Jesus, Redeemer of My Failures

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All sports involve learning how to manage failure well. The baseball player walking up the plate tense, still consumed with the previous failed at-bat, will only ensure that he fails again. Baseball, and most sports, demand a patient kind of self-forgetfulness. The athlete must learn from past failures but they must become steps on the path rather than a self-identity. Failure is part of the games we play. I once heard a business leader who was asked, “How did you become so successful?” He answered, “I have learned how to fail with great consistency.” If you can’t manage failure and press on, you will only be paralyzed by it, which means unable to perform when it counts.

Our Christian life is similar, we too must learn to manage our failure. We feel Paul’s burden as he exclaims, “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing” (Romans 7:19).

The question before us is not if we will fail, but how will we respond when we do fail.    Will we begin to self-identify with our failure so that we become debilitated by fear of it happening again? Or will we face our failures, seeking to learn from them, as we continue to move forward?

The Weakness of our Strength

Peter was impulsive, passionate, and preeminently self-confident. He was sure of his faith and sure that he had more than most. Jesus had once told him, “Where I am going you cannot follow me now, but you will follow me afterward” (John 13:36).  Peter responded, “‘Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.’ Jesus answered, ‘Will you lay down your life for me? Truly, truly, I say to you, the rooster will not crow till you have denied me three times’” (John 13:37-38). Matthew records Peter assuring Jesus, “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away” (Matthew 26:33). Afterward, Peter falls asleep in Jesus’ hour of need in the garden of Gethsemane and denies Jesus with loud protests and cursings three times after his arrest (Matthew 26:69-75).

Notice Peter’s pronouns as he assesses himself by comparing his faith and his resolve with that of the other disciples: “thought they all fall away,” “I will never fall away,” I will lay down my life for you.” Peter got his identity from comparing himself to others. Among the disciples, Peter thinks, I am the most spiritual, the most committed, the boldest, the most courageous. But Peter failed. Spectacularly. Just like Jesus said he would. After the crucifixion, Peter is a man who has identified with his failure. He is broken. Peter’s puffed up self-image was shattered. After Christ is risen and had appeared to his disciples, Peter abruptly says, “I am going fishing” (John 21:3). The timing is strange. Was he going back to what he knew to clear his head? After all, he was a fisherman. But he fishes all night and catches nothing, that is, until Jesus shows up.

From every direction Jesus is teaching Peter the truth he had taught previously, “Apart from me, you can do nothing” (John 15:5). Don’t miss this.

Self-referential strength is weakness.    If you build your identity by cultivating an image based on comparing yourself to others, you will be racked with an overwhelming sense of insecurity. And you will be exposed—you will fail. Peter believed the resurrection happened. He had seen the empty tomb. Yet, as we look at John 21, we are given the impression that even though Peter believes in the fact of the resurrection, Peter still believes that he is a failure. He believes that his failure has made him useless. He was not living the reality that the resurrection had ushered in. We are not simply called to believe in the resurrection, but to live the resurrection.
Followers of Jesus must let the resurrection completely change how they view everything in life.    And that includes how we manage failure with the awareness that our self-referential strength is weakness.

The Strength of Your Weakness

When Jesus confronts Peter about his denials, Peter’s answer indicate he is a changed man. The bluster is all gone. “Do you love me more than these?” Jesus asked (John 21:15). It was a stinging question. Notice that Jesus frames the question to mirror Peter’s former assertion that he would not fall away even if all the other disciples did. Jesus wants to know if Peter still sees the world through the lens of his comparative superiority. Peter’s answer is a resounding no. “You know that I love you.” Jesus repeats his question to Peter three times to match his three denials. Peter’s focus is no longer on what he knows but on what Christ knows. Peter’s pride has been broken and now he answers humbly. The comparisons are gone. His only hope is grace. And that’s exactly what he receives. Jesus clarifies that if Peter loves him than he will serve his followers, rather than compare himself to them.

Now Peter knows that apart from the resurrected Christ he can do nothing, he can courageously and self-sacrificially serve because his identity is found in Christ alone.

Humility produces strength. Your weakness is the very foundation of your strength.    Admitting that you fail, that you cannot do it on your own, only happens when the focus is off yourself, and on the resurrected Christ. Self-centered people are weak, touchy, and cowardly, because they live as if men are bigger than God. Faithful Christians can be strong and courageous because they do not have to fake it. The Christian has been set free in Christ, liberated to simply follow Christ (John 21:19), rather than build themselves a name because they live primarily before God, rather than men.

You do not have to go through life fearing failure. Instead, you can strive for faithfulness.    Every day, we can make decisions based on faithfulness to Christ. And some of those decisions are not going to work out. We will fail, but that is how the road of sanctification is paved. We learn from our failures  and keep pressing forward. Jesus does not merely redeem our bodies, he redeems all of us, including our failures. When we do not simply believe in the resurrection, but rather we are committed to living the resurrection, we bring extraordinary grace into our ordinary lives. Being humbled by resurrection love allows us to put our weaknesses out in the open and move ahead despite our consistent failures.

We try, we courageously act, we put ourselves in vulnerable situations because we know “that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (1 Cor 15:58).

What have you failed at lately in Jesus name? If nothing, what are you waiting on?    He is Risen, so you can be a happy, persistent failure. I keep a card in my wallet to urge me to press on that says, “Go ahead! At least fail!”
By |March 31st, 2016|Categories: Blog|Tags: , , , , |

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