Talking With God After Failure

Yesterday I alluded to just how hard it was to worship after I experienced a career failure.  My connection with God wasn’t strong.  I really didn’t want to talk to God – at all!  Not only did I feel like I let God down but I felt like maybe God let me down, too.  Have you ever felt that way?

Perhaps one of the most challenging points of spiritual growth is to stay with God even after failure.  In other words, how do we allow failure to be a springboard to a deeper relationship with God?

As I continue to look into the post-failure life of King David, I’m personally challenged by his reliance upon God.  The first thing he does is to admit his failure.  But the story continues to unfold at a deeper level.  The child that David has with Bathsheba becomes gravely ill.  David remembers what Nathan said – “the child will die” (2Samuel 12:14).  David is undeterred.  He fasts, weeps and prays for the baby to live – even to the point of willingly giving his own life for the life of his son. Unfortunately, the child dies.

Do you see what happens to David, though?  The failure and the consequences of the failure propel him to a deeper reliance upon God.  He doesn’t run away.  He doesn’t brood or feel sorry for himself.  David doesn’t neglect God. David gets even closer. In fact at the end of his life David reflects on the strength of God in those moments of failure:  “The Lord is my solid rock, my fortress, my rescuer.  My God is my rock…” (2Samuel 22:2-3).

Stay in love with God.  Some of the hardest moments of your spiritual formation will take place in the shadows of failure.  Many will run away from God, blaming God rather than seeing what God will do after the dust of failure settles. God is not done with you.  Failure can redirect you to deeper places with God.

 

Fail Forward

There are consequences to our failures.  I wish it weren’t true, but there are.  David became vividly aware of the consequences of his failure: the child born to Bathsheba died and David’s family was broken.

I really don’t want to admit it but there were very definite consequences to the failure I wrote about yesterday.  It took a great deal of time for life to once again resemble a sense of normalcy and to regain much of what was lost.

So I read this story of David with a sense of hope.  I want to anticipate that God is still for David – that he remains a “Man after God’s own heart.”  It’s exciting that even in the midst of the consequences of David’s failure God speaks a word of promise into David’s life: “The Lord has removed your sin…you won’t die.” (2Samuel 12:13)  What a word of hope!  Yes, there are consequences.  Yes, those consequences may be horrific and devastating.  But there is hope.

Failure can potentially anchor us down and paralyze.  Or, the failure can be a springboard.  I’d like to think that even when we fail, we can fail forward.  Here are some thoughts about failing forward that I learned.

Get up!  Failure can quickly move to depression.  Force yourself up and out the door.

Stay connected with the people who still love you.  You’d be surprised at the people you thought were friends who now want nothing to do with you.  Stay close to the people who stay with you.

Stay connected with God.  That can be tough especially when you think that God let you down.  I dropped out of worship for awhile.  I was mad at God.  Through the gentleness of leaders and friends in my life I found my way back to worship.

After awhile, start to dream again.  By nature I’m a dreamer.  I am always thinking about future possibilities.  After the failure I could not dream.  I really didn’t care much about dreams.  Why dream?  Those dreams will just fall apart. 

It wasn’t until I realized that my dream of reaching unchurched people didn’t fall apart that I was able to move again.  You see, what I thought was a failure – a new church start that wasn’t allowed to move beyond reaching a handful of unchurched people – was a springboard for doing ministry in a secular culture.  Immediately, God moved me to hospice ministry.  It was there that I was able to connect to and offer hope and transformation to hundreds of unchurched people, who at a crisis moment, were very interested in God.  Finally, I was able to start dreaming of a future of possibility.

Often the enemy shows us our shattered dreams and says, “Why keep going?  You’re just a failure.”

God’s the one who removes the past and begins to do a new thing.  Let him. 

 

EPIC FAIL

Yesterday I was able to teach on King David’s epic fail. Here was a man who knew great success and great failure.  His failure?  Sleeping with another woman, getting her pregnant and murdering her husband just to protect himself. 

There’s no doubt we’ve all failed at something.  Most likely our failure wasn’t as heinous as David’s.  Maybe it was.  But regardless of your failures – relationship, career, moral – God has not forgotten you.  In fact, God still loves you utterly and completely.

One of the hardest pieces of recovering from failure is learning to forgive yourself.  When the church plant that I was called to be part of failed it literally took years for me to recover and forgive myself.  I’m an INTJ (Myers-Briggs).  We don’t fail easily.  We’re perfectionists. 

I was reading about a recovery from failure this morning.  It’s a story about Peter.  His failure was in denying that he knew Jesus.  After the resurrection, Peter has to look Jesus in the eyes and come clean about his failure.

 “When they finished eating, Jesus asked Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”

Simon replied, “Yes, Lord, you know I love you.”

Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.”  Jesus asked a second time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

Simon replied, “Yes, Lord, you know I love you.”

Jesus said to him, “Take care of my sheep.” 17 He asked a third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

Peter was sad that Jesus asked him a third time, “Do you love me?” He replied, “Lord, you know everything; you know I love you.”

Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. (John 21:15-17)

It’s no accident that Jesus asks Peter three times if he loves him.  Peter denied Jesus three times.  But here, Peter declares his love again – three times.  Here was a new and fresh start.  The failure is forgotten and so is the past.  Now there is a new future.

Bishop Reuben Job writes, “Each of us has our own litany of failures to recite, but the good news is that we can start again…God offers a chance to people like Peter whose denial seemed like such an enormous failure, and to each of us, no matter what our failures have been.” 

Have you experienced a love like that?

Serving

I still remember with fondness, my first missional experience.  I was in my first year of graduate school and was participating in World Gospel Mission’s campus group.  For weeks we planned and practiced our international mission to Irapauto, Mexico.  I had never been out of the U.S.  And while I was nervous, I was also excited about the possibilities of intersecting with the lives of the Mexican people.

We landed in Mexico City and made the long trip to Irapauto.  It didn’t take long before we began seeing the dilapidated houses and extreme poverty that lined the roads out of Mexico City.  Soon after, all we saw from the windows of the van were miles and miles of flat desert that reminded me of all the cowboy movies I grew up watching on tv.

When we reached Irapauto, it was hot.  But even more memorable than the heat was the greeting from the young Mexican church.  These Jesus people were meeting regularly in the missionary’s home to worship and celebrate the presence of God among them.  Our team worshiped with the Mexican church and our worship led us to serving.

By the end of our week in Mexico, we had shared the message of Jesus with adults and children.  We had experienced grace in the smiles of these people.  We had even quickly escaped from a bad side of town where the people were not very interested in hearing about Jesus.  My life was not going to be the same anymore.

Before this moment in my life I had never really served in a significant way.  Because my experience with Christianity and Jesus didn’t begin until I was sixteen years old, my mind wasn’t wired for serving.  I was wired for selfishness.  Sure I had done the occasional good thing for someone but mostly out of guilt or sympathy.  But in Mexico my heart and mind were changed.  I began to see what God’s people could do when they got out of God’s way.   I experienced the global church – the people of God who were committed to transforming the world for Jesus.  This time more than any other time forever shaped what I have come to believe about the potential of the church.  It caused to me rethink church as being a verb!

In one of Jesus’ defining moments he said, “For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).  In that moment, Jesus raised the bar.  If he served, his church will serve.  The culmination of his serving was Holy Week – from washing the feet of the disciples to his death, Jesus showed his people the extent of a servants heart.

If God’s people are to be like Jesus it will require a moment by moment adjustment of our priorities.  There is no time for selfishness.  Our days on earth are too short to only accumulate things.  Our life with Jesus is too important to be stuck on being comfortable in church?

Will we be slaves to church as a noun – a place we go to do ritual?  Will we miss the great things of God by writing checks instead of being the living, breathing Christ, getting our hands dirty in the lives of real people?

I think that Jesus’ way is even better.  It’s the way of laying down our wants, our priorities, our comfortableness, our patterns and saying “yes” to investing ourselves in another person’s life so that they can know Jesus, too.

In down to earth ways this means:

  • Staying connected with Jesus everyday by reading the Bible and praying
  • Asking Jesus to keep our eyes open to real, significant ways of serving practical needs
  • Letting Jesus put a burden on your heart for the people who live around you
  • Living out of your createdness and your spiritual gifts
  • Helping another Jesus Follower to start thinking about church as a missional community
  • Never be satisfied with the status quo of North American Christianity