I’ve yet to meet a Christian who didn’t worry in some way about their ability to carry out their Christianity well. Fear of failure is a common theme in the human experience and no one is a stranger to it. Everyone’s felt the pang of “What if I mess this up?” or “What if I get it all wrong?” add to that the concepts of salvation and eternity and it’s no wonder that Christian life can sometimes feel like an unbearable weight. Especially considering that we very often hold ourselves and others to an incredibly unfair standard.
What if I get it all wrong?
It’s a legitimate fear as we are called by God to great and important purpose. Given that we have free will, we’re not simply pre-programmed robots and we do have the capacity to fail. This is a reality we have to face and face wisely. Unfortunately, more often than not, we listen more to what we and our fellow humans have to say about our shortcomings and failures and less to what God might think about it.
The human perspective is nothing short of dark and depressing. It cheers us on while we’re on top but marks us as lower than dirt when we fall short or stumble. Be perfect or nothing. Stay consistent with your accomplishments or you’re absolutely nothing. All too often, the very person giving you absolutely no grace is yourself. No one turns their back faster on you than you. A single failure is a forever failure. But what does God have to say on the subject?
There are moments in the Bible that illustrate God’s attitude towards our shortcomings and what actually brings the desired result in effort. Take Peter and Jonah. Both men were called by God. Both failed rather spectacularly in their individual stories. Peter is probably the most recognizable of Christ’s disciples and yet the moment his loyalty and courage were tested before the crucifixion he completely caved. Jonah was sent on a dangerous but incredibly meaningful mission to turn people away from their wrongdoing and twice he completely fumbled the whole thing. First, when he ran in the opposite direction of his responsibility, and then again when he pitched an absolute fit that death and destruction didn’t rain down on a repentant people. There’s simply no way around it, Peter and Jonah had moments of complete and utter failure.
So what’s the difference between these two men? They both failed spectacularly. They both fell absolutely short of what they were called to do. They both gave in to their own personal fears at the most critical moment. But what’s the difference in their attitudes and outcomes? Because I assure you there is one. The difference lies in their desires.
The desire to follow God’s will covers a multitude of shortcomings.
Despite his absolute, total failures, Peter’s greatest desire was to follow Christ. Jonah’s failures reveal a desire first for self-preservation, then for self-gratification, and finally self-pity. This difference is everything in their stories. We know that Peter went on to spread the gospel like wildfire and was ultimately martyred for his faith. The last we see of Jonah, he was sitting under a withered plant throwing an absolute temper tantrum and that’s it. Their innermost desires produce vastly different results.
The same is ultimately true of us. Our desire to follow God’s will is the greatest answer to our fears that we might mess everything up. As a wise person once put it to me, the fact that you’re concerned about getting it all wrong is the greatest indicator that you’re actually doing good work in the right direction. Put another way, a person who is failing beyond all measure is not usually worried or concerned about if they are failing.
An earnest desire to carry out God’s will is our greatest defense against total failure.
Will you fail? Absolutely. To convince ourselves of anything else is just foolishness. But if our hearts are hidden and tucked away deep in God and we’re driven by a desire to follow him, I very much doubt there is a failure in this world that can keep us down. We experience failure, but we are more than failures ourselves.
Consider that your desires may just be the greater indicator of your success than your failures. God tells us again and again that he loves us and shows us again and again. In my limited human capacity, I know how much I love the people closest in my life despite our shortcomings to each other. How much more than must God love us despite our failures? There is responsibility there, yes, but it is coupled with our desire to follow God. So Like Peter, we have a responsibility to dust ourselves off, try again, and live in peace knowing that God is after our hearts, not our abilities. Don’t turn your back on yourself when even God wouldn’t dream of doing that.
Let’s find some joy,