Is Failure Necessary? - The Warrior's Journey®

Is Failure Necessary?

Author: Chaplain, COL Scott McChrystal, USA (Ret.)

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“Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the worst.” (1 Timothy 1:15)

Jonas Salk attempted 200 unsuccessful vaccines for polio before he came up with one that worked. Somebody once asked him: “How did it feel to fail 200 times trying to invent a vaccine for polio?” His response: “I never failed 200 times at anything in my life. My family taught me never to use that word. I simply discovered 200 ways how not to make a vaccine for polio.” (John Ortberg) 

Consider how Thomas Edison looked at failure. In his single invention of the incandescent light, Edison amassed more than 2,500 failures in the process.  This was largely due to his painstaking “trial and error” process. At times he was criticized over his “inefficient” methodology: “How can you justify so many failures for a single invention?” Edison’s reply: “Failures?  I never failed once.  Inventing the light bulb turned out to be a 2,500-step process and I was persistent enough to take all 2,500 steps.”  And look at the results – Thomas Edison still holds the record for the most patented inventions – 1,093! And Jonas Salk saved millions of lives! 

It’s all about reframing failure and seeing it as a necessary component of success and growth. Consider the solemn caution of J. Wallace Hamilton in Leadership magazine:  “The increase of suicides, alcoholics, and even some forms of nervous breakdowns is evidence that many people are training for success when they should be training for failure. Failure is far more common than success; poverty is more prevalent than wealth, and disappointment more normal than arrival.”   

We need to see that failure, even spiritual and moral failure, does not constitute “the end.” In fact, God can incorporate our failures into his plan for our lives and into his molding of a Christ-like character within us. Why else did Peter’s denial of the Lord ultimately make him a more compassionate and effective apostle? Why else did Paul’s reflection on his own persecution and murder of Christians drive him to consider himself the least of the apostles (1 Corinthians 15:9), the least of the believers (Ephesians 3:8), and ultimately, the worst of sinners (1 Timothy 1:15). Failure developed in him a profound sense of humility. Only then, could Paul forgive and believe in others (like John Mark) who had wronged him (2 Timothy 4:11). It’s a fact, God can and does use failure in our lives for our growth and ultimate good. If you fail, it’s not the end. Rise from failure and allow God to use it to bring about an ultimate good in your life. 


  • Have you failed in your job performance or in some trespass? 
  • Can you see how God can use failure in your life to make you more forgiving, more compassionate, and more humble? Won’t this make you more effective as a servant of Christ? 
  • Let God redeem your failures by using them to make you more Christ-like. 

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