Monday, September 16, 2013

Messing Up vs. Failing

I was going through one of my old notebooks and found a note I had written a while back, so I thought I might go ahead and share it with all of you. Those who know me well will not be surprised that there is a baseball reference in these thoughts… :)

Messing up and failure are interesting concepts. Neither is good in the spiritual realm, but does messing up necessarily imply failure? Certainly, it does in the short-term view of things, in the limited and most basic application of the word. When you mess up, when you stumble and fall, you have – in that moment – failed to live up to what is expected of you. If you never correct it, that sin remains stamped on your soul, and you will be held accountable.

“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.”  (2 Corinthians 5:10)

But as long as you are breathing, you have the chance to make correction and find redemption in the mercy of your loving Father. Consider, though, failure in its most absolute sense – failure where you hang your head and give up because there is nothing else that you feel you can do.

Look at it in the context of a baseball game: Messing up (i.e. limited failure) is striking out in one at-bat; ultimate failure is losing the game. At that point, there is nothing you can do to redeem that game.

So does messing up necessitate that feeling of ultimate failure?

Back to the game analogy, look at the batter who struck out in his first at-bat. Maybe he took bad swings or he wasn’t properly prepared to face what the pitcher was throwing. Maybe he got tricked by the pitcher’s craftiness or didn’t even take a swing at all. Whatever the case, he didn’t fulfill what was expected of him in that at-bat.

Now, there are some batters that will let the pitcher get into their head. They start to believe that there is no chance they can succeed against him, and they take their at-bats accordingly. They walk up to the plate with that sense of impending failure and thus essentially give up. Yes, they still walk out to the plate, and they may even swing the bat, but it’s obvious in their swing, in their posture, and in their dejected walk back to the dugout that they expected nothing more than they showed. Often, we see these struggles carried over into the next game and the next, until the word “slump” starts getting thrown around.

On the other hand, some batters go up there and strike out in their first at-bat – just like the other guys – but their minds are in a different place. This kind of batter walks back to the dugout thinking about what went wrong, not to dwell on and get dragged down by it, but to analyze the situation and figure what he needs to change for the next time. He doesn’t let his poor at-bat hurt him beyond those three strikes; he takes it as a learning experience and dedicates himself even more to making his next time at the plate a success. He is determined to be more patient, use better judgment, be more prepared, etc. As he sits on the bench waiting for his next at-bat, he watches the pitcher to figure out what he is throwing. He also cheers his teammates on, congratulates them when they do well and encourages them when they do poorly. He tells them what to watch out for, helps them see some of the mistakes they’re making (in a kind and supportive way), and is eager to get in that batter’s box again, to get another chance to come through for his coach and his team. He doesn’t let his poor hitting distract him in the field but sees that as another realm in which to redeem himself. This is a player that will struggle from time to time, but he is one who will pick himself up from his mistakes and refuse to fail.

Can you see the parallel to our spiritual lives?

Each of us is one of these kinds of batters spiritually. Are you the batter that lets your mistakes get in your head and discourage you to the point of complete failure? Or are you the one who sees those mistakes as mistakes (not sugar-coating the wrong) but learns from them without letting them drive you to ultimate failure? This second type of Christian – this is the one who will endure.

All of us will strike out spiritually at some point in our lives. The devil is crafty in what he throws at us; he has studied us and knows our weaknesses. His hope is to get inside your head, to get you to think that you’ll never be able to hit what he’s throwing you. He wants you to follow that path from messing up to absolute failure.

But God says you don’t have to follow that path. In fact, you mustn't follow that path if you want to have any hope of getting to heaven. That’s the point here: You have to have a strength of character, and you have to have hope. That hope is founded in God’s mercy, truth, and faithfulness. You know that He will not give up on you (2 Peter 3:9), that His door is always open to those who have strayed but make the choice to come back (Luke 15:11-24). Take a minute to read Romans 5:1-11, and tell me that doesn’t give you the encouragement you need to do what’s right!

Your mistakes don’t have to lead to failure. Repent of them, learn from them, and build your strength based on what you have learned. If you are struggling, don’t let discouragement cloud your mind and distract you from your walk (Hebrews 12:1-3). If you see that discouragement building up in another, reach out to him or her, and be an encourager (1 Thessalonians 5:14). Just remember that if Satan can get people to see themselves as failures, to believe there is no hope for them to be who they need to be, then he is that much closer to winning not just the battle (individual circumstance – that one sin) but also the war (eternal punishment of the soul in hell).

Thanks for stopping by!


 Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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