NOT MANY DO THIS WELL
There's something that we humans do regularly, but rarely do any of us do it well. And even though Jesus now shares our humanity, He never did it - yet remains the world's greatest authority on how to do it well. And in age where success is applauded, craved, prized, taught, and studied, this is one thing isn't - but we would do well to do well.
¶ "Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers." Luke 22:31-32
Since we're all going to fail we may as well learn to do it well. Jesus knew that Peter would fail Him. But He gave Him instructions on how to do it well. And this is the key to failing well. It's not that Jesus wants anyone to fail. It's that when we do, we know what to do next rather than making our failure greater by adding to it.
"For the righteous falls seven times and rises again,
but the wicked stumble in times of calamity."
When failure was introduced into the world it was immediately made worse when Adam and Eve attempted to hide from the God Who Sees All. Since then it seems that this reflex response to having our failings exposed is now ingrained in our DNA. Running, avoidance, withdrawal, sulking, pity-parties - call it what you will - it's all a form of hiding. Hiding from others when we fail only adds to our failure. Instead of running and hiding after failure, Jesus calls us to "turn" back. 'Turning back' can involve confession of our failure; repentance of our wrongdoing; restitutionof loss caused; and apologising for the injury caused.
The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he spoke. One of his disciples, whom Jesus loved, was reclining at table at Jesus' side, so Simon Peter motioned to him to ask Jesus of whom he was speaking. So that disciple, leaning back against Jesus, said to him, "Lord, who is it?"John 13:22-25
Most of us fail poorly. We not only run, hide, or avoid, we also deny. Failing well cannot happen if we deny our failure. When Adam was found by God after he had failed, he used a variation of denial called blame. "It's not my fault!" Adam protested in defense of his failure, "It was the woman You gave me!" I used to think that Adam was blaming Eve. And he may have been. She was close, compliant, and somewhat complicit. People who don't fail well nearly always look for someone 'soft' nearby to blame. But upon closer examination of what Adam said to God, it seems that he did what many people still do: he blamed God - "the woman You gave me!" Have you ever met someone who is angry at God? Are you angry at God?
Jesus told Peter that after he had failed, he was to turn and strengthen his brothers. Those who have failed have a painful advantage over those who haven't. Failure can actually be a catalyst for strength. Everyone's heard of the poor eleven year old boy who was so weak and skinny while playing at the beach that the local bully saw him as an easy target and kicked sand in his face. He wasn't able to defend himself or fight back and one day soon after while at the Brooklyn Zoo he noticed how strong the lions were. He realised that lions never went to a gym or lifted weights. All they had, he reasoned, was their own muscles which they could stretch and work against each other. He used these principles to develop his own muscles and vowed that no-one would ever kick sand in his face again. Other notable failings include Winston Churchill's disastrous contribution to the start of World War One, and the strength those failings helped to produce in Winston Churchill's contribution throughout World War Two. And the strength that the failed Apostle Peter, who had shamefuly denied Christ publicly three times, demonstrated on the Day of Pentecost. If you have failed well, you may have a reserve of strength that you didn't know you had that will enable you to face potential failure head-on and overcome it.
Failing well gives a person an authority to speak to others who are facing failure poorly. The young woman who failed and now looks everyday into the young eyes of the consequences of that failure. When she speaks to other younger girls about guarding their moral virtue, she has an authority to speak and a right to be heard.
¶ The steps of a man are established by the LORD, when he delights in his way; though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong, for the LORD upholds his hand.
I fail. I don't always fail well. Sometimes (more times than I care to disclose) I fail poorly. When my failures hurt people or strain my relationships with others, I may not have necessarily failed poorly. But if I avoid attempting to repair this breach by not apologising or clarifying or explaining myself more clearly, then I have failed poorly. If I fail and then sulkily withdraw and allow my pride to prevent me from learning from my failure and trying again with these newly gained lessons, then I have failed very poorly. If I fail and look for someone to blame, then I have failed poorly. If I refuse to be strengthened from my failure, then I have failed poorly. I hope to encourage you to fail well. But it would be remiss of me if I failed to mention one more aspect about the art of failing.
We might call this final aspect of failing, false failing. This is where we think we have failed. Joseph may have thought he had failed when he shared his dreams with his envious brothers (Genesis 37). When he was thrown into the pit his feelings of failure may have been confirmed. When he was sold into slavery in Egypt his sense of having failed may have become a conviction. But as it eventually transpired, Joseph hadn't failed. Perhaps you can look back over your life and identify false failings? In one sense the Cross of Christ is the greatest example of a false failing. It appeared that Christ had failed when He was crucified - indeed, this is what His remaining disciples assumed. But this was false. And it highlights one of the greatest possibiities about how to fail well : God redeems (makes good come from bad).
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.Romans 8:28
We all do it, so might as well do it well. If you have lost hope, confidence, or belief because you have failed, it's not too late to redeem your failures and do well. If you have stopped doing what you know you should be doing (feeding yourself spiritually through God's Word, praying your heart to God, repenting, maintaining fellowship with your church family). Your true Enemy wants you to fail poorly - after all, Jesus warned us that the Devil seeks to steal, kill and destroy you (John 10:10). But at the same time and in the same verse, Jesus declares a profound principle for failing well that involves turning to Him. Jesus can help you to fail well and God can redeem your failures with just one starting prayer of turning to God. Let's fail well.