New Year, Same Fear? The Fear of Failure

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January 18, 2022

What holds you back?

I had a teacher once tell me I was a horrible writer. I’ll never forget it. As they returned my assignment stating, “You’re writing is not up to standard, and I don’t think there is really any hope in making it better.” Umm… what is a 15-year-old, insecure high school student supposed to do with that comment? So, I was a failure at writing, great. I initially didn’t believe that about myself, but if someone who was a “teacher of writing” thought I was horrible, then I must have been.

I carried that with me for a long time.

I repeatedly reread every paper I wrote in college and grad school to make sure it was grammatically correct, that my sentences made sense, and my research was thorough. I lived in constant fear that I would fail my writing assignments because “I wasn’t a good writer.” The worst of it was when I knew my master’s thesis had been graded and returned. I prayed so hard that I would pass.

“98%. Great work, Ravae. Well researched and explained.”

I wish you all could have seen the shock on my face. Maybe I wasn’t a complete and total failure after all?

If you were to make a list of most people’s greatest fears, I would bet failure would be close to the top. Failure is something that makes us vulnerable. It makes us feel as if we aren’t good or smart enough to make a dream become a reality. That is why we often give up on our New Year’s resolutions or don’t make them. We don’t want to be seen as a failure.

The problem with the fear of failure is that it leads to inaction. It prevents us from doing the things we are gifted to do and the things God made us for! God didn’t create us to live in fear [2 Timothy 1:7]. He created us for action.

Philippians 1:6 says, “Be confident of this, that he who began a good work in your will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

Three things in this verse show us we don’t need to fear failure.

1️⃣ God began a good work in us.
2️⃣ God is calling us to be confident.
3️⃣ God’s not done with us.

The day of Christ Jesus is something we are still greatly anticipating, and since it hasn’t come yet, that means that all God has for us is not complete. We can be confident in the fact that God still has more for us to do, and he’s going to be with us every step of the way. How do we know this? Because of Jesus’s death on the cross and His resurrection. And when we fear failure, in a way, we are failing to acknowledge what is true — we are already a failure in our sin. But God didn’t shy away from our sin. Instead, He entered into a world full of failures. Jesus lived in our weakness and succeeded in living righteously on our behalf. Jesus is the power we have to step out in total confidence.

In his devotional, “Live in Grace, Walk in Love,” author Bob Goff challenges us to change how we view failure. He states,

“We can’t win from the bleachers. We’ll never succeed unless we get out on the field and go for it. God created you with unique gifts and ignited the passions He put in your heart for a reason — don’t let fear steal your opportunities and leave you on the sidelines wishing you tried.”

Can you imagine the impact we’d have if we all stepped out on the field?

In Matthew 25:14–30, we see an individual who didn’t step on the field. In the Parable of the Talents, we see that fear prevented the faithless servant from investing his talent.

“But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money” [v.18]… so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground” [v.25]

Can you imagine if he understood the love and mercy of God the way we do or the way the other two servants did of their master? He would have the confidence to invest, even if he risked losing it.

Don’t bury your gifts and passions because you’re afraid you might fail. Don’t resist sharing the Gospel with that friend or family member because you’re worried they might reject you. Live in complete confidence, knowing that God will continue the good work He began in your life to completion.

It wasn’t until halfway through my doctoral program that I actually didn’t let my fear of failing as a writer hold me back. After listening to a mock dissertation defense, one of my professors asked me if there was anything I was struggling with when it pertained to writing my own dissertation. With hesitation, I responded, “actually writing it.” I shared with him the same story mentioned above about being told I wasn’t a good writer. I cannot tell you the relief that washed over me when he looked back at me and said, “Ravae, don’t believe that lie. You’re an excellent writer, and the world needs to hear what you have to say.”

That’s all I needed to hear. From that moment on, I had the confidence I needed to carry that task on to completion. And guess what, not only did I write it, but it’s also published. I wrote about something I was passionate about — a passion God laid on my heart. He gave me every gift and ability to do it; all I needed was to let go of my fear of failing.

Where is the fear of failure holding you back right now? What do you need to hear or believe from God to step out in faith?

It’s a new year. Let’s leave our fear of failure behind us and trust that Jesus is going to use us to do extraordinary things.