulb filaments before he found one that would work. His willingness to endure many failures gave us the modern electric light.

Overcome the Fear of Failure

Fear is more damaging than failure. Worrying about what might go wrong will prevent you from moving ahead. Stop being afraid of failure and determine to succeed. Focus on your goals, not on your fears. Move ahead with determination. Many worthwhile achievements involve taking some risks. The Bible says, God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7).

Fear and anxiety can paralyze your creativity and generate a confusing inner conflict. This will result in erratic and indecisive behavior. If you cannot think straight, you will never be able to function properly. The Bible clearly teaches that we are not to worry about the problems of life. In Philippians 4:6, the apostle Paul warned, Be careful for nothing, meaning do not be full of care (or worry). Rather, he urged his readers to pray about everything. In other words, he was saying that we should stop worrying and start praying.

Overcome the Fact of Failure

Many people never overcome their failures because they never forgive themselves for failing. Instead of moving beyond failure to success, they continue to punish themselves with self-inflicted guilt. If you have failed, admit it and start over. Confession is the key to shaking off the past. The Bible says, He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy (Proverbs 28:13).

To fail is not to be a failure. Everyone fails sooner or later. The key to success is determining how you will handle your failure. If you try to hide it, it will haunt you. If you confess it, you can conquer it. Forgive yourself and accept God’s forgiveness as a genuine expression of His grace.

Accept Your Limitations

Some of us think we have failed, when in fact we simply have not recognized our limitations. God has given you certain gifts and abilities with which to serve Him. You cannot do everything, but you can do something for God. Identify what you can do effectively, and concentrate your efforts on that. Stop worrying about what you cannot do.

For several years I counseled with a young man who was severely physically handicapped. Despite his limitations, he had lofty goals that were humanly unattainable for him. He would try to do too much and fail. Then he would blame himself and go into deep depression. At times he even became suicidal because he would not accept his limitations.

No one can swim across a lake the first time he tries. He must break the objective down into attainable units. By simplifying our objectives, we increase our potential for success. Don’t try to do so much that you are destined to fail. Remember, time is on your side. You may find yourself taking two steps forward and one step backward, but you are making progress. You will more likely reach your objective in attainable steps rather than one giant leap. Climbing a ladder step by step still beats trying to jump all the way up on the roof in one bounding leap.

The author of Proverbs reminds us, For a just man falleth seven times, and riseth up again (Proverbs 24:16). Don’t give up. God is not finished with you. The process of spiritual growth and maturity is just beginning. One of my favorite Bible verses has long been Philippians 1:6, which says, Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ. God has started something in you that will continue until Christ returns or you go to be with Him. Failure is not the end. It is just a trouble spot along the way.

Overcoming Guilt and Discouragement

You will never conquer failure until you stop condemning yourself. God’s grace is sufficient for your mistakes.

Guilt is self-judgment rising from a troubled conscience. Initially all sin produces guilt in the soul of the sinner. That guilt either drives us to God for forgiveness, or we drive it into our subconsciousness where it erodes our emotions. Guilt is a major factor in psychological problems.

All too often we respond to guilt with defense mechanisms such as denial, blame-shifting, suppression, or self-justification. In turn, guilt feelings stimulate self-condemnation in the form of anxiety, inferiority, fear, worry, and pessimism. When these are not resolved, they lead to various forms of psychological camouflage.

Guilt is Personal and Objective

It arises from the violation of a standard of behavior we accept as valid. That standard is the basis of our self-government from which we establish a personal code of ethics. Inevitably, we all fall short of that standard, and guilt arises within us. At that point we have three basic choices: denial, self-condemnation, or confession.

Denial of reality is deadly. We will never learn to deal with our failures if we persist in denying them. Facing reality is an essential step toward the solution to our problems.

Self-condemnation is a form of self-punishment. It causes our subconscious mind to look for “”tools of torture”” to inflict pain and condemnation on ourselves. It also causes us to respond to others with anger, bitterness, insults, accusations, and condemnation of their actions. It breeds tension, conflict, and confusion.

Confession is an act of sincerity by which we honestly acknowledge personal responsibility for our failures. It is our way of admitting that we are wrong and we know it. As painful as it may be, it is the key that unlocks the door of forgiveness.


The first step in dealing with guilt is repentance. To repent means to “change one’s attitude and behavior.” Repentance is a mental decision that produces an act of the will resulting in a change of action. No one ever truly repented and then went right on deliberately sinning. We may fail again. When we do, we must repent again. As long as we continue to justify our sin we will never correct it. Those who refuse to repent will persist in their sin.

Repentance involves honesty. We must face ourselves as we really are and do something about it. Identify wrong attitudes and actions that are eating you up with guilt. You will never be free from your guilt until you face your sin and do something about it.


The biblical concept of confession means to “say the same thing” or to agree. When we confess our sins to God, we are simply agreeing with Him that our sin is wrong. We are acknowledging that God’s standard is just and that we have failed. Thus, the basis of dealing with guilt is repentance and the means is confession.

The Bible promises, If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (I John 1:9). Confession leads to a clear conscience, which heals the guilty soul. Without a clear conscience, guilt cannot be resolved.

A Clear Conscience

The goal of repentance and confession is a clear conscience, which in turn frees us of guilt. A clear conscience is the direct opposite of a guilty conscience. To clear your conscience means to remove all obstacles of guilt.

The process works much more easily than it sounds. Every time we honestly confess our sin we remove the guilt that is in our conscience and thereby eliminate fear and anxiety. Sin produces guilt. Confession removes guilt and clears the conscience. When your conscience is clear, you are no longer looking over your shoulder wondering who is going to expose you. Your fear is gone because you have nothing to hide.

Having a clear conscience in one of the greatest needs in our lives. A guilty conscience will keep you from being effective for God. It will prevent you from witnessing to the lost or encouraging the saints.

Clearing your conscience is vital if you are ever going to overcome guilt and discouragement. D.L. Moody once said, “I have never known God to use a discouraged Christian.” Neither have I. God wants to forgive your sin, cleanse your conscience, and set you free to serve Him. Whatever may have gone wrong can be made right. The Bible assures us there is only one unpardonable sin blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. All other sins may be forgiven. But we must take God’s offer of forgiveness seriously.

Accepting Forgiveness

God is willing to forgive you, and you must be willing to forgive yourself.

Jesus constantly emphasized that He came into the world to save sinners, not to condemn them (see John 3:17). By condemning ourselves, we reject God’s offer of grace and pardon. If we refuse His cleansing, we refuse the only true solution to our guilt.

Salvation is instantaneous, but it initiates a lifelong process. Conversion happens in a split second, but spiritual growth takes a lifetime. Learning to face our failures and the guilt they produce is part of that process. No one is perfect. We are all guilty before God (see Romans 3:23). Yet the God who knows us best is willing to forgive us most. And when He forgives, He forgets!

In light of God’s willingness to forgive us, we must be willing to forgive ourselves. Life is filled with failures of all types: academic, economic, marital, moral, professional, and social. Each time we fail, our conscience acts as a moral executioner and an internal judge that pronounces us guilty.

When we fail to accept God’s forgiveness for our failures, we punish ourselves. Such self-punishment often leads to further failure and more guilt. Finally we become trapped in self-condemnation. Self-punishment can never atone for our sins. We must accept God’s atonement through the sacrificial death of His Son on the cross.

Jesus died to pay the penalty for our sin and to appease the wrath of God against that sin. Through the atonement of Jesus Christ, God provided the payment for sin that man’s conscience demands. He did for us what we could never do for ourselves. The price has already been paid. As the hymn-writer put it, “”Jesus paid it all, all to Him I owe; Sin had left a crimson stain, He washed it white as snow.””

Self-punishment will never correct the problem or atone for your sin. But accepting the love and forgiveness of God by faith in Christ’s atonement will. Though we do not deserve it, His atonement is sufficient for our sin. This is what grace is all about. It is the unmerited favor of God toward undeserving sinners. Only as we accept the unearned gift of God’s grace will we find freedom from self-condemnation. The Scripture says, In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace (Ephesians 1:7).

Once you can forgive yourself, you can live in the freedom of God’s grace. Life suddenly will take on new joy and purpose. You will regain your creativity and a new sense of direction for the future. As you regain the joy of your salvation, consider these essential steps.


One of the keys to forgiveness is the willingness to make restitution for any wrong we may have done. This is not self-punishment. It is the sincere attempt to do all we can to right the wrong that has been done. If you have spread malicious gossip about someone and hurt his reputation, you not only need to ask his forgiveness, but you should also make every effort to correct and repair the damage.

Sometimes restitution is impossible because of time or distance. But when it is possible, it is one of the most important steps you can take. Knowing that you have done all you humanly can to correct the problem will give you a clear conscience and set you free to accept God’s forgiveness.


To reconcile means to “bring together” opposing parties. It is the change in relationship that occurs after forgiveness is granted. It heals our hurts and brings together those who have been alienated by wrongdoing. Alienation disappears and is replaced with the potential for developing a renewed friendship.

Reconciliation occurs between God and man at salvation. When we confess our sin and by faith receive Christ as our Savior, we who were at enmity with God become reconciled to Him (see 2 Corinthians 5 :18-20) . In the same way, we must be willing to be reconciled to those whom we have hurt or wronged in some way. If you know you have offended someone, go to him, ask his forgiveness, and seek reconciliation.

Restoration. The Scripture tells us that the goal of this process is restoration to service. The apostle Paul said, Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest ye also be tempted. Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ (Galatians 6:1-2).

To restore means “to place back into service.” It denotes the idea of restoration to usefulness. When someone breaks a bone in his arm, that arm becomes useless for a time. During the period of inactivity the bone begins to heal. When it is properly mended and exercised, it may again be useful.

The same is true of the believer who has failed spiritually or morally. No one is ever beyond the touch of God’s grace, and no one who has failed is ever totally useless to God. Your failure may require time to heal. It may even cause you to experience a period of inactivity. But eventually God will open opportunities of service again. No matter what has gone wrong, He does not want to leave you on the sidelines forever.


To overcome self-condemnation, you must believe that God is greater than your failure. Faith is the key to victory over failure. The apostle John said, If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (I John 1:9). Notice the two words that describe the character of God: faithful and just. We must believe that God is faithful and just in His dealing with us.

Understanding forgiveness is not enough. You must believe by faith that you are forgiven. This is the key to the whole process. Stop condemning yourself. You cannot undo the past, but you can change the future. Others may not forget your mistakes, but God will forgive and forget.

Remember, God sees the end from the beginning. You may be bogged down in the mire of your immediate problems to the degree that you cannot see beyond them. But God can see where all of this is leading you. Trust Him to see you through the dark hours and difficult times. Just as you trusted Him by faith for salvation, trust Him to forgive you and restore you to his service.

The Bible reminds us, But without faith it is impossible to please him; for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him (Hebrews 11:6).

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Dr. Elmer Towns is a college and seminary professor, an author of popular and scholarly works (the editor of two encyclopedias), a popular seminar lecturer, and dedicated worker in Sunday school, and has developed over 20 resource packets for leadership education.His personal education includes a B.S. from Northwestern College in Minneapolis, Minnesota, a M.A. from Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, a Th.M. from Dallas Theological Seminary also in Dallas, a MRE from Garrett Theological Seminary in Evanston, Illinois, and a D.Min. from Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California.He is co-founder of Liberty University, with Jerry Falwell, in 1971, and was the only full-time teacher in the first year of Liberty’s existence. Today, the University has over 11,400 students on campus with 39,000 in the Distance Learning Program (now Liberty University Online), and he is the Dean of the School of Religion.Dr. Towns has given theological lectures and taught intensive seminars at over 50 theological seminaries in America and abroad. He holds visiting professorship rank in five seminaries. He has written over 2,000 reference and/or popular articles and received six honorary doctoral degrees. Four doctoral dissertations have analyzed his contribution to religious education and evangelism.

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