Jonah: Life Lessons In Failure cover image

Jonah: Life Lessons In Failure

Many leadership specialists tell us that we are more shaped by failure than success. For those of us who live some of our lives in Twitter-sphere, there is often a stream of motivational, 148 character messages encouraging us to turn our failures into life lessons. We read of famous people who failed before they succeeded:

  • Henry Ford went broke five times before he finally succeeded.
  • Beethoven was proclaimed by his teacher as hopeless as a composer.
  • Walt Disney was fired by a newspaper editor for lack of ideas and creativity. Disney went bankrupt several times before it succeeded as a company.
  • Albert Einstein did not speak until he was four years old and didn’t read until he was seven. His teacher described him as “mentally slow.”

Failure, it seems, is certainly commonplace. In my life personally I can recount so many more failures (so many!) than successes. The successes by comparison are far and few between. So are we designed to learn through our failures?

I guess the answer has to be for the large part, yes. Being far from perfect, humanity must respond well to failure to survive. How else would we have progressed this far? Every area of activity has developed – medically, for example, treatments and interventions exist today which were unknown even five years ago and yet the road to such advances is strewn I’m sure with many, many failures.

The Bible reflects humanity’s relationship with failure. Most of the Bible’s characters, we might even call them heroes, failed. The narrative of much of the bible, both Old and New Testaments, is of God’s patience and love of people when they got things wrong. The list would be near endless if I wrote one here, but a few names to prove my point might be:

Noah gets drunk

Moses kills an Egyptian in temper
Gideon hides away in a wine press
Abram lies about Sarah
Peter denies Christ
Diotrephes loved to be first
…the list could go on.

Among the Bible’s great failures is Jonah. Jonah ignored God’s direction and took a ship in the opposite direction. He then realized his mistake and threw himself into the stormy sea, got swallowed by a huge fish, was washed up for a second chance and still got grumpy with God! He wanted God to be harsh with people even though God had been kind to him. He became so angry that wished he could die.

Sadly, Jonah is not unique. Nor is he a comic caricature. Jonah could be any one of us in our own daily lives. In our vulnerability we can get things wrong too, we can fail to obey God’s leading, become judgmental, live in anger and dissatisfaction. In fact, without God’s help and salvation we are all heading in the wrong direction in life generally, all aboard the Good Ship ‘Independence’ believing that we know best.

The book of Jonah teaches us how to learn through our rebellions and failures and how to get life back on track with God.