At the Corner of Failure and God Part One
Topic: Failure Passage: Luke 22:31–22:34
At the Corner of Failure and God Part One
Pastor Allen Snapp
Luke 22:31-34, 54-62
We are in a series called At the Corner of Life and God and we’re looking at how God wants to intersect with us in the everydayness of our lives. Last week we talked about where success and God intersect in our lives, and this morning I want you to meet me at the corner of failure and God.
Failure comes in many shapes and sizes. Sometimes failure is just the embarrassment of saying or doing the wrong thing at the wrong time. I happen to be somewhat of an expert on that subject. Like the time I asked a woman when she was due…and she wasn’t pregnant! Or the time I officiated a renewal of vows service for my friends Andy and Cathy, and just before the service Andy called me over to introduce me to his elderly father. I then turned to the woman standing next to Andy’s father and said, “and you must be Andy’s mom!” Now I pride myself on being very sensitive to body language, so when she began to scream, “nooooo, nooooo!” I immediately began to suspect that maybe I said something wrong. She went on (in a loud voice so everyone around could hear) “Do I look that old?? You’ve ruined my life!!”That was bad enough, but it was got worse. As I slunk away, Andy’s grown daughter came over and reminded me that I had been at Andy’s mom’s funeral just a couple weeks earlier. I don’t know how I could have forgotten. So now I realize that with one offhand comment, I’ve made a woman think she looks 30 years older than she is (and that’s never a good thing) and made it obvious to Andy that either I believed God raised his mom up from the dead to attend his renewal of vows or I had forgotten that I had attended her funeral just a couple weeks earlier. I wasn’t exactly brimming with confidence as I led the service. Sometimes failure isn’t a matter of being unethical or immoral – it’s a matter of being stupid. Take my word for it.
Other times failure is the result of trying to accomplish something challenging and falling short. There’s really no shame in that – it’s better than not trying to accomplish anything great or challenging – but we can feel shame when we attempt and fail. There is the sense of failure that we can feel when we fall short of the expectations of other people, or even the expectations we have for ourselves. People can put the label “failure” on us or we put it on ourselves and that can get deeply ingrained in our psyche and affect how we view ourselves.
And then, if we’re honest, we’d have to admit that we all fail in many ways every day. We might fail to keep our temper and lash out at someone harshly. We might fail to tell the truth or stand up for what we know is right. We might fail to guard our minds from impure thoughts. There can be a vague sense that we are failing as a husband or a wife, as a parent we might feel we have failed our children or as a child we might feel we have failed our parents, as a friend, as a Christian witness at our job. We can feel a sense of “accumulative failure” as we look back on years of falling short with deep regret.
And, finally, there are the failures that can devastate a life in a moment: moral failure, ethical failure, relational failure, a failure of integrity. I remember hearing James Dobson say over twenty years ago that one of his goals in life was simply to avoid stepping on one of the many landmines that can destroy a person’s family, ministry, and reputation. There are failures that leave a terrible wake of destruction behind them.
Failure is a part of all our lives and when we’re in the middle of it, it can feel like there’s nothing good about it. We can be tempted to want to hide our failures and deny that they exist. Failure is one of those rooms that we want to close off and not let anyone know about. We can even try to close off our failure from God but God wants to meet us in our failure and do a powerful work in us, not in spite of our failure, but through our failure. In fact, failure is such an important entry point for God’s work in our lives that I don’t feel we can get it all done in one message so we’re going to take the next two messages to look at failure.
The Bible is very honest about the failures of many of the men and women God chose to use, but for our purposes I want us to consider the failure of the Apostle Peter, so let’s read Luke 22:31-34, 54-62 together. (Pray)
Peter was no stranger to failure. There was the time he stepped out of the boat and began to walk on water, until he took his eyes off Jesus and put them on the wind and waves and began to sink. This is an example of the kind of failure that we risk when we step out of our comfort zone and attempt something great. I think Peter is to be commended for risking failure in this case.
Then there was the time when Peter rebuked Jesus for saying that he must go to Jerusalem and be crucified. It’s never really a good idea to rebuke God. But this was “saying the wrong thing at the wrong time” on steroids because it’s not just that Peter said a dumb thing, he said a Satanic thing and Jesus openly rebuked him by saying, “Get behind me Satan!” It must have been a pretty humiliating moment for Peter, especially since all the other disciples witnessed this failure.
But the failure we read about in Luke 22 has got to be the failure that hurt the most for Peter. Only a few hours earlier he had bragged about how he would die for Jesus, but as Jesus is being tried, Peter’s courage fails and he denies knowing Jesus three times. Most painful of all, his loyalty to the man he loved the most failed as he not only denied knowing Jesus, but he disowned him with a curse.
Peter goes out and weeps bitterly and to Peter at that moment, it has to feel like failure is going to be the last word on his life. The next several days will be the darkest days of his life as Satan sifts his soul over and over with accusations that pierce his heart and rake his emotions over the hot beds of his own sense of failure again and again. Peter isn’t aware of God being at work in this dark hour, but He is. And at the corner of Peter’s failure and Jesus, we see the beauty of the gospel and God’s ability to redeem our failure for good.
- In the gospel God meets us at the corner of our failure with Jesus’ perfect success
Let’s take a closer look at Peter’s failure. Peter is one of Jesus’ inner circle of three disciples closest to him, but Peter is definitely the most prominent of the disciples, the leader among leaders. So Peter is the highest profile disciple. And his failure also has the highest profile - it is so visible and egregious that it eclipses any failure of the other disciples in the same dark hour. To make matters worse, Peter’s terrible denial of his Lord is recorded in all four gospels. Rather than hide the story under the fold, the Gospel writers all elevate it to a prominent position. The question is, why? How are we to view Peter’s failure? Is his abject failure meant to be an anomaly, an extreme fail that stands out as unique only to Peter? Is it a terrible warning to us not to do what Peter did? I will admit, when I read about horrible failures leading to scandals in the news, such as one such terrible moral failure that has been reported in the news in the past few days, and the shame it’s bringing to the person guilty of the moral failure I have this thought: I’m glad it’s not me. I’m glad I’m not in that person’s shoes. Is Peter’s story meant to make us think, “I’m glad that wasn’t me!”?
I submit to you that it’s supposed to have the opposite effect. We should realize that Peter’s failure was our failure. Look with me again at verse 32: Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat. We think Jesus is talking about Peter, but the “you” is plural. Satan demanded the opportunity to sift all the disciples. Peter is just the most visible victim of that sifting. Peter’s failure was representative of all the disciple’s failure, and of our failure as well.
Peter’s failure didn’t disqualify him as a follower of Jesus, it was what qualified him to be a follower of Jesus. And it is what qualifies us to be followers of Jesus as well. One of the Greek words that means sin is the word hamartia. Hamartia means to have a fatal flaw that is serious enough to bring a person’s life down in flames. That’s what sin is in us: a fatal flaw, a terminal failure that causes us to fall far short of God’s holy standard. We might look good compared to other people, but in the light of God’s blazing holiness, we all fall far short because we have a fatal flaw woven into the very fabric of our being. The Bible calls that fatal flaw sin.
Jesus didn’t come into the world to seek and save successful people. He came into the world to seek and to save sinners, people like you and me and Peter who have a fatal flaw, a terminal failure called sin. Peter’s story is highlighted, not to humiliate Peter, but to give us hope. Jesus came to carry our failure and shame to Calvary and pay for it as if it was his own failure. When Jesus said “it is finished” it meant he succeeded in accomplishing what he came to do. He succeeded in obeying God perfectly where we had all failed. He succeeded in bearing our failure before God perfectly. He succeeded in paying for our sin perfectly. He succeeded in putting away the accusations and charges against us perfectly. Paul says in Col. 2:14:
He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross.
Jesus told Peter that he had prayed for him, that his faith would not fail. Everything in Peter failed except one thing: his faith in Jesus. We need to come to Jesus the same way – not with our successes, but with our total spiritual and moral failure – our harmartia, our fatal flaw, and trust with all our hearts in His perfect success in paying for that failure on the cross. If you have never trusted in Jesus as your Lord and Savior, I want to invite you to admit your failures to Jesus this morning and trust in him as your Savior.
2. God meets us at the corner of our failure in order to teach us invaluable life lessons
Jesus told Peter that after he had turned again, to strengthen his brothers. In other words, take the painful lesson you’re going to learn Peter, and use it to encourage and strengthen your brothers.
And that’s exactly what Peter does. In a letter to believers, he will draw from his own experience of being sifted by Satan, and warn believers: Be sober-minded, be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.
And then, remembering how Jesus gave him hope that he would make it through the sifting, Peter gives them the same hope: And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.
Peter has learned a priceless lesson through failure. His arrogance has been tempered by humility. His inflated view of himself has been replaced by a realistic view of who he is and an exalted view of who God is. With the seasoned wisdom of a man who has walked through the fire he can help guide younger believers in their own hard trial.
God uses failure in our lives to teach us lessons that have more to do with the heart than the mind. Success doesn’t teach us nearly as much as failure. There’s an old poem, I’m slightly adjusting but is, I believe just as true and accurate:
I walked a mile with Success, she chatted all the way. But left me none the wiser, for all she had to say. I walked a mile with Failure, and ne’er a word said she; but oh! The things I learned from her, when Failure walked with me.
When God has us walk a mile with Failure, it’s not because He is teaching us how to be failures in life. Just as failure wasn’t the last word in Peter’s life, it isn’t in your life either if you’re walking with Jesus. God’s purpose for His children is for us to live successful lives, as God defines success. But we need to walk with failure to learn wisdom and humility and perseverance. It wouldn’t be good for us to win every battle, accomplish every great thing we attempt, and master every challenge we take on.
Hey, it wouldn’t even be good for us to never say anything dumb in a social context! Sure, I ruined one woman’s life, but I learned an important lesson: not every woman standing next to a man is that man’s wife. But saying dumb things can help teach us not to take ourselves too seriously. And it helps us to empathize when someone else says something dumb.
If we only want Success to be our walking companion we will become shallow and inauthentic. We’ll chatter but rarely have anything to say to the hurting, the weak, the person faltering and failing. We need to walk with Failure to learn some of the deeper lessons of life in this broken world.
Let me close with this encouragement: when we first looked at this building, it had been shut up for at least five years. The air was musty and stale from so many years of being closed off from life. But once we started working in here and moving the air, and letting fresh air in, everything changed.
Some of us try to shut up the rooms in our lives that represent failure. We fear anyone knowing that we fail, so we try to hide our failures from others and even from God. We close off the rooms of our lives that contain failure from others, from God, and maybe we don’t even go in them.
I want to appeal to you as we close – there’s more to be said about failure, but God wants to open those rooms to the fresh air of His power and His plan. Like Peter, God’s plan is to turn our failure into a source of strength and encouragement for others.
Call band up
- I’m not talking about floundering in your failures. I’m talking about learning from them and growing through them. God doesn’t call us to live at the corner of failure, but we do need to visit it from time to time.
- Don’t live in denial about your failures. Examine them for lessons. Walk with Failure and ask God to temper your pride with humility. Let it soften your heart so you feel the pain that others feel and have something to say to the weak, the hurting, the failing.
- When appropriate, share your failings to encourage others. I mentioned that all four of the gospels highlight Peter’s denial, but one of those gospels, the gospel of Luke, was written by a man who was not an eyewitness to the events he records. His primary source for his gospel? Peter. Peter didn’t try to hide his failure, but also saw it as important to highlight as an encouragement to others who will fail but find Jesus’ love is unfailing.
- When your failure is a sin that hurts others, don’t act like it didn’t happen, open that room up and confess your failure and ask for forgiveness. Let the air of confession and forgiveness breath fresh life into that room.
- God wants to meet us in our failures, not for our harm, but for our ultimate good. And the world needs to see, not perfect Christians and definitely not Christians who try to look perfect by hiding their failures. God will use us as we are authentic, including being real about our failures and learning from them.
- Let’s pray.
Closing song: The Stand