I’ve been thinking a lot about failure, especially in these weeks after Easter. Even as Jesus moved toward the cross with courage and strength, the men around him crumbled, plagued with regret and shame.
As I look at my own life, I realize that I am no different than those men. I do things I regret, make bad decisions, hurt people I love. And when I do, I am faced with the same choices that the men in the Gospels faced. I see parts of myself in Pontius Pilate, Judas Iscariot and Simon Peter, each of whom displayed a different response to moral failure.
Pilate knew Jesus was innocent, so when the crowd wanted to crucify him, Pilate tried quieting them to prevent a riot. But when his efforts failed, he released Jesus to be crucified. Pilate rationalized his actions, publicly declaring, “I am innocent of this man’s blood.” (Matt 27:24), but that was a meaningless declaration. Pilate was responsible for Jesus’ death, no matter how he tried to justify it.
Then there was Judas, one of the twelve, who betrayed the Lord. We don’t know why he betrayed Jesus, but we do know that Judas never acknowledged Jesus as the Messiah, referring to him as “Rabbi,” and not “Lord.” After his failure, he went back to the chief priests and elders, but not to his friends or community. Scripture doesn’t mention him with other disciples after he left the Last Supper. Alone, riddled with guilt and shame, Judas hanged himself in desperation.
Peter was one of Jesus’ closest friends. Jesus warned Peter that he would deny him, but Peter insisted he would be faithful, even to the point of death. It must have been humiliating for Peter when hours later, after the casual question of a slave girl, Peter swore and for the third time denied ever knowing Jesus. But even after his heartbreaking denial, Peter remained in community, as he and John both raced to the empty tomb. Because he repented and sought forgiveness, Peter could unashamedly proclaim the gospel of forgiveness and grace.
Why did these men respond to failure so differently? 2 Corinthians 7:10 says, “For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.”
Pilate showed no grief. Judas displayed worldly grief. Peter had godly grief. What kind of grief do you have when you fail? Which of these three men do you most identify with?
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In the midst of broken dreams and riveting pain, how should we pray?
Should we pray for healing and deliverance, believing that we just need to ask, because God can do anything? Or should we relinquish our desires to God, trusting that even in our anguish he has the perfect plan for us?
Yes. When life falls apart, God invites us to do both. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus faced unimaginable suffering. Sweating drops of blood, he fell to the ground and prayed: “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will” (Mark 14:36). Jesus, in his agony, is teaching us by example how to pray when we’re desperate.
Jesus does not begin with, “Almighty God, Maker of heaven and earth.” Of course, God is Lord of all and deserves honor and reverence. But Jesus chooses a term of endearment: “Abba.” While “Abba” does not mean “Daddy,” it was used as an intimate, personal term for Father. Jesus is asking his Father to do something for him.
I grew up calling my father “Daddy,” and still do to this day. “Daddy” was a great name when I was happy with him, but when I was upset, I wanted to call him “Sir.” I could feel distant and defiant on the inside when I called him “Sir”, but there was no separating myself from him when I said “Daddy.” And my father, who wisely knew that, insisted that I call him “Daddy” after our disagreements. When I was able to use that name sincerely, he knew our reconciliation was complete.
In a similar way, I need to draw near to God in my pain. He’s the Almighty Lord, but he’s also my Abba Father (Rom. 8:15). I need to approach him as such.
Nothing Too Difficult
Jesus knows God can do anything. He owns the cattle on a thousand hills (Ps 50:10). All things are his servants (Ps 119:91). Nothing is impossible with him (Luke 1:37). While I know those Scripture verses by heart too, I often functionally doubt God’s ability to change my situation. I scan my circumstances and assume things will continue as they are. Even as I pray, I don’t look for miraculous answers; my prayers become rote recitations of requests more than earnest petitions of faith.
But in Gethsemane, Jesus knows his Father can grant his request. God gives life to the dead and summons into being things that don’t exist. And I need to remember his limitless power when my situation looks insurmountable. View full post »
What good is God?
This may sound like a startling question, but if our lives aren’t what we expected, if our cherished dreams aren’t coming true, if our prayers are seemingly unanswered, many of us will ask that very question at some point – or maybe you have already.
A dear friend recently walked away from faith with that question on her lips. What good does God do for us anyway?
Her newfound atheism is based on her experience. To her, ‘You go to church, read the Bible, believe in Jesus and try to live by godly principles. But when life comes crashing down around you and you sincerely cry out for help, God is strangely silent. He doesn’t help at all. So you begin to wonder if he ever was real in the first place. The Bible sounds like nonsense and Christianity looks like a massive hoax that in the end delivers nothing but empty promises. It gives people false hope. And that is the cruelest part of all.’
Have you heard that line of thinking before? Or more importantly, do you feel that way yourself? Did you build your life on a faith that you assumed was strong, only to find that what you were counting on, namely prayer answered swiftly in accordance with your will, feels more like a mirage than an oasis? Are you tired of hoping and waiting because you’re not sure what you’re hoping and waiting for anyway? Maybe it’s easier not to believe and just to play the cards you were dealt without waiting for a miracle. That way you won’t be disappointed. And you’ll be in control of your own life.
If those words resonate with you, I understand, at least partially, how you feel. I have not walked away from my faith, but I have felt let down by God. Wondered where he was. Felt my prayers bouncing off the walls.
I thought that the only way God could make things right was to change my circumstances. My prayer list was made up of the things I wanted God to change. Change my circumstances. Change my relationships. Change my health. Make it all better.
And so when it didn’t happen, I questioned God. Why didn’t he answer my sincere prayers? View full post »
I was lonely for years.
I longed to remarry, but I didn’t want to admit it to anyone. Not even to myself.
I didn’t want to pin my hopes on something that might never happen. And if I never remarried, I didn’t want to look like I had wasted my life, hadn’t trusted God, and couldn’t be content. I’d be pitied by others and embarrassed for myself. I didn’t want that.
So I buried my feelings.
At times those stuffed feelings would resurface and I would ask God for a husband. I’d journal about it, pray fervently and be on the lookout for who God might bring. Then I would try to forget about my longings, surrender them to God, and convince myself I didn’t want to be married anyway. I told myself, and other people, that it wasn’t important. That I was completely content. That I had come to terms with where I was.
That was a lie.
A lie I wanted to believe because it seemed that everyone who loved God was satisfied with their circumstances. Besides, it seemed better to deny a longing that might never be fulfilled than it would be to keep longing. It certainly was less painful.
Others had accepted their unfulfilled longings. They had come to terms with their singleness. Or infertility. Or discouraging careers. When they finally let go of their desires, they gained a sense of stability.
So I was torn about what to do. I begged God to take away this desire and he didn’t. So I cried out to him to meet me in the midst of this unfulfilled longing.
For years he met me there. And then God blessed me with a husband who is beyond my expectations.
And yet in other things – with longings just as real and intense – God has not given me what I was yearning for. He has left me with unmet desires. Desires that may not be fulfilled this side of heaven. Desires that I may live with forever.
Right now I want a healthy body that can do the things I want to do. With post-polio syndrome, I am deteriorating daily, much more rapidly than I am prepared for. Some days I wake up with intense pain, which gives way to a dull ache that drags on throughout the day. On those days, my arms are limited to basic tasks like eating and dressing. If I can use them at all.
It’s been excruciating.
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