August 15, 2007

Nothing to Prove, Free to Serve

2007 1523 page25 caphere is liberation in failure. Failure, more than anything else, can have a freeing quality to it; especially if we are willing to learn from it. I know this firsthand, as in recent times I’ve had to battle with a sense of failure (not the moral or ethical kind).
Failure has a way of forcing us to see ourselves as we really are. Failure has a way of focusing us on the importance of being, not seeming. Failure has a way of stripping back the false layers of self-protection, self-esteem, and self-confidence. Failure has a way of revealing our true nakedness and exposing vulnerabilities that most of us prefer to keep hidden. When we fail, especially on a major stage, there is no hiding from the uncomfortable glare of others, and more painfully, the searing glare from ourselves. Ask Peter, for he knew these feelings all too well.
Sometime after the Resurrection, Peter finds himself on a beach with Jesus. The atmosphere is relaxed and yet charged with the unspoken. On the inside Peter is battling with a deep sense of failureÑhis thoughts consumed with the events in the courtyard that dreadful night when he denied even knowing Jesus. He’s had to live with his failure for a few weeks now, and no amount of “spinning” could take away the fact that at a defining moment when he could have taken a stand for his Lord, he blew it!
Any number of writers have captured the raw emotion of that beach scene with Jesus and Peter. Far be it for me to attempt to add anything to those descriptions. What I will add, however, is the long-term impact of that beachfront meeting, in which Peter was liberated from the obsessive need to prove; then released to truly serve.
2007 1523 page25We serve God best when we serve Him out of a sense of personal weakness and dependence. I’ve written at other times on this page my conviction that God is attracted to weakness. But I have discovered in the Scriptures, and as an observer of life, that the most intense service for God comes in the aftermath of failure.
Call the roll: Abraham after he lied about his relationship with his wife; Moses having to leave his post prematurely in Egypt after arrogantly taking things into his own hands and failing to wait on God’s timing; David after a night of unrestrained passion; Solomon after his loss of moral clarity, and the list goes on. The common thread for all of these people’s experiences was that their service was deeper and more passionate in the aftermath of failure. Of course, I’m not suggesting that one has to fail to be used by God. But the fact is that He uses us best when we truly see ourselves and realize our great need of Him.
Peter, out there on the beach, was expecting a stinging rebuke from Jesus, even possible rejection. But that was not on the Lord’s agenda that morning. Instead, He did something that is uniquely God’s way of handling things. He allowed Peter to face the pain and shame of his failure squarely, then called him to a higher level of commitment than ever before. He did it by allowing Peter to experience the healing power of the gospel He was calling him to share. Please reread that previous sentence again.
The Master’s call on our lives as believers is to share the gospel that Jesus saves. But those of us who share the gospel have a great need of the gospel ourselves. We can’t share authentically what we have not experienced. Jesus enabled Peter to experience the gospel after his most stunning defeat. All the old self-confidence and bravado was gone. The “take charge” guy had left, and in his place was only a humble man called Peter, sitting on a beach with Jesus, who knew he needed the Lord. He was the same guy who, in a few weeks, would stand in the streets of Jerusalem and proclaim to thousands that Jesus was both Savior and Lord.
Peter no longer had anything to prove. He was now ready to serve.
Fredrick A. Russell is senior pastor of the Miracle Temple Seventh-day Adventist Church in Baltimore, Maryland.