Often we hear or read about people experiencing moral failure. It seems too commonplace. But it is nothing new.
David, the man after God’s own heart, experienced a moral failure. When he should have been out in the field of battle, he stayed home. He saw Bathsheba bathing. He sent for her and sleeps with her. She conceived a child. Then, David tried to cover up his sin by having Bathsheba’s husband murdered. Thinking the whole ordeal was over. He was confronted by Nathan, the prophet. He reminded David of his sin and then informed David that the child that he had conceived with Bathsheba will die.
David’s failure was epic. A good and godly king experienced a moral failure of monumental proportions. David’s response to his failure shows how God redeems our failures.
- Realize that people fail.
David failed. But so did Abraham, Moses, Peter, Paul, and a host of others. All people, even successful ones, have experienced the realities and feelings of painful failure.
Babe Ruth hit 714 home runs, but struck out 1330 times. R. H. Macy, the founder of Macy’s, failed seven times before launching his department store triumph. Walt Disney was fired from his newspaper job because he lacked imagination and had no original ideas. At forty, Henry Ford was penniless. The founder of the Methodist Church, John Wesley, had a disastrous marriage. Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team. Abraham Lincoln’s fiancé died. He failed twice in business. He had a nervous breakdown. He was defeated in eight elections.
If you have never failed, you have never lived. If you have failed, you are in good company.
2. Release the pain through prayer.
David released his grief over his failure. David, the man of prayer, pleaded with God to spare his child. His efforts were intense, fueled both by his fatherly compassion for a sick child and by a profound confidence in God’s mercy. David understood that his actions were to blame for this tragedy and he sought the Lord’s forgiveness. He did everything in his power to gain a reprieve for his son. The child’s life was more important to him than food, comfort, or pride.
Here was a man releasing his pain. His failure hurt him, the loss was devastating, the pain was intense. He released it through prayer, by confessing his own sin and by fasting. He was begging, bargaining, and beckoning with God.
Personal failure causes us to clinch our fist in anger and sorrow. It causes us to shake our fist at the world and utter, “Life is not fair!” At this point we have two options: either keep our fist clinched and walk throughout life maimed or release the pain through time with God and reenter the mainstream of life healthy.
3. Resume normal activities.
While David’s son was ill he prayed, fasted, and dressed in sackcloth. His servants were afraid to tell him that the child had died for fear that David would inflict more pain on himself. David surprised everyone, however, by his reaction to the news that his son had died. Instead of doing something reckless and injurious, David ended his fast and started eating again. David realized that life had to go on. He resumed normal activities.
David’s response teaches us that down deep, far deeper than his sin, he understood God. He wept and prayed and fasted while that was appropriate. When the time had passed, he rose, washed, worshiped, and ate a meal. He understood that even through his tears, life must go on. He could not and should not fast and pray and weep forever. There is a time to weep and there is a time to refrain from weeping. At some point, you have get on with life.
When faced with personal failure we need to reestablish our normal routine as quickly as possible. Life must go on. Work resumed. Friendships maintained. Hobbies continued. Exercise performed. We need to see failure as a temporary setback not a permanent roadblock.
4. Reinvest in life.
David reinvested his life. How easy it would have been for David to forgo more children. They could have gotten ill and died. It was a gamble, a risk, but David took the challenge and reinvested his life. His failure did not do him in.
The contrast between the first and second child are sharp. Whereas the Lord fatally judged the first, the Lord loved the second. Nathan told David to name him Jedidiah (Solomon), meaning “loved by the Lord.” The first son died on the seventh day, before it received circumcision according to the Torah. The new son lived to be a faithful member of the covenant community. The first son was unnamed. The second son was named Solomon by David, meaning “Yahweh’s restoration” or “Yahweh’s peace.” Following the agony of death, the Lord had given David peace so he could get on with his life.
Jim Elliot, along with five other missionaries to the Auca Indians, was savagely murdered. This tragedy left his wife, Elisabeth, a widow in her early twenties. Elisabeth chose not to let her grief and sorrow overcome her. Instead she returned to the mission field. The same mission field her husband had been brutally murdered. In time, she saw her husband’s murderers come to faith in Christ. She reinvested her life.
5. Return to God.
David had failed. He had sinned. And his son’s death was a consequence of that sin. Yet David knew that he could only cope with personal failure by drawing near to God and resting in his sustaining arms. In losing his son, David sought more than ever to gain a deeper relationship with his Heavenly Father. It is significant that David did not break his fast until after he had worshipped God. David’s hunger for a right relationship with God exceeded his desire for food.
We cannot face our failures without the strength and help of God in our life. Returning to God is a normal expression for people of faith.
When failure comes, one will either draw close to God or distance themselves from him. The fact remains: when encountering failure, we need God more than ever.
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