Proverbs 24:16 “For though a righteous man falls seven times, he rises again.”
I love that there is a Bible verse that speaks specifically about falling and getting back up. For truly the Christian life could be described as a pattern of trying and failing and learning from it, trying and failing and learning from it and trying and failing and learning from it. Eventually the trying doesn’t lead to failing as often because what we learn over time (if we learn it!) keeps us from failing less. And the goal ought to be that every time we fail, we at least fail forward, allowing our failure to take us closer to Jesus and anchor our hearts even more to HIS perfection and HIS sacrifice and HIS upward call on our lives.
As I begin a series this morning on “Courageous Living” (We’ll be showing the “Courageous” movie this Friday night at 7:00 p.m. and I urge every one of you to make a commitment to being here and to bringing a friend.) I want to talk about what I think takes perhaps more courage than anything. It is getting back up when you fall down. Giving up is easy. Fighting to get back up is the hard and courageous thing.
I can think of no better example of this than Peter. His first failure was in thinking,
(1.) “It couldn’t happen to me.” He actually believed he was above failure!
Matthew 26 :33-35Peter replied, “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will.” “I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.” But Peter declared, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.”
The minute we think we are above or beyond failure Satan has an opening into our lives. Do you hear the self-reliance, the self-assurance and the self-confidence in Peter’s words? Satan looks for those kinds of people because they are easy to trip up. Peter bragged that even if everyone else copped out, if everyone else failed, he never would. He would somehow be above and beyond being capable of what every other human could do. Listen, every one of us here this morning is just one decision away from disaster.
Just before Peter bragged about his inability to fall, Jesus had warned Peter that Satan was seeking to mess with him. Look at Luke 22:31-32.”Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat.But I have prayed for you, Simon that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” You would think Peter would have been on his guard. You would have thought Peter would have thought twice before making overtures about his courage to follow Jesus to the death. But right on the heels of Jesus’ words about Satan wanting to get to Peter in Luke 22:32 Peter said, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.” Why the arrogance? Why the naïve boldness? Because Peter thought it could never happen to him. The truth is, Peter didn’t know himself as well as he thought he did. The truth for us today is that we don’t know ourselves as well as we think we do. But Jesus knew the truth about Peter. He told him in Luke 22:34, “Before the rooster crows you will deny that you ever knew me 3 times!” Of course that’s exactly what happened.
Think of the times in your life when you have failed. When you peel back the layers of the situation, do you see in many of those instances, arrogance and self-reliance? You thought you were tough enough. You didn’t need anyone’s help. No one could tell you what to do. You were in charge of your own life. You didn’t have to listen to anyone’s warnings or advice. You knew what was best.
Paul warns us of self-reliance and pride when he says in Romans 12:3 “For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment.” We should not think that we are incapable of any kind of failure.
Turn to your neighbor and say, “Neighbor, stay alert. It could happen to you!” Peter learned that lesson for sure. After his failure he remembered Jesus’ warning for the rest of his life. Why else would he turn around and warn us in I Peter 5:8, “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8)? We are destined to fail if we do not take these words seriously.
(2.) Peter’s second failure was failing to stay prayed up.
Jesus had warned Peter about how Satan was out to get him. Just after that conversation, Jesus took Peter and the other disciples to the Garden of Gethsemane where He told them to start praying. Look at Mark 14:37-38 “Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Simon,” he said to Peter, “Are you asleep? Could you not keep watch for one hour? Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.”
“Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation, Peter.” Jesus had just had his talk with Peter about Satan being after him. He had just told Peter that before the rooster crowed Peter would disown Him three times. You would think that Peter would see the need to combat the attempt of Satan to “sift him as wheat” with some prayer time. You would think hearing that Satan was out to get him would have caused him to fall on his face before God! But no, there was self-reliant Peter once again thinking he was “good to go.” He didn’t need to pray.
Jesus acknowledged to Peter, “The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.” No one would have questioned Peter’s passion. His spirit was definitely willing. He was spirited, alright. He had the right words. He believed it all so much he convinced himself he could and would do anything. But listen, passion without prayer is worthless when Satan wants to “sift you like wheat.”
Ephesians 6 says we are to “Put on the full armor of God so that we can take our stand against the devil’s schemes.” Part of that armor involves prayer. We should never go through a day without it. Ephesians 6:18 says, “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.” Prayer is the way to stay alert so that you can see clearly what Satan is up to. If Jesus didn’t go to the cross without prayer, we ought not to think we can be victorious in any situation without it.
Jesus’ Garden of Gethsemane prayer time was a time of wrestling with the will of God, a time of pouring His heart out to the Father. It was that last two-way conversation with the Father before the Father became silent as Jesus hung on the cross. Jesus’ prayer time was a time of preparation for what He endured. You might say that Jesus spent time getting prayed up for the cross.
Luke 22 tells us the prayer time was so intense that Jesus actually sweated drops of blood. It was during this time of prayer that an angel appeared for the purpose of strengthening Jesus for what was to come. Maybe if Peter had spent the hour praying, seeking wisdom and protection and strength to overcome the temptation as Jesus had suggested, things would have turned out differently for him. Maybe an angel would have come to strengthen Peter!
I Thessalonians 5:17 tells us to “pray continually.” Our success as Christians is tied not only to a correct view of ourselves which Peter failed to possess, but it’s also tied to our prayer life, something Peter just dismissed when he needed it the most. It is in prayer where we will receive power and revelation to do what is right.
In Mark’s Gospel he tells us that Jesus came to Peter and the other disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane three times to ask why they were sleeping and not praying. Three times. The exact number of times Peter denied knowing Christ (See Mark 14:41). Do you see a correlation? Peter was a fisherman who was used to staying up all night in a boat on the sea to catch fish, but he couldn’t stay up an hour to pray on the most pivotal night of his life to date? He hadn’t taken Jesus’ warning seriously. He had believed he was invincible.
James tells us to submit ourselves to God and the devil will flee from us (James 5:7). We submit ourselves to God in prayer. That’s where the battle is. Satan can’t gain the upper hand in the life of a believer who is submitted to God through prayer.
(3.) Peter’s third failure was in distancing himself from Jesus.
Following Jesus’ arrest, the very same night Peter was ready to be imprisoned or die for Jesus’ sake, we read these words in Luke 22:54 “Then seizing him (Jesus), they led him away, and took him into the house of the high priest. Peter followed at a distance.”
When you are afraid, when you begin to doubt your ability to make it or do the right thing, the last thing you want to do is distance yourself from Jesus. You see, when you live in a self-reliant mode, when trouble comes, you will go into self-preservation mode. Self-preservation is a fleshly, impulsive carnal way of thinking and behaving. And the flesh and carnal mind happen to be directly opposite to God’s way of thinking and behaving (Romans 8).
The further you are from Jesus, the more exposed you are when temptation comes and the weaker you are. You will never be victorious if you try to follow Jesus at a distance. Look at Luke 22:56-62: A servant girl saw him [Peter] seated there in the firelight. She looked closely at him and said, “This man was with him [Jesus].” But he denied it. “Woman, I don’t know him,” he said. A little later someone else saw him and said, “You also are one of them.” “Man, I am not!” Peter replied. About an hour later another asserted, “Certainly this fellow was with him, for he is a Galilean.” Peter replied, “Man, I don’t know what you’re talking about!” Just as he was speaking, the rooster crowed. The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times.” And he went outside and wept bitterly.
Some of you here are trying to follow the RIGHT PERSON but at the wrong distance! You cannot have a long distance relationship with Jesus!
Peter wept bitterly. He was shocked in the most intense and painful way that he had done what he had done. That’s why we read that he did more than just cry. He cried bitter tears. It was as if no one was more caught off guard by his behavior than he was. He was in disbelief, and in that moment he knew how fragile the human will was. He discovered how weak his own resolve was. He learned just what he was capable of and when he saw the truth about himself, he hit rock bottom. He wasn’t just sorry he had gotten caught. It was more than that. He was deeply sorry over what he discovered in the process. He was just like everyone else; capable of the unthinkable less than 24 hours after claiming to be above it all!
And the further we are from Jesus, all of us, the more likely we are to fail. Notice that distancing yourself from Jesus can happen to even serious, committed Christians who would appear to have gained a fair amount of spiritual maturity. Peter had walked with Jesus daily for three and a half years. He spent 24/7 with Jesus. Yet after day by day walking with Jesus, he distanced himself. Mature Christians beware. The very same thing could happen to you.
Last Sunday as we celebrated the Resurrection, I highlighted that when Mary Magdalene found the tomb empty and was given a message by an angel to go tell the other disciples that Jesus had risen, she was told specifically to make sure Peter knew about it (Mark 16:7). Jesus knew Peter had been beating himself up since the denial, and he wanted to get word to Peter as soon as possible that He was alive. If Peter knew Jesus was alive, Peter would know there was a chance their relationship could be restored. When Peter heard the news, Scripture says he took off running to try to find Jesus. He had distanced himself once before, and it didn’t work. He wasn’t going to make the same mistake twice. He went to get as close to Jesus as possible.
And here is where Peter’s real courage was displayed. When you have failed and hit rock bottom, even though you “knew better” or are a mature Christian, we see in Peter’s life that the way to get back up is to get “Christ-centered” and “Mission-centered” once again.
Peter’s re-connection to Christ and mission are beautifully depicted in John 21. Turn there with me. We read that the disciples were fishing and Jesus appeared to them (for the third time since His Resurrection). When Peter saw it was Jesus, look at what he did. John 21:7 “Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord,” he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water. We see his drive and passion to get as close to Jesus as possible, even if he has to swim to do it!
Look at John 21:15-17 When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.” Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me?” He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.” The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.
When we fail people it’s often difficult for us to know what to say or how to approach the person. I love that Jesus didn’t put Peter in the awkward situation of having to try to come up with the words to say, but He lovingly asked him questions to get him talking. Jesus immediately started talking about their relationship . . . about the love they had one for the other. When Peter affirmed his love for Jesus and his commitment to him, Jesus helped him see that love for God translates into activity. It is more than a feeling. It is more than lip service. It is mission. It is life service.
Let me take you back to the Satan wanting to sift Peter as wheat conversation in Luke 22. “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat.But I have prayed for you, Simon that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”
Jesus prayed for Peter. He prayed that his faith wouldn’t fail. Even if his actions failed, he prayed that Peter wouldn’t lose that internal compass, that anchor for his soul. He knew Peter would get back up. He said “and when you have turned back. . .” Jesus was saying, you are going to mess up, but when you do, get up and get back on task. “Strengthen your brothers because you have a job to do.”
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It is said that after a broken bone heals it often becomes stronger. The healing process offers something to the bone that makes it better than it was before. The same can be true of us if we will have the courage to learn from our failures and get up by getting Christ-centered and getting back on task. Peter went on to do much more for Christ after his failure than he did before.
Some of you need to get up today because God wants to do greater things in and through you than you have ever done or have ever thought of doing. If you give up, if you stay down, if you retreat, you are testifying that God’s grace isn’t sufficient to turn your defeat into victory.
Before Peter’s failure he was unreliable. After getting back up and getting Christ-centered and mission-centered he became the “rock” that his name actually meant. The same man had become a different person!
Failures aren’t usually something we want known. They aren’t the things we are happy to tell when someone asks if anyone has a testimony to share. But why do you think we know Peter’s story? He told on himself. No one else could have known what happened between him and Jesus had Peter not made it known. After he had hit rock bottom, after he realized that it was only going to be by sticking close to Jesus and by staying prayed up that he would make it, he told everyone else about how they could move on from their failures as well.
Rev. Ray Pritchard said this about the need to get up and go on with your life after a failure: Several years ago the Lord gave me a series of simple statements that I call the First Law of Spiritual Progress: I CAN’T GO BACK. I CAN’T STAY HERE. I MUST GO FORWARD
I love the song by Tenth Avenue North that says:
There’s a girl in the corner
With tear stains on her eyes
From the places she’s wandered
And the shame she can’t hide
She says, “How did I get here?
I’m not who I once was.
And I’m crippled by the fear
That I’ve fallen too far to love”
But don’t you know who you are,
What’s been done for you?
Yeah don’t you know who you are?
You are more than the choices that you’ve made,
You are more than the sum of your past mistakes,
You are more than the problems you create,
You’ve been remade.
‘Cause this is not about what you’ve done,
But what’s been done for you.
This is not about where you’ve been,
But where your brokenness brings you to
This is not about what you feel,
But what He felt to forgive you,
And what He felt to make you loved.
You are more than the choices that you’ve made,
You are more than the sum of your past mistakes,
You are more than the problems you create,
You’ve been remade.
Jesus prayed for Peter to get back up. He is praying for you today. Romans 8:34 tells us that while He is at the right hand of the Father, He is praying for you. He is praying for you to get up. This morning you can either be defined by your failure or you can let it be a defining moment by getting back up.