Tag

Failure

Are we seeking the glory that comes from God?

By | "Training for Godliness" podcast, Audio, Christianity | No Comments

This month I’m doing some reading in the book of John, which is a great book to read because it has so many levels, from clear, basic teachings of the gospel to deep, complex ideas about who Jesus is and what that should mean to us as his disciples. And in the fifth chapter, Jesus is making his first lengthy statement to the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem. He just healed a man on the Sabbath, and he’s laying out the reasons why he has every right to do so, even thought the Jewish traditions dictated that healing on the Sabbath was forbidden.

There’s something he says at the end of the chapter that stuck out to me. He says:

You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life. I do not receive glory from people. But I know that you do not have the love of God within you. I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not receive me. If another comes in his own name, you will receive him. How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?

We live in a confrontational world where we’re more and more lining up on one side or the other of every issue, and we see the other side as the opposition to be defeated. But even though Jesus is harsh in his statements, he doesn’t see his opposition as the enemy. Jesus’ invitation of blessings was for anyone who was willing to take it – even the people who thought they were doing just fine without him.

He says “you refuse to come to me that you may have life.” The implication is that if you’d just get rid of your pride and accept what Jesus is telling you, he’ll give you that life that you’ve been looking for! But you’re not going to find it as long as you’re insisting that your traditions and personal priorities come first.”

Jesus here indicates the core problem with the religious leaders of his day, and it’s the core problem for so many in today’s religious world who are not interested in the pure, complete message of the gospel: How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?

Finding life in the scriptures

How many today are so concerned about being approved and congratulated by the right people – the “accredited” people, or the people that they respect in their lives like parents or friends or family members – that they aren’t that concerned with actually reading the word of God and understanding it on its own? Jesus tells them “you search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life.”

I’ve heard people interpret this to mean that Jesus is saying “You think you’ll find it there, but you’re wrong.” But actually, he’s telling them “you’re right! Eternal life is right there in the scriptures. The problem is, you’re not listening to it. You’re ignoring it because you’re focused on what’s being taught by prominent teachers and scholars, and you’re not letting the scriptures point you to the true source of life.”

Jesus makes a pretty strong point, but it’s also a fair one: if I’m more concerned with the ideas of scholars, my family, my favorite Bible teacher or prominent religious blogger than I am with reading, studying, and meditating on God’s word, can I truly say I love God? Who am I really following? Is it more important to me to live, to teach, to believe in a way that makes me socially acceptable or in step with what the people around me are doing? Or do I love God’s word enough that I want to understand it for myself, and then conform myself through faith and obedience to the teachings that Jesus says will lead me to eternal life.

We glorify God by listening to Him, not ourselves

Let’s never have an attitude of shutting our ears to what the Bible says, just because it isn’t always what we want to hear, or what we’ve always been taught, or what we know most other people think. The gospel – not my opinion or yours – is the power of God to salvation according to Romans 1:16, and it will continue to work through us if we’ll let it.

Read the Bible. Find someone to help you study it if you need to, but always make them go back and show you that what they believe is the same as what God teaches through His word. Read and study to learn what God wants from me, not to figure out how I can do what I want and still follow God. And if you find something that requires you to change your life or your viewpoint on what it means to be a disciple of Jesus, make the change. Don’t worry about what anyone else believes or teaches, just follow what the word says. Because after all, the only glory we should be seeking is the glory that comes from God, and the source to achieve that is the gospel of Jesus Christ.

And never allow yourself to be satisfied with where you are; as Paul writes in Philippians 3:14, keep pressing on for the mark, and keep training for godliness.

“Failing upward:” How to succeed in service to God

By | "Training for Godliness" podcast, Audio, Christianity | No Comments

Have you ever heard the phrase “failing upward?” If you follow sports, you’ve probably seen a lot of it – or at least it feels that way. The coaching ranks are rife with people who failed miserably at their last job, got fired, and were immediately hired by someone. If our team does the hiring, the response we usually give is “What were we thinking? Why would we want that guy??”

Generally speaking, we’re not a culture that appreciates failing up. We look at failure as a dead end – it’s defeat, and it is a reflection on someone’s competence and a good reason not to trust them in similar situations again. They’re going to have to show us something pretty impressive to wash away the taste from that previous disaster. And in our own lives, we tend to live in fear of failure – failing up is what happens to other people, not us! And so we don’t go out on too many limbs, we take on tasks we’re confident we can accomplish, and we set goals that we know we can attain.

Are we afraid of failing?

But the reality is that Bible makes it clear that playing it safe is not an option for a disciple of Christ. The old cliché is that you miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take, but the more Biblical example is probably in Jesus’ parable of the Talents, where a man is given a large sum of money and entrusted with its use for a time. He’s afraid of what his master will do if he fails, and so he hides the money so that he can give it back without losing any. But God didn’t call us out of the world to break even. We are called to be a people for God’s own possession, one created in Christ Jesus for good works.

So how do we view our failures? And how does God view them? Is He really the “harsh taskmaster who reaps where he hasn’t sown?” Does he really see me as just another instrument to do his work, and we’re only a success if we do as much as some other person in the kingdom? I don’t think any of us believe that – so why do we hold ourselves to that standard?

The Bible’s stories of “failing upward”

The reality is that we all fail, whether it’s falling short in our pursuit of godliness, or maybe its the unsuccessful attempts to bring someone to Christ. And the harder we try, the more we fail, it seems! As our goals get bigger, we come up short more often. All of a sudden, “failing upward” is starting to look pretty good!

Fortunately, that’s actually pretty common in the Bible. We see time after time when godly men and women make mistakes – some of them huge in terms of the severity and consequences. If David were running for re-election as King of Israel, with a record of adultery, murder, and cover-up – along with a disastrous policy decision that led to the deaths of 70,000 of his countrymen – how many votes would he get?

God’s view of success is a lot different than ours, because the question in God’s eyes seems not to be whether we’ll fail, but how we respond when we do. When Jesus was in his final hours on earth, he addressed Simon Peter in Luke 22:31-32, this exchange takes place:

“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.”

Jesus doesn’t even debate whether Peter will succeed, and when Peter tries to correct him, it almost seems as if Jesus expresses frustration and says “not only are you going to fail but you’re going to deny me three times in one night.”

Jesus wasn’t interested in dwelling on Peter’s denial – he was focused on what he needed Peter to do afterward. He needed Peter to understand that the response to failure isn’t to wallow in it, or to feel sorry for yourself, but to get back to the work God has given you. And God had given Peter a vital role in the coming kingdom – a role in which he would succeed not because he was perfect, sinless, skilled or talented, but because God gave him everything he needed in order to succeed, and Peter went out and did the work.

All the tools for success are ready for us

Every time we fail in Christ, we have a chance to grow closer to God. God forgives us of our sins because we have an advocate with the father in Jesus Christ according to 1 John 2:1. God has set the expectation already that he knows we’re not always going to be successful in teaching the gospel — in fact we’ll fail more than we succeed — but as Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 3:6, it is God who gives the increase

We’re given the Holy Spirit, which works in us to help us produce fruits of strong character and godliness, if we’re willing to accept it. We’re given the gift of the word of God, powerful as any two-edged sword, and as Paul describes it, the power of God to salvation. The power isn’t in my skill as a teacher or my depth of knowledge and wisdom. It’s in the word of God.

The key to a successful life in Christ is not in the wins, the conversions, the pure and perfect life. The key is in not giving up, picking ourselves up through God’s grace when we fall, and continuing forward with a trust in God and an unwillingness to be stopped in our goal to achieve a crown of life in the kingdom of Heaven. As Paul writes in Romans 8:31, “If God is for us, who can be against us?”

So keep failing upward. You’ll be surprised how much success it brings in your service to God.

%d bloggers like this: