After Sunday Thought… I See Failure; God Sees Success

Have you ever failed at something? Made a mistake? Messed up a project?

Of course you have. You’re only human. That’s why I loved yesterday’s scripture from Mark where Jesus returns to his hometown to preach only to find that he isn’t warmly welcomed. On the surface you can say that he was a big flop.

Soon after the synagogue debacle, though, we don’t see Jesus rethinking his life’s call, giving up on the mission of radical love and welcome. Rather, we see him move forward. This time, sending out his friends, two by two, to go to the towns and stay in homes to share the good news. And knowing that sometimes life brings rejection, he tells his friends, don’t let it get you down. You have something to offer. You have been called to do a job. You are part of God’s bigger plan. Just shake off the dust from your sandals and move on. There’s no time to waste; there are others to reach.

There really isn’t time to waste wallowing in our failure or rejection, for when something doesn’t go the way we had hoped or we don’t the results of our labor, it isn’t the end of the world. In fact, it could be God’s way of redirecting us — for example, those in the synagogue won’t receive you, then go out to those in the streets.

I have a chicken coop I’ve been trying to build for a year now. My father began the project last summer, but it was put on hold in the fall because of my indecisiveness as to how to side the walls. I wanted weathered barn boards, but they are wicked expensive to buy and I haven’t come across any old barns that have fallen down lately.

During this time of searching for siding alternatives, two major windstorms blew the coop over. By the second storm, I felt crushed thinking I would probably have to give up on the dream of having chickens. I really thought about dismantling the structure, but something urged me on. Once again, I cajoled my husband into helping me hoist the sad looking coop upright. And there it sits.

Somedays I stare out the kitchen window at this “failure” and I get down about it. Other days, though, I see these delays in finishing the coop as blessings because the reality is I  don’t have time to tend to chickens. The failed chicken coop is starting to look more like a rustic shed for my garden tools.

I have always joked in my life that if Plan A doesn’t work, I am okay because there was a Plan B, a Plan C, a Plan D. I vowed I would never fret until I got to Plan Z. Why? Because I have learned that God has a beautiful way of guiding us. All the times I thought I have failed, I actually found myself stepping onto a new and better path.

And here’s the other thing with “failure.” It really isn’t what it seems to be because God sees things differently. God, who is a redemptive God, can take a mess and bless it.

I overheard a conversation on a shuttle bus to the airport recently. A woman asked a man sitting next to her what he did for a living. He led Christian retreats at a conference center. The woman was excited because she had attended that center years ago. She then went on to tell how one speaker she heard changed her life forever. It led her to give her life to Christ, to go into Christian publishing to spread the good news and, subsequently, because of the path she was now on, her sister was so inspired that she became a missionary. The woman was quiet after sharing the story and then said, “Now that I think about it, that retreat saved me.”

I was startled when I saw the man getting teary-eyed and wondered what was going on? I soon found out as he replied, “I led that retreat and I thought it was the biggest failure of my life. I was so depressed afterwards and found myself rethinking everything.”

A failure isn’t a failure — with God. Just take a look at Jesus. It seemed to everyone — even his friends — that his ministry failed that day he was nailed to the cross. But it didn’t. It was just starting.

So the next time you think you really screwed up or feel you are a hopeless cause or start believing you have no worth at all in this world, think again. God sees things differently. God sees blessings in messes. God brings holy successes out of our human failures.

Now, shake off the dust. You have a beautiful life to live — and I have a chicken coop, um, I mean garden shed, to finish.

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Failures aren’t what they seem. Take for instance, my chicken coop. Blown over by high winds twice and still not finished, the delays have made me realize, I really don’t have time to raise chickens. I do, though, need a place to store my garden tools.

 

A Holy High Five

 

It was one of those Sundays where I stood in the narthex in what I’ve come to describe as my “post-preaching daze”—a state of mind in which the adrenaline of the preaching high wears off and I stand there shaking hands while all the time thinking about the following: how the end of the sermon could have ended differently, was the point I was trying to make made, did I really put the Holy Spirit before Jesus once again in my trinitarian benediction and, more importantly, where’s the nearest cup of coffee because, boy, I can use some right now.

On this particular Sunday, though, in my post-preaching daze, I wondered about something else. I wondered where the Spirit was moving among us, because sometimes, just sometimes, God seems to remain silent when you really want to know if what you are doing makes a difference.

So there I stood in my post-preaching daze not expecting much in terms of getting a divine pat on the back or even a holy high five, when two boys came running in from where church school had just been let out. As they made their way over to me I could see they were very excited about something.

Jack, and his younger brother, Tyler, had something in their hands. As they got closer I could see they were holding the white plastic tops to one of those dollar store boxes. Before I could even venture a guess as to what this was all about, they showed me. On the inside of the white lid, in blue marker, was a tracing of their hand with the message, “Place your hand here and we can pray together. God bless you!”

The brothers told me how they put together several shoeboxes for our church’s Operation Christmas Child mission project, going to the store and filling the boxes with gifts for underprivileged children who might not ever feel the generous love of God. The brothers, though, took the shoebox project a step further by inviting the recipient of their box to join them in prayer.

I stood there amazed, dumbfounded and deeply moved. I’ve been talking a lot about the power of prayer and our need to pray more. I’ve said it once, twice, thrice, prayer is the foundation on which anything we do for God needs to be built upon. And now, the youngest among us not only heard, they took action, inviting another child’s hand to “touch” theirs in prayer.

Rendered speechless by the thoughtful act of two boys, I stared at the inside of the lid and slowly placed my hand on top of the one drawn in blue marker.

My wondering as to where the Spirit of God was moving among us was right there in front of me. I had received my holy high five.

ShoeBoxes