The letter from RSO Records is dated May 16, 1979, and is addressed to one “Mr. P. Hewson.” Young Paul had submitted a demo tape, and gotten this terse response: “We have listened with careful consideration, but feel it is not suitable for us at present. We wish you luck with your future career.”
Ah, failure. If it can happen to Paul Hewson, it can happen to anyone, right? Even you.
Perhaps there are days… today maybe?… when the only words you feel like praying are, “God, why am I such a failure?” Well, take heart, dear reader. There are at least four very good reasons why you sometimes feel that way. Read on to discover more.
Reason #1: Because You Are Very Good at Trying
The first rule is that in order to fail, one must try to succeed.
Do you understand what this means? If you feel as though you’re constantly failing, it’s simply because you’re someone who is always trying—in fact, you’re very good at it!
You know who never wins a gold medal at the Olympics? The athlete who never competes. You know who never has a great marriage? The husband or wife who decides that the relationship isn’t worth the effort. You know who never overcomes persistent temptation? The person who prefers to feel helpless instead of trying to resist.
That, apparently, is not you. And this means you’re in good company.
Take Simon Peter, for example. He was one of Jesus’ top three disciples, an unquestioned leader in the early church … and a total screw-up. When Jesus invited him to miraculously walk on water, good ol’ Pete took a step or two, then panicked and sunk like a stone. Jesus had to fish him out of the lake like a wet cat (See Matthew 14:25-31). When Christ tried to warn his disciples about his coming crucifixion, Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him for having such a negative attitude. That did not end well (See Matthew 16:21-23). And when it counted the most, Peter not only deserted Jesus—he denied him three times (See Matthew 26:69-75).
In spite of these very public failures, Peter kept trying. Because of that, he was there to witness Jesus’ empty tomb and the Savior’s miraculous appearances inside locked doors (John 20:1-10, 19-29). Peter even experienced firsthand a life-affirming, three-fold commission from Christ that gave purpose to the end of his days (John 21:15-19).
And so you, like Peter, keep trying. Which sometimes means you’ll fail. But so what? You only truly lose when you stop trying.
Reason #2: Because You Refuse to Give Up
The second rule of failure is similar to the first—but goes one step further: To ensure failure you must first give up.
If you keep failing, then be encouraged! It means you refuse to give up. Sure, you may redirect your efforts, or may choose to try something new—but in the end, you never, never, never, never give up.
Sadly, Judas Iscariot is our role model here. Whereas Simon Peter simply would not quit—even after his personal failures and the apparent death of a messianic dream—Judas caved in so quickly that it literally meant the end for him.
This disciple of Jesus was responsible for betraying Christ to the wicked authorities, creating the opportunity for Jesus to be arrested and killed (Matthew 26:14, 47-50). When he realized the extent of his failure, Judas completely gave up. In his mind, sin was more than Jesus could handle. Scripture tells us this of Judas, “He went away and hanged himself” (Matthew 27:5).
End of story. Game over. Kaput.
Why? Because, unlike Peter, Judas decided that failure was all that mattered. As a result, he missed out on everything that Peter got to experience. Can you imagine how our history might be wonderfully different if Judas had refused to give up, despite his failure, despite knowing he’d completely blown it?
And can you imagine how your life will be different when you refuse to let your temporary failures convince you that you too must give up on what God can and will do with you?
Reason #3: Because Failure Is Necessary for Success
There’s a third reason why you may feel like a failure, and it’s this:
Failure is necessary for success.
Moses is your Biblical mentor in this regard. Have you ever noticed how many times this hero of faith made disastrous errors in his life? Here’s a guy who was guilty of murder (Exodus 2:11-15), who was once a member of Pharaoh’s royal court in Egypt, then sunk so low as to become a fugitive sheepherder hiding in the desert (Genesis 3:1). Bonus! Moses actually refused to speak when God told him point blank to do so (Exodus 4:10-16). Keep reading the book of Exodus, and you’ll see Moses failing again and again … and time after time God takes Moses’ failures and uses them to bring about unthinkable greatness.
Notice also the progression of failures that happen even when God is working dramatic miracles through Moses (Exodus 5-12). The man of God goes to Pharaoh and demands release for the Israelite slaves. Pharaoh mocks and refuses. God does a miracle and turns Moses’ staff into a snake. Big deal, says Pharaoh, and his magicians duplicate the miracle with two snakes of their own. Through God’s power, Moses goes back and turns water into blood, sends an infestation of frogs, then gnats, then flies, and so on. Nine times God sends miraculous plagues through Moses, and nine times Moses fails to free the Israelites.
Because each of those failures was necessary before Moses could succeed. Every “failed” plague demonstrated to stubborn Pharaoh the insurmountable power of God. One by one, bit by bit, the first nine plagues wore down the king of Egypt’s resistance until it reached the breaking point. Without those first nine failures, Moses’ ultimate triumph would’ve been impossible.
And this is what you must remember the next time you face what feels like a devastating disappointment: Failure is necessary for your success. Just as he was faithful with Moses, we can trust that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28, NIV).
Reason #4: Because Your Life Is about Becoming, Not about Achieving
The last thing to understand is this: Failure is an event—not a person.
Your life is about becoming, not about achieving. When we learn that, we can stop asking, “Why am I a failure” and start to ask instead, “Why have I failed?” Seeking answers to that second question helps uncover factors of failure without needing to flunk the person. What’s more, it can also reveal God’s active participation in our lives in ways that can be surprising and meaningful.
The simple truth is that God is neither impressed by your successes nor overwhelmed by your failures. He has a bigger picture in mind. Listen (italics mine):
For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do… And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.”—Ephesians 2:10, 22 (NIV)
For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters”—Romans 8:29 (NIV)
Your life is not about achieving more, doing more, succeeding more. It’s about becoming more like Christ, moment by moment, day by day, year by year. This is a work that God’s Holy Spirit is producing in you, using the successes—and yes, the failures—you experience each day.
And this is the best reason why you must sometimes feel like a failure: because God is using every one of those experiences to express his handiwork in your spirit. To gently shape and conform you into the image of his Son, Jesus himself. So don’t let today’s setback define you. You are so much more than that! Choose instead to see who you are becoming—and you’ll glimpse just a bit of what God is doing in, with, and through every moment of your life.
By the way, remember that rejection letter poor Paul Hewson received back in 1979? Well, Mr. Hewson went on to have a, um, modest career in the music business. Perhaps you know him better by his stage name: Bono.
Yep, RSO Records sent their rejection letter to the now-iconic rock band U2. Four months after receiving that RSO rejection, Paul and his mates released a three-song, debut EP… and U2 went on to become one of the most successful music groups in all of recorded history.