I remember like it was yesterday the first time I experienced an overwhelming sense of failure. I was 12 years old and a beginner trumpet player. My pastor thought it would be a good idea to have me play a trumpet solo at a community Memorial Day service to honor those who had given their lives in service to their country. I rehearsed for weeks, and I felt confident that I would be able to stand in that balcony and inspire the masses with a moving rendition of TAPS.
It was the most awful piece of music that ever came through my lips. My heart started pounding. My hands were sweating. I couldn't breathe. My lips were so tight, I couldn't even pucker. [In case you didn't know this, breathing and puckering are two essential ingredients in trumpet playing.] In a matter of seconds, I descended into the outer reaches of hell. I broke out in a cold sweat, and I was shaking so badly that I couldn't hold my trumpet still on my unpuckerable lips.
There were sounds coming out of that horn that were unrecognizable. Geese were landing in the church yard. Cars were passing by and honking back. And the police arrived after reports of someone trying to strangle an elephant in the Brethren Church. [I'm kidding, of course. There were no geese.] The only man moved by my performance was an elderly gentleman who had lost most of his hearing in an artillery blast in WW2.
I was so embarrassed and humiliated. I know I was just a kid, but I had an epic sense of failure.
There is a big difference between the pain of failure and the pain of failing God. Following my trumpet apocalypse, I made some changes so the same thing wouldn't happen again: I learned I was better in a band -- and I switched to tuba. But I stayed in music all the way through high school and beyond. "Keep trying" works well for those kinds of failure, but that advice falls painfully short when dealing with the problem of our disobedience to God. It falls short mostly because we can't do it. We can't remedy this. Thank God, He can -- and did.
Here's what we can learn from God when we fail Him:
1] God does not prevent us from failing. He has created us to choose a life that serves him -- or not. He has given His word to us; He has given us His Spirit; and He has given us His Son. But we must choose wisely and willingly. He doesn't restrain us from failing, because we are created for voluntary worship.
2] There is hope because God is God, not because you are you. If we could have found our way out of this mess, the incarnation (and death and resurrection) of Jesus would not have been necessary. Our ability to achieve "righteous status" is impossible, but the love of God given in Jesus does what we cannot.
3] We can return to God and rely on His mercy. The book of Lamentations tells about the heartache Judah experienced when she walked away from God and was taken into Babylonian captivity. The book exposes the shame of Jerusalem and is filled with mourning and lament. But within its pages, we get glimpses of God's mercy beckoning them to trust in God again and come home. "The LORD'S compassions are new every morning..." (Lamentations 3:23). The good news is, just like the prodigal, we can return; we can go home again.
4] We must walk with him again. And again. And again. Returning to God means repenting of our ways (turning around) and walking with Him again. The prodigal's journey home began when he took his first steps out of the pigpen he found himself in.
One more thing about our failures...
If we hold on to them, we will be crippled by them. God turns our face forward and leads us into grace. Micah says that God "hurls all our sin into the depth of the sea." The Psalms say, "...as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us." And in Isaiah, God says, "I am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more."
But I promise you the thief has other plans (to steal, kill, and destroy). He wants to exploit your sins to destroy God's work of grace from the inside out of you. He wants you entangled, captivated, and exiled. He wants you to rot under the weight of unreconciled decay in your spirit. But God is merciful! While God does expose our corruptible nature and sheds His light on it so we can see it for what it is,He does it so we can turn away from it and walk with Him again.
In Christ, our failure does not define us.