Failure Isn’t

When I was 15 I rode a Schwinn Stingray bike.  The BMX bikes were starting to make an appearance, but the handsome Stingray with the banana seat and the ape hanger handle bars was still stylish and cool.  In the presence of 6 of my local guys who hung out together, I placed a 3/4 inch piece of 4X8 plywood on an upturned 55 gallon drum in the gravel alley behind our house.  I rode my bike to the end of the alley and began to ride at full speed toward the makeshift ramp.  I was pressed hard down into my seat as I hit the ramp, then lifted by the feeling of zero gravity as my bike and I fairly flew through the air.  It felt like slow motion as I looked around me at the rooftops on either side of the alley and down upon my admiring friends, earthbound below.  Out of the corner of my eye I also noticed the front tire of my trusty Schwinn as it slowly separated from the forks, like the booster stage of a rocket, and began to fall earthward.schwinn

I learned several lessons from that spectacular failure.  One of course was that I was not Evil Knievel. The other had a great deal to do with Sir Isaac Newton and his writings.  There were also lessons about the limitations of the human body.  One lesson was later on learned as I sat under a tree with the beautiful brunette that lived two houses down and retold the glory of my break from the surely bonds of earth.  Chicks dig that sort of thing.  There was also that final lesson when my dad found the black tire prints on his newly purchased piece of plywood. While chicks dig it, dad not so much!

So if failure isn’t really failure then I am truly a success story above all success stories.

I gave my heart to Jesus as a young adult.  That was one of the few decisions that worked out for me.  Jesus has always been the same Jesus he told me he would be even when I went through the ups and downs of living success and failures.  Through it all I have found Jesus in each one of life’s failures.  Good things have come from the things I didn’t accomplish.  Valuable lessons have been learned in pain.  I don’t ride a Stingray any more, but I am still prone to being the human crash test dummy.  I can’t help it. Its the way i am wired.

It isn’t unusual that Jesus would pick graduates of the school of hard knocks.  I think of several off the top of my head.  Peter is one notable alumni of said school.  The woman who wept on Jesus’ feet and dried them with her hair. Oh boy, what a colossal failure she had been!  Most of Jesus’ crew seemed to be made up of failures who weren’t, except maybe Judas who managed to do so anyway.

I messed up. Pain taught me. Jesus takes it all and changes it around.  Presto chango and I have something to contribute.  I’ll show you my scars.  Got any of your own?

Pray for Me?

“Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift each of you like wheat.  But I have pleaded in prayer for you, simon, that your faith should not fail.  So when you have repented and turned to me again, strengthen your brothers” Luke 22;31-32 NLT

So, I see the picture.  It has been a crazy evening and it’s about to get crazier.  Jesus is saying and doing everything with a sense of urgency. All of the sudden Jesus is addressing Simon.  He doesn’t address him as Peter The Rock. He calls him Simon.  He says, “Ok Simon. I’m going to let you in on something you probably don’t know. Satan has come around.  He asked for permission to sift you guys like they do wheat. You know; like bashing the grains by tossing them around, forcing them through a tight squeeze?  So I prayed specifically for you that your faith won’t fail.  You are going to fail. Your not going to do for me all the things you say you are. You are going to fall. I’m not praying that you don’t fall or fail, but I am praying for your faith, that it will not fail even through the pain of failure. When you pick yourself back up and repent and turn to me, I have a special mission for you, a ministry to end all ministries; I want you to strengthen your brothers!”

OK, so am I the only one that has a problem with this?  If I am Simon, I get the whole supernatural deal of Satan needing permission to go after a specific person making them a target.  Can you remember Job?. “But Jesus, you are the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords.  You are the master of all of Heaven’s armies and you did WHAT?  You didn’t tell Old Ugly to go packing?  You didn’t call in a few archangels and have him escorted out the door?  Rather than handing him his hat you let him have permission and then PRAYED FOR ME?  Thanks a lot!”

I get all hung up on a couple of parts of this.  First of all I hate to fail.  Failure hurts and it really doesn’t look so good on a resume.  Jesus knew that Simon was going to fail at the vision that he had.  He had a vision of standing strong, of being Peter The Rock, of leading from a position of strength.  Jesus knew, and I imagine he even wept a bit, that Simon was going to fail.  His heart was going to be broken at his inability to stand for Jesus even for one evening.

But Jesus also knew that physical failure could take place and faith remain intact.  Jesus knew that Peter would be a better leader from a position of weakness with a history of failure than he would be with his resume intact and full of accomplishments.  Jesus knew, but Simon didn’t.  Simon didn’t have the privilege of reading the end of the book where he becomes part of the foundation of the future of Christ Followers.  He doesn’t know that he will face death full of victory and faith.  He just knew the moment and in that moment Jesus said he was going to fail, but that He was praying for him.

I guess this really does mean something to me because I, like Simon above, have failed.  I didn’t have the sort of mamby-pamby, lily white sort of failure that get’s all cleaned up.  My failure was big, noteworthy and newsworthy.  It left a big, greasy, soot covered mess! Any victories I had accumulated along my Christian path and all of the promises I made to Jesus and to others, they were burned to the ground along with my resume.  While others stood by and watched me fall and fail, a miserable wreck writhing in my own agony of self loathing and sorrow at having let my Jesus and all of my friends down, Jesus was praying for me that my faith would not fail.

I had to struggle with the whole idea of grace for believers.  Could a believer really ask for grace after falling and failing miserably to keep the basic promises made to God.  Could a believer sin so dreadfully that grace no longer be an option, and even if grace were an option could their original calling remain intact?  Does major failure disqualify a person from ministry?  Jesus said to Peter that his most important work, strengthening his brothers, was going to take place after failure, after repentance and returning to Jesus.  What He didn’t say, but I imagine is true, that Peter would have never been effective at that ministry had he not tasted fully the bitterness of complete and utter failure.  He would have never been able to offer comfort had he not had those nights of inconsolable grief at his own sinfulness.

When people used to say, “I’ll pray for you” I would always say, “Good, I need the blessing and you need the practice.”  Now I respond with, “Really, would you? Oh thank you so much!”  Don’t pray that I succeed.  I never learned a lick from my success. Pray that in my failure that my faith would not fail.

I guess Jesus knew that failure was a better teacher than getting it right all the time, at least for Simon Peter and Kevin Bell.  Jesus knew that in weakness we lead from His strength rather than our own.