I still remember our Saturday night excursion back in my college days. Some friends and I had decided on a whim to visit a church that had been “trending” around our small college campus. Yes, I went to college before Twitter, but we still knew how to read the times. I remember sitting down and preparing to enjoy the time of worship. After a time of singing, the pastor got up and said confidently, “Christianity is the only army in the world that shoots its own wounded.” My friends and I exchanged glances. He had our attention. He went on to talk about failure and how quick we are to “shoot” other people and ourselves when it happens. It was a powerful sermon, one I still think about almost a decade later.
I think the pastor’s point remains true today. Many of us don’t know how to handle failure. We don’t know how to respond to the failure of others, and we particularly don’t know how to handle our own failures. It’s tough to know what to do when we make a bad choice or a series of bad choices.
I’ve been chewing on this selection from John Piper’s new book, Bloodlines. The book is about how the Gospel helps us overcome the sin of racism. At one point, Piper reflects on his own failures and the power they might have had to keep him from the things God had for him:
One of the lessons I have learned in six and half decades of life is that very few dreams should go on hold while you improve the shortcomings of your life…. To be sure, there are times when you need to stop what you are doing and focus on conquering a flaw. But if you wait till all your shortcomings are remedied, your dreams will die. All our advances are with a limp.
If you wait till you are beyond criticism to pursue your dream, you will never do it. You won’t marry or stay married. You won’t decide to have children or raise them. You won’t take your first job or keep it. You won’t go into missions or stay there…. Few things paralyze people more than their own imperfections. And there are always people around to remind you of your flaws and suggest you can’t move forward until you’re better.
Piper hits on something that I think is very common among young adults today. Many of us believe, to our own hurt, that we have to overcome all our imperfections and shortcomings before we can truly chase our dreams. Even as you read this, you might be thinking of your own failures. Perhaps, you are one of those paralyzed types, fighting to let go of some sinful habit or immature pattern. Maybe you’ve been curbing your dreams of marriage or career until you’ve grown up a bit more.
If that’s you, I’ve got some really good news. God knows about your failures and still has a dream for your life, a dream that He hasn’t necessarily put on hold until you get your act together. Consider this story about Jesus and the disciples on the night He was betrayed (Luke 22). After establishing the Lord’s Supper and squelching a disciple debate over which one would be greatest, Jesus turns to Peter and says, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers” (22:31-32, ESV).
Jesus knew Peter was about to make a big mistake; in fact, Peter was about to sin against Jesus three times. And as sins go, this was a big one. Denying Jesus was what Peter had seen the Pharisees and Sadducees doing again and again throughout Jesus’ ministry. It was no small sin.
And yet, listen to what Jesus said to Peter. He told him He had prayed for him. Jesus prayed that Peter’s faith wouldn’t fail. He predicted Peter would turn back to Him and then instructed Peter to encourage the other disciples after this all. One of the amazing things about this story is the heart of Christ. Jesus’ heart wasn’t to keep Peter from sinning, but that Peter not let this moment of failure stop his ministry in its tracks. Jesus, knowing exactly how Peter would sin, was more concerned that Peter turn from his sin and continue in his ministry calling.
Judas showed us another option. Judas also sinned against Jesus, but he didn’t turn back. He let his failure end his ministry and his life in one sweeping blow. Likewise, we also wrestle with our failures before Jesus and can either choose the path of Peter or Judas. We can choose the path of restoration and continued ministry or the path of paralysis. It all comes down to turning back to Jesus.
If you’ve recently wrestled with your own shortcomings, hear Jesus’ compassionate words to Peter. Turn back and continue chasing the dreams you’ve been dreaming with God. It’s all too easy to let our failures paralyze. But this side of heaven waiting to be perfect will prove a very long wait. Thanks be to God, we can turn to our merciful Savior who knows our sins already and is quick to forgive. He graciously instructs us to turn back to Him and keep chasing those things He has laid before us.