This past week, a show named Survivor came to an end. How many people watched the finale? For 3 months, North Americans were glued to their TV sets watching Richard, Rudy, Susan, Kelly, and others duke it out for the million-dollar prize. If you're like me, you're a little sick of it by now. But it's turned us all into experts on what the contestants should have done. We all have opinions. If there's one thing I've discovered, it's that we are all experts on how other people should be living their lives. We may not be sure about our own lives, but we've got ideas about everybody else.
Today we're going to be looking a character in the Bible on the subject of failure. His name was Peter, and he was one of Jesus' twelve disciples. It seems that as we read about Peter's life, everyone has an opinion. Everyone knows what he should have done differently.
Peter was one of these characters that lived life loudly. There was never any guessing about where Peter stood. Peter would say what he thought, often before he thought it. I like Peter. I like his intensity, and I like his honesty. Peter had no time for passionless living. Peter lived his life with an exclamation mark.
Today we're going to look at Peter's failures. Why? Because Peter failed so often. And yet, despite his failures, God used him greatly. God never wrote him off. In fact, at one point Jesus turned to him and said, "you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church" (Matthew 16:17). Peter's failures never disqualified him. Peter is an example of how God can use a person despite their failures.
Now, Peter never failed halfheartedly. When he failed, he threw himself into it. I think Peter would say to us, "If you're going to fail, you may as well fail with a splash." I think we can learn a lot from Peter and his failures. I think we can learn from how Jesus handled Peter's failures. So we're going to look at how we can face our own failures, using the lessons that we learn from Peter's life.
The reality is that all of us fail. In our culture, we hate losers and we love winners. We canonize champions; we adore achievers. We worship winners, and we sanctify the successful. The royalty are the rich and famous. And everybody wants to be a success, and no one wants to be a failure.
What do I mean by failure? I'm talking about sins - bad moral choices that have offended God and done damage to our souls. The Bible tells us clearly that all of us have sinned and fallen short of God's glory. Peter's a good example of that. Sometimes he deliberately chose to disobey God and do his own thing. Many of our failures are sins: they're violations of God's command.
But not all failure is sin. Sometimes we just mess up. Peter did this all the time. He opened his mouth when he shouldn't have. He blurted out comments that weren't always appropriate. Peter's failures went beyond sins. Sometimes he just messed up.
This morning, some of you are here having messed up in your lives. The truth is that some of you thought about not coming today. You're not feeling on top of things. You may have made a bad decision this past week. You might have made one years ago that has affected you every single day of your life.
Let me tell you about someone who made a bad decision that will impact her for the rest of her life. She lived a storybook life. She was beautiful; she was talented; she was brilliant. She ended up in the finals of America's Junior Miss competition. She started doing television commercials and some television programs, and she started to get some parts in movies. Her photograph was featured in People magazine and Glamour Magazine. She earned a college scholarship from a prestigious university to study chemistry. She had it all. And she credited her strong, southern values from keeping her out of the fast lane of sex and drugs. She wanted to do life right.
Then she fell in love. She fell in love with a famous race car driver. One day he invited her to come to New York City to visit him, and so she did. He wined her, and he dined her, and he proposed marriage to her. And that weekend, despite her strong convictions against sex outside of marriage, she had her first sexual encounter. And that's how she got AIDS. If only she could go back and change that one weekend.
You have failed too. Your failure might not be as catastrophic as that, but it might be. It might be about your children, your marriage, your job, your health. But there's likely some decision that you wish you could change. You wish you could go back and relive a certain portion of your life. You need to learn how to face your failure.
Looking at Peter's life, we discover a pattern of how to look at our failures. We're mainly going to look at what he didn't do. We're going to learn from his mistakes. Peter's life gives us four steps that we can take to face our failure. Here's the first one:
A - ANTICIPATE FAILURE
That's the first lesson. Don't act surprised when failure comes. Failure's inevitable, so you may as well begin to anticipate this. Peter didn't do this. Let's look at why it would have been smart for him to do so.
This week, I counted up this week the number of times that the Bible records one of Peter's failures. Do you know how many I counted? Eleven. I may have missed some, but at least eleven times in the Bible, Peter is recorded as either saying or doing the wrong thing.
The amazing thing about Peter is that he wasn't always failing. He also showed moments of brilliance. One minute he's confessing that Jesus Christ is God, when nobody else realizes it. The next minute he's talking Jesus out of going to Jerusalem and dying. One minute he's zealously cutting off a soldier's ear - a mistake, but at least a brave one. The next minute, he's denying that he knows Jesus. You never knew what to expect with Peter. He was either brilliantly succeeding or dismally failing.
Now, do you think that when Peter failed, the other disciples were surprised? Do you think that Jesus ever said, "I never saw that one coming!" Of course not. Why? Because Peter was predictably weak. You could count on Peter showing his weaknesses at least some of the time. Peter's failures were not a surprise - except to him. We should anticipate our failure.
The first step you can take in dealing with failure is to expect that you're going to fail. It's not that you want to; it's just that you're going to. I'm not talking about making excuses or even about accepting your failures. But you need to expect them. They're going to happen.
You made mistakes? Welcome to the human race. It just means you're alive. James 3:2 says, "We all make many mistakes." We're all living proof of this verse. We all fail. You failed yesterday, and you're probably going to fail today. Ecclesiastes 7:20 tells us, "There is not a single person in all the earth who is always good and never sins." We all fail. We all sin. We should never accept it, but we should never be surprised by it.
Let's review the facts of life:
1.You have already failed many, many times in your life already.
2.Right now you are failing in some areas of your life
3.You're going to fail many, many times in the future.
The Bible says, "All have sinned; all fall short of God's glorious standard" (Romans 3:23). We all fall short. Nobody makes God's standard. Even after we begin to follow him, we fail him in many ways. God's not surprised by your failure. You shouldn't be either.
Some days, I just don't treat my wife right. I don't always handle my kids properly. I make bad decisions. I shouldn't be surprised by my failures. That's why I need a Savior. My failures are an indication of my need for Jesus.
I want to be part of a church that accepts the fact that we're all pretty much messed up. I don't want to pretend. Nobody has it together. We're all struggling. As somebody has said, at best we're fellow patients in the same hospital. The only difference is that some of us were admitted sooner than others.
But don't be surprised by your failures. Don't be surprised by the failures of others. Expect them. Don't accept them, but expect them. Anticipate them.
It's helped me to realize that Jesus knew, before I was even born, how much I would let him down. A lot of couples get married, and they don't have a clue how tough marriage is going to be. They aren't aware of all the quirks that they've now invited into their house. But before Jesus initiated a relationship with me, he knew. He knew what he was getting into. He anticipated that I would fail. I should too. Don't be surprised by your failures, because God's not.
B - begin to prepare for your failures
This is the second step that you can take. Begin now to prepare for your failures. When you actually fail, it's going to be too late. Peter is an example of someone who didn't prepare for failure.
One day, Peter told Jesus, "I am ready to die for you" (John 13:37). Jesus turned to him and said, "Die for me? No, before the rooster crows tomorrow morning, you will deny three times that you even know me." Jesus gave Peter a heads up, but Peter chose to ignore it.
The next day, just as Jesus predicted, Peter denied Jesus three times. The third time, the rooster crowed. The Bible says, "Suddenly, Jesus' words flashed through Peter's mind: Before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.' And he went away, crying bitterly" (Matthew 26:75). Peter had lost the chance to prepare. He didn't take steps to deal with his failure before it happened. He was unprepared for failure.
Jesus said, "Keep alert and pray. Otherwise temptation will overpower you. For though the spirit is willing enough, the body is weak!" (Matthew 26:41) How do you overcome temptation? Two steps. First, stay alert. Be aware of the dangers of temptation. Know where you're weak. Become sensitive to the subtleties of how Satan works. Stay alert. If you don't, you'll fall asleep and be completely unprepared for when temptation comes. You've got to stay alert. That's what I call preparing for potential failure.
The other step you can do is to pray. Tell God that you need his help. Pray that you'll have the strength to deal with the temptation.
I've noticed in my life that my failures tend to happen in three or so categories. It's not that I don't fail outside of these areas. It's just that most of my struggles seem to be in these two or three areas.
Now, it doesn't take a genius to detect a pattern. There are some areas I struggled in twenty years ago, and they're just as much a struggle today. I've come to realize that there's probably never going to be a day that I don't struggle - at least a little bit - in these two or three areas.
It's been liberating for me to accept that I struggle, and then to begin to prepare to do battle in those areas. I've enlisted the help of some of my friends, who know where I'm weak. I've removed some of the opportunities to fall into certain temptations. Because I know that if I don't prepare, I'll be vulnerable.
You ought to have a list of the top two or three sins that you're prone to commit. It shouldn't be a private list, either. There should be at least one or two other people who are in your life helping you deal with your areas of weakness. You should be preparing right now for the next time you're going to be tempted in a particular area.
Where do I get this from? Am I making this up? James 5:16 says, "Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other." Galatians 6:2 says, "Share each other's troubles and problems, and in this way obey the law of Christ. If you think you are too important to help someone in need, you are only fooling yourself." Stop trying to pretend that you have it all together. Begin to receive loving support as you struggle with sin. Confess to others who will be able to provide that support.
How do you do this? Start with some close friends. Or you can join a small group. In fact, if you want more information on joining a small group where you can do this, then fill out the Communication Slip in the bulletin. We'd love to place you in a group that can support you and pray with you.
So anticipate failure. Begin to prepare for dealing with your weaknesses. The third step we can take in handling failure:
C - challenge your thinking about failure
The main thought that we have to challenge is this: we believe that failure is final. We think that once we've failed, God can't use us. Nothing could be farther from the truth. God uses people who have failed him. The greatest heroes in the Bible were failures.
Who did God use? God used Abraham - a man who doubted God's promises, took matters into his own hands, and lied to protect himself. God used Moses - a person who was sidelined for forty years because he killed a man. He used David - an adulterer and a murderer. He used Peter - an impulsive man who denied Jesus three times. God uses weak people.
Jesus said, "Now I say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it" (Matthew 16:18). Jesus specializes in taking weak people - pebbles - and turning them into rocks.
Why does God use weak people? For one thing, he has little choice. All of us are deeply flawed. If God looked for people who had it all together, he wouldn't be able to find a soul. God uses weak people, because that's who we all are.
But another reason why God loves to use weak people is because it brings glory to him. When God accomplishes something through a weak person, we all look around and conclude, "That person didn't do that. It had to be God." God gets the glory, because there's no other rational explanation.
So your failure is not final. Peter denied Jesus three times. Yet just a few weeks later, God used Peter to preach, and three thousand people began to follow Jesus. God loves to use weak people.
Some of you have disqualified yourself from being used by God because you've failed. You think that you've blow it so bad that God could never use you. You're dead wrong. Nobody has failed enough to be useless to God.
The failures that you're thinking of may not even be sins. You may have tried to serve God and failed so miserably, you'll never try again. But all great people fail.
Napoleon graduated 42nd in a class of 43. Then he went out and conquered Europe. Maybe grades don't matter that much. You may have done poorly in school. God can still use you.
Babe Ruth hit 714 home runs during his career but he also struck out 1330 times. Nobody talks about that. He struck out almost twice as many times as he hit home runs. Yet he once said, "Never let the fear of striking out keep you from taking a swing at the ball." Some of you are so afraid of failure, you're never going to succeed in ministry because you don't try. Or you try something then you give up. You don't hang on. You don't hang in there. But that's how you get good at something. You've got to fail in order to succeed.
English author John Creasy received 753 rejection slips from publishers who wouldn't publish his books. But at the same time he published 564 books in his lifetime. He wouldn't let rejection stop him. If someone didn't like it, he'd try somewhere else.
R. P. Macy, the guy who founded Macy's department store, failed seven times at retailing - seven bankruptcies before he started Macy's, which was obviously a big success.
You may have given up on yourself, but God hasn't. God longs to use you. You need to challenge your thinking about failure. Failure is not fatal. God can use you.
One last key to dealing with failure:
D - DEPEND ON GOD'S GRACE
God isn't surprised when you fail. The whole of the Bible is about how God deals with fail ures. God understands when you fail. Psalm 103:14 says, "For he understands how weak we are; he knows we are only dust." God knows how you're wired up. He knows your frailties and your shortcomings. And you can depend on God's grace to deal with them.
Peter is a great example of this. At Jesus' lowest point, Peter denied him - not just once, but three times. It doesn't get much worse than that. How would Jesus react? John 20 tells us how. Peter denied Jesus three times. Three times, Jesus asked him, "Simon of Jonah, do you love me?" And, each time as Peter answered in the affirmative, Jesus said, "Feed my sheep. Take care of my sheep." What was Jesus doing? Jesus was helping him to deal with his failure. He was confronting it right on. He was asking Peter to give it up. And, most of all, Jesus was saying, "My grace can handle your failure. Love me and serve me. Let me deal with your failures."
God's grace is enough to deal with whatever failures you bring to him. The amazing thing is that nothing you do could ever make Jesus love you more. If you were better than you are - if you hadn't failed God ever - God wouldn't love you any more than he does. He loves you unconditionally.
The other side of his unconditional love is this: nothing you do - no failure - could make God love you any less. God loves you despite your failure. There's nothing that you could do to earn his grace.
Every one of you - every one of us - have an area of habitual failure. That's the sin you keep stumbling over. It's that habit. It may be your temper. It may be your words. It may be lust. It may be impatience. A million different things. The Bible says in 1 John 1:9, "If we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us and to cleanse us from every wrong." No matter how many times you fail, you can come back to God and say, "God, I've failed you. I've let you down. Now please forgive me." And God will cleanse you - not just once or twice, but the fiftieth, the hundredth time you come back to him. God can cleanse you. He can deal with your sin. God never gets tired of forgiving you.
Colossians 2:13-14 says, "He forgave all our sins. He canceled the record that contained the charges against us. He took it and destroyed it by nailing it to Christ's cross." When Jesus died on the cross, he paid for every failure you'll ever commit - past, present, and future. You can depend on God's grace. No matter what you do - know matter what you've done - God's grace is big enough. You can never fail too much for God.
Romans 5:20 reads: "But as people sinned more and more, God's wonderful kindness became more abundant. So just as sin ruled over all people and brought them to death, now God's wonderful kindness rules instead, giving us right standing with God and resulting in eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." Today, you may come with a lot of failure. But I'm here to tell you that God's grace is more abundant than your failure. Today, you can receive God's wonderful kindness. You can have a right standing with God, resulting in eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
There's only one mistake you can make. Hebrews 12:15 says, "Look after each other so that none of you will miss out on the special favor [the grace] of God." That's the only mistake you can make. You can go through life rejecting Jesus, God's Son, and what he's done to deal with your failure. Or, you can come to him today and have all your failures nailed to the cross and forgiven.
I don't care what failure you've gone through. I don't care which one you're going through right now. It hasn't changed God's love for you. And it's a love that you can receive right now.
Father, I know without a doubt that there are people who are suffering under an intense load of guilt and shame and regret from personal failures. For some, it's been eating away at them for years. Let this day be their day of release and relief and the freedom that comes from understanding and accepting the grace of your son, Jesus Christ.
I'd like to encourage you to talk to God. Say something like, "Dear God, I know you know everything about me. You know the failures in my life big and small. And you already know the things that I'm ashamed of. You know my regrets, my sins, my mistakes, my bad habits, the things that I've said and done and the failures I feel bad about."
"Today, I'm giving you all the pieces. I admit that I need your forgiveness and I ask you to forgive me right now. Clean the slate. Jesus Christ, I thank you for dying for my sins on the cross so I can be forgiven. I want to commit my life to you. I want to follow you as best I know how. Thank you for forgiving my failures instantly and completely and repeatedly and freely. I want to spend the rest of my life living in your grace and I want you to use my failures to help others. Thank you for your grace. In Jesus' name, Amen."