Failure is a part of daily life. The best we can do is to keep the failures small, but failures they are none-the-less.
The question is not whether we will fail, but how we will respond to failure.
Every motivational speaker will tell you that the best way to respond to failure is to pick yourself up and keep moving. Learn from the failure and move forward. There is some truth to this. Yet our moral failures require more than just getting up and trying again.
Even a casual reading of the Sermon on the Mount will provide the understanding that from God’s point of view, sin is an internal process that sometimes works it’s way into outward behavior. The sin of lust can sometimes lead to adultery. Inappropriate anger can sometimes lead to murder. The moral failure happens before the external action.
The Bible records the colossal failures of some of the heroes of the faith. Abraham twice lied about his wife and nearly caused international incidents on both occasions. Isaac perpetrated the same lie about his wife with similar result. David committed adultery and covered it up with murder. Peter denied Jesus three times. Paul began his career as a bounty hunter bringing Christians to persecution and death.
All of these men, like us, have experienced failure. They each have also experienced forgiveness and restoration. They were in relationship with the God of second chances. God promises to forgive when we confess and repent (1 John 1:9).
The restoration of Peter in John chapter 21 is illustrative of this. Not only did Jesus restore Peter to fellowship, he gave him a ministry of caring for the church that was about to be born. Tend my lambs is what Jesus commanded Peter to do. Jesus did not excuse Peter’s behavior but gave him the opportunity to move beyond it. Not only did he get to move beyond it, he was also able to be a key figure in the growth of the early church.
I should point out that the major difference between the Peter of the courtyard (Matthew 26:69-75) and Peter the street preacher (Acts 2:14 ff) is that the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples (including Peter) and empowered them for ministry.
God uses our failures to help us to learn humility and dependence upon him. This humility and dependence is the foundation on which the ministry can then be built. Perhaps failure is the only sure path to humility.
Since our God is the God of second chances and he has given us the opportunity for restoration, we need to be the people of second chances. Being the knuckleheads we sometimes are, we are bound to hurt each other. When this happens we need to forgive as Paul instructs to do in Ephesians 4:32 which reads, “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.” We are to forgive as we have been forgiven.
Too often in the church, people are labeled as a result of some event in their lives and not allowed to recover from that failure. Unfortunately there is some truth in the criticism that the “church is the only organization that shoots its wounded.”
There is nothing so heinous that cannot be forgiven by God and we should not be slow to practice that same forgiveness. My guess is that if we did a better job of forgiving, our stress level would go down and our church attendance would go up.