Getting Back on Track After Failure

Sam Petitfils 

“When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ He said to him, ‘Feed my lambs’” (John 21:15)

People deal with guilt in different ways, but we can detect certain characteristics common to any guilty conscience:

A desire to hide. When we sin, we often turn and run away. We don’t like what we did, and we know that God doesn’t either. So we attempt to get out of sight and flee. We soon discover we cannot escape our own guilty conscience.

Blame shift. Following a sinful action, we soon begin to blame others for our actions, or blame some situation. Some even blame the temptation, claiming it was simply too strong to endure. But still our conscience knows no peace.

Silence. This is especially true of Christians. They know they belong to Christ and they know what’s right. They become aware of the shame that surrounds them and just remain silent. But the guilt feelings continue and only fester.

When Jesus meets up with him, Peter was well aware he denied his Lord just days ago. His heart no doubt troubled him. He probably felt unworthy of name the name of Christ, so he retreated to his old profession, fishing. But Jesus had something to say to Peter.

Jesus re-enlists Peter by commanding him to feed Jesus’ lambs. We might expect Jesus to upbraid Peter for his cowardice, but Jesus demonstrates deep compassion for Peter because He knows Peter’s heart. In this account of Peter’s restoration at the very end of John’s gospel, we have a model of how to deal with guilt.

We need to meet with Jesus. While it is unlikely that Jesus will physically appear to any of us, we need to turn to Him during times of guilt. His blood cleanses us from all sin when we confess our sin to Him (1 John 1:7-10). Jesus waits for us with compassionate eyes because He knows our frame (Psalm 103:14). We all experience failure in our life, and we need to bow before our Lord when we have sinned. He will forgive and remove the guilt from our lives.

Re-enter the Lord’s service. We should not delay to get immediately back on track in serving God. Some project a false humility saying, “I am not worthy to serve God.” But we need to identify who is really trying to keep us from serving God: the evil one.

Sometimes when a Christian commits a grievous sin, he or she needs to step down from public service for a season in order to reconnect with the Lord and demonstrate to the church their restored character. But usually we simply need to resume serving God as before and not suppose God will no longer use us.

Commit to not repeating the sin. Peter became a bold disciple for the Lord, who risked his life for the sake of His Master. Thereafter, no one would accuse him of cowardice ever again. Peter could always look back at this encounter with Jesus and recall His tender response to Peter’s failure.

We also need to take steps not to repeat sins, but to avoid temptation. When we think of God’s tender forgiveness, we should all the more want to please Him (see Luke 7:36-50 and Romans 2:4).

Yes, get immediately back on track and take up your cross daily. If you do stumble again (and we all do), we know we can confess it to God and receive His marvelous forgiveness. Don’t waste any more time, but run back to the harvest fields, because they are ripe for the harvest.

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