Updated: Oct 8, 2019
I’ve always felt that Timberline Lodge has the most amazing staff on the planet. What’s extra fun about this season, though, is the amount of tiny-sized staff-kids that God has brought to us in the recent years. We have so much to learn from these little people! They’re growing and developing from infants, to toddlers, to little adults; our student body growing and maturing right alongside them. What an exciting and sometimes painful journey growth can be!
Think about a little baby who is trying to stand for the first time; the nurturing hands of Mom or Dad slowly letting go. Multiple times the budding toddler tries, arms spread out wide, body swaying to find balance, before… he or she falls down! (hopefully assisted by the padding of a diaper!) Who would expect anything else from them? Babies try and fail 100 times before they get the hang of it; but eventually they do, with lots of help!
Similarly, during the first semester of Bible school, our students are encouraged and built up; they are taught the basics of who God is, and who God says they are. They grow in reverence for God and His holy standards, while at the same time marvel at the deep love and grace He extends to each one of them. In a sense, for many of these students, when we send them home for Christmas break, it’s a very real challenge for them to “stand;” a challenge that is often met with defeat, especially at first. Inevitably, some of the students who return to us in January bring heavy hearts back with them. They know a bit about God, and have started to truly love Him, and yet, while they were away, they failed. They gave into temptation in the familiarity of their old lives, they went too far with their girlfriends or boyfriends, or they lost the conviction they had felt so strongly while at Timberline. Sometimes the most well-intentioned, most sincere Christians… will fall.
We all deal with our own personal failures and “falls” – not just spiritually, but in every aspect of life. We fail our friends, we fail our bosses, we fail our kids, our parents, and our spouses. We fail God. I don’t know about you, but I HATE failing, and I fail every day. How many of us have made good on our New Year’s resolutions so far? We are only two weeks into the New Year!
But the real question I am posing today is: How do we respond WHEN we fail? How does God respond?
When I first started dating Dan in College, we eventually had our first fight. Both of us were at fault, and we were working through how to deal with our own and each other’s sin. I felt the need to “pay” for the wrong I had done by feeling bad about it, refraining from having any fun because I didn’t deserve it. I equally expected Dan to “pay” for his part in it; to feel bad, and to work hard to get back into my “good graces.” After all, I grew up learning from experience that my friends would “get mad at me” (a phrase I have now heard my kids say) if I did something to hurt or annoy them. This could take days or weeks to get over – usually forgotten or somehow “paid for” by extra acts of kindness.
Dan and I eventually exchanged apologies. Right away, Dan jumped up, a huge smile on his face, asking with excitement what adventure we should pursue next, as if the fight had never happened! My heart growled, “How could he?! I feel horrible about what I’ve done, and he should feel bad, too! At least for a while!”
It took many months of failures and conversations, to eventually realize that I had it wrong. It didn’t please my God that I tried to “pay” for my own sins, as well-intentioned as I may have been! The reality is, Christ already paid the ultimate price so that I could get up again right after falling on my rear end. Of course, as we grow to know and love Jesus more, we very appropriately feel a great sorrow in our hearts when we have failed Him (2 Corinthians 7:8-10). However, whether personal failure or involuntary weakness, He has completely paid the price for my mistakes and invites me to take His hand to stand again without any condemnation from Him (Romans 8:1). How then could I condemn myself, or the people I love?
God in His justice, based on Jesus’ work on the cross, HAS to forgive and cleanse us when we confess we have been wrong, and delights in doing so. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). This verse tells us it’s actually JUST (fair and upright), in the event of our failure and subsequent repentance, for God to forgive us fully because the price for our sin was fully paid. Therefore, to not accept this forgiveness, or to withhold it from others, is unfair. We cheat God out of the joy of His accomplished work on the cross, meant to free us. So often, with good intentions, we find ourselves in this very place; not realizing that trying to pay for our own shortcomings might actually be an offense to the Lord who already paid our debt. (For more on sin and forgiveness, give a listen to a great sermon from a former Torchbearers staff, and a friend of ours, Charles Price.)
Even as I venture into my 40’s this year, I can relate to the wee ones I see in my friends’ arms at Timberline. Just like them, I have a loving Father who longs to help me stand and understands my weaknesses completely. I’m growing to believe the truth I have known for years: that when I fall, my God is ready and waiting to pick me back up again, dust me off, dry my tears, and root me on to stand in His strength.
“Through Christ, we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.” (Romans 5:2)
What have you learned about dealing with failure in your own life? (Would you take a minute to share with us in the comments?)