How to Move from Failure to Hope

I feel compelled to share a nugget of wisdom, of which I have recently been reminded, that comes from the life experiences of King Solomon. The truth of this teaching for our lives was then illustrated when I opened my Bible this morning. I read Luke’s account of, what might be considered, the most significant day in the Apostle Peter’s life.

If you’ve ever attended a church service around Easter, the story of Peter’s three-fold denial of his relationship with Jesus is probably familiar. However, If we rewind the tape from the moment when the rooster crowed after his third denial, to a moment just 24-hours before when Jesus first predicted that this would happen, we find some very important words of hope that Peter seemingly missed. And these words, that came from the lips of Jesus, offer hope to us as well.

It all began with the way that Jesus’ disciples responded to what Jesus did at the conclusion of their last Passover meal together. While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread and a cup of wine, and used them to illustrate what was about to happen to him, and the significance of it. After they each ate the bread, and drank from the cup of wine, Jesus informed them that his suffering would result from a series of events initiated by the betrayal of one who was sitting at the table.

While they were discussing who among them could do such a thing, the focus quickly shifted from concern for their friend to concern for themselves. They actually began to argue with each other as to who among them should be considered the greatest.

Don’t you hate it when you’ve mustered the courage to be vulnerable with someone, and before you know it they turn the conversation around to make it all about them instead?

Jesus, in his effort to reign his disciples back in, compared them with world leaders, who often portray themselves as servants of the people while actually building their personal fortunes instead. He then juxtaposed that kind of leadership with how he had modeled servanthood, imploring them to follow his example rather than the one of kings and rulers in the world. In his account, from the book of the Bible that bears his name, John tells us that Jesus illustrated this kind of leadership by washing his disciples’ feet. Once again, instead of just talking to His disciples about servant leadership, Jesus showed them what it looks like.

In verse 28, Jesus affirmed their hope for the future when he said, “You have stayed with me in my time of trial. And just as my Father has granted me a Kingdom, I now grant you the right to eat and drink at my table in my Kingdom. And you will sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” Luke 22:28-30 (NLT)

Jesus followed this word of hope with a warning and then other word of hope - the word that Peter apparently missed due to our natural human tendency to fly “hear” the negative part of a conversation. The warning sounded very similar to the beginning of the book of Job where Satan sought permission to test Job’s loyalty to God by taking away what mattered most to him.

Jesus said, “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift each of you like wheat. But I have pleaded in prayer for you, Simon, that your faith should not fail. So when you have repented and turned to me again, strengthen your brothers.” Luke 22:31-32 (NLT)

Before his prediction that Peter would deny him, Jesus attempts to soften the blow by informing Peter that he had been praying for him. Jesus then reassured Peter that in spite of this momentary lapse, he would be restored and be given an important leadership role.

This startled Peter. “You’re afraid that I will fail? Why would I need to repent? What do you mean turn to you again?” This is why Peter quickly responded, “Lord, I am ready to go to prison with you, and even to die with you.”

Then came the words that were so painful for Peter to hear - that he would deny Jesus three times before the sun came up the next morning. I wonder if in that moment, Peter remembered Jesus telling the disciples that “anyone who acknowledges Him before others will be acknowledged to the Father in heaven, and those who deny Jesus before others, he would deny before the Father in heaven.”

If he wasn’t thinking about those words when Jesus made His painful prediction, Peter very well might have been confronted by them when Jesus made eye contact with him right after the rooster crowed. After all, Luke tells us that Peter ran from the courtyard that night weeping bitterly.

This brings me to that nugget of wisdom from the teaching of King Solomon. While there is a lot that I don’t know about this life and the people with whom I share planet earth, this one thing I do know. It comes from Solomon’s treatise about the significance of our lives on earth. We find this 3,000 year-old message in the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes.

Solomon tells us that God “has set eternity in the hearts of men.” And then he goes on to say, “yet [mankind] cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” Ecclesiastes 3:11 (NIV)

I have seen the truth of Solomon’s words play out time and time again every time I am asked to lead a family through their time of grieving over a loved one who has died. In the midst of the grief, there are often moments of deep introspection that cause people to think seriously about what will happen when they die. This, in turn, opens the door for fear to enter as we wonder what eternity will have in store for us. I have also observed that this fear will usually go dormant after a day or two, only to resurface the next time we pause for self-reflection.

Solomon’s words were not only true for Peter, but they are true for us as well. Peter could not fathom what God had done for him, nor what he would do for him through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. He had forgotten Jesus’ word of hope that he had prayed for Peter so that he would not ultimately fail. Just when he was sure that he had failed, Peter wasn’t able to recall Jesus telling him that he would eventually make the decision to move past his failure and turn to Jesus again. Therefore, in the hollowness of that moment, Peter sunk into a pit of depression, all because he focused on his failure instead of the promise of hope made to him by Jesus.

My dear friends, I know how hard it is for me to fathom what God has done for us, and so do you. But our inability to see what God sees doesn’t nullify the fact that Jesus’ death and resurrection was enough to satisfy the debt we owe to God for taking the matters of our lives into our own hands rather than entrusting them into His. We have created a debt that we cannot satisfy, simply because we’ve made ourselves the focus of life instead of God.

Regardless of what we may think, however, it’s not too late to change how we live our lives. It’s not too late to turn again to Jesus, who wants to empower us as servant leaders like he was. God puts people in our path every day who we have the opportunity to honor in the same kinds of ways that Jesus has honored us. They are the “neighbors” Jesus referred to when he commanded us to love others in the same way that we love ourselves.

We can try to convince ourselves that we don’t need God, but I promise you that, if not before, the next funeral you attend, you will discover once again that God has set your heart on eternity. But instead of giving in to fear, let Jesus become the leader of your life. After all, he’s the only one who has been victorious over death.