Tag Archives: backsliding

Spiritual Failures

Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows twice you will disown me three times.” And he broke down and wept. Mark 14:72 (NIV)

One of the most difficult things for believers to do is to recover from spiritual failure.  Instead of asking for forgiveness, repenting, and then moving forward, followers of Christ are tempted to simply give up and continue in their pattern of sin.    What believers need to do instead is to exercise more “personal compassion”.  Personal compassion is the practice of forgiving ourselves and acknowledging our “humanity.”   In a society where human error is deemed inexcusable, personal compassion moves beyond the actual mistake and begins to mitigate the negative emotions that follow them—this includes regret, shame, and guilt.    Once that occurs, the believer can be restored and continue their faith walk. Our text found in the Gospel of Mark, shares a familiar recounting of Peter’s spiritual failure prior to the crucifixion of Jesus (Mark 14:66-72).

Peter finds himself in a precarious position as he observes from a distance the trial of Jesus after being arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane.   Interestingly, none of the other disciples were mentioned in this denial account—only Peter.  Peter was part of Christ’s inner circle with James and John.  He had experienced special moments with Christ—the transfiguration and walking on water—and was privy to key revelations about Jesus Christ, the Son of God and the promised Messiah.  After the feeding of the 5,000, it was Peter who proclaimed that Jesus was the true source of eternal life (John 6:69).   It was because of Peter’s confession of faith that he would become the “foundational rock” (petra) on which the universal Church would be built (Matt. 16:18-19) versus a “piece of the building” (petros).  So what happened to Peter in the courtyard that caused him to disassociate himself from Jesus?

It is easy to be critical of Peter because of our “unsympathetic bentness” from decades of Bible classes, Sunday school lessons, and Good Friday sermons.  But instead of condemnation, try-on a more compassionate approach.  Imagine what Peter felt that night?  What emotions did he experience in that courtyard?  Anger, fear, and confusion were probably racing through his mind.  Jesus had been arrested and now people around him were questioning, “Weren’t you with that Nazarene Jesus?” The young girl challenged him, “This is one of them.” They gathered around Peter, “You’re one of them because you talk like a Galilean!”  (Mark 14:67-70)  Peter had never been in a situation like this so how did he respond?  “I know not…I am not…I don’t know what you’re talking about.”   As he made his final denial, the cock crowed and he remembered the words of Jesus, “You shall deny me.”  What was Peter’s reaction?  He collapsed in tears.  His emotions vacillated between regret, shame, and guilt.   Peter responded in the only way he knew how—in his humanity. How would you have responded?

If we are honest, we will admit that like Peter, we might experience “spiritual failure”.   While we may not be in a palace courtyard, we may experience spiritual failure in the corporate boardroom, when we “support” policies or practices that are outside Christian conduct.  We might deny Christ when we “quietly accept” ideas put forth that are contrary to God’s will and Jesus’ teachings, i.e., all religions lead to heaven.  We may even “curse” others when we fail to stand firm in our profession of faith and instead follow what’s “politically correct.”  God has warned us (much like the crowing cock) that we too may be tempted to “deny” our Lord.  Our identification with Christ’s comes with consequences.  We must remember who we are and whose we are.  Expect to be challenged! (John 15:18)

So what is the invitation God is offering us in this account of Peter’s denial?  First, this narrative invites us to understand our humanity with its frailties and weaknesses.  We should acknowledge the potential for spiritual failure (1 Cor. 10:12) knowing that God uses our failures to strengthen and shape us (James 1:2-4).  Second, it is critical that we recognize the source of our strength is the Lord—His Word (Ps. 19:11) and His indwelling Holy Spirit (Ep. 3:16).  Peter made the mistake of depending on his own personal commitment (Mark 14:29) rather than Jesus’ words to him (Luke 22:31-32; Mark 14:30).  Lastly, and most importantly, we must exercise personal compassion if and when we fail.  Peter’s denial of Jesus was the beginning not the end of his becoming the promised “Rock.”  Jesus restored Peter after the Resurrection (John 21:15-19) and greatly used Him at Pentecost (Acts 2) and beyond.   God alone is both able and willing to restore us after our spiritual failures.  Let the Lover of your soul restore it (Ps. 23:5).

 

SELAH:  Read the account of Peter’s denial in Luke 22:54-62.  Imagine yourself to be Peter and write down the emotions you might feel.  Then ask God to reveal the places where you might be spiritually vulnerable and how to avoid it.

 

 

God’s Gift of Rest

“For we who have believed do enter that rest, as He has said: “So I swore in My wrath, ‘They shall not enter My rest,’

“although the works were finished from the foundation of the world.”

Hebrews 4:11 (NKJV)

While on vacation this month, I had the opportunity to purchase my second Fitbit device after successfully killing my original one.  After a year of consistent use, I found that it really does promote personal movement, healthy eating and rest.  Yes, rest.  One of the features on my Fitbit is a sleep function that tells me how many hours a day (yes, it tracks naps) I rest as I pursue my “sleep goal”.  It faithfully sends a nightly text to tell me to cease from my activities and “begin to prepare for bed” (it really does).

Health experts and social scientists agree that the need for rest is critical to not only our physical well-being but also our emotional health and our cognitive performance.  The writer of Hebrews also recognized the value of rest especially the rest God gives, as a gift, to His believers.  Today I’d like to share my thoughts on rest in the context of intimacy with God and returning to our First Love.

Rest defined

Webster defines rest not only as sleep but also as “freedom from worry or trouble”.   Most uses of the word rest in the Bible are nontheological; they take on spiritual meaning when used in relationship to God and His people—the recipients of the both the Old and New Covenant.

Also read:  “Seeking and Finding God

God introduces Rest

In the Old Testament, Sabbath rest was introduced in Genesis as God ceased from His work of creation (Gen. 2:2-3).  Sabbath rest was later commanded as part of the Mosaic Law (Exod. 31:15) as evidence of God’s love and recognition that all living creatures, man and animal, needed physical renewal and respite.  Canaan rest finds its beginning with the deliverance of the children of Israel from Egypt. It included not only deliverance from Egyptian slavery but also establishment of protection and victory over Israel’s enemies as they entered into the Promised Land (Josh. 14:15).  The tribes of Israel also enjoyed God’s gifts of rest when they settled in the land, which flowed with milk and honey (Josh. 1:13-15). In following God’s commandments, they would ultimately acquire rest experienced by “peace in the land”—no longer threatened by attack from Canaanite inhabitants (Josh. 23:1).

Jesus Christ’s arrival and selfless act of atonement presented believers with the opportunity to enter into God’s Eternal rest.  This rest surpassed those previously offered beginning with precious promises available on this side of heaven (2 Pet. 1:4), His presence manifested through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (John 14:17, 26) and will culminate with the blessed reward of eternity with our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

“The struggle Christians are engaged in is not that of finding their way through life but of entering God’s rest.”

Accessing God’s Rest

Accessing God’s gift of rest is possible through development of an intimate relationship with Him.  Rest is not cessation from work but in listening to His voice and obediently acquiescing to His plans and purpose for our lives.  This exercise of faith provides peace and release from anxiety and fear.

On this matter of rest, Lawrence O. Richards, noted theologian writes:

The struggle Christians are engaged in is not that of finding their way through life but of entering God’s rest (Heb. 4:11).  That is, they are to be responsive to the Lord and let His Word and Spirit guide then to the solutions he has already provided for their problems.

God has provided us with the Holy Spirit, who acts as our spiritual Fitbit to tell us when we need God’s rest.  When we have been negligent in our personal time with Him, we become spiritually restless and ill-tempered.  We can’t seem to concentrate on the things of God because we lack the rest we need to keep us emotionally and spiritually healthy (Col. 3:1-4).

We can find rest as we listen for and respond to the Lord’s voice.  Such trust can only be ascribed to the Creator of all rests—Sabbath rest, Canaan rest, and Eternal rest.  Only Sovereign God can create, deliver, protect, and give use victory over the challenges we face (Rom. 8:37).  He knows the end from the beginning, and His purpose will stand (Is. 46:8-10).  It is God’s desire that we live more fully as recipients of His gift of rest.  He invites us to draw near and enter into His rest.

SELAH:   Are you in need of God’s rest?  Is it time for you to recommit, refocus, and reprioritize your relationship with the Lord?

Returning to Our First Love, Part 2

“Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love.” Revelation 2:4   (NKJ)

Last week we explored the need to return to our first love, Jesus Christ.  This return is characterized by our deep devotion and love for Him.  This week we will continue this discussion by examining ways to journey back to Him.  This process begins with an awareness of our current position and ends with specific strategies to return to our first love.

Awareness of our current position

We begin by acknowledging that we have left our first love.  How do you know that?  By “examining yourself to see if you are in the faith” (2 Cor.13:5).  This does not infer a loss of salvation but recommends an evaluation of your progress toward spiritual maturity.   Spiritual maturity not only includes “what you know” but also “how you live out what you know”—your profession of faith (1 Tim. 6:12).  Are you being conformed to the image of Christ or do you resemble the world? (Rom. 12: 2)   Are you intentional in your relationship with Christ?  Do you seek “His Face” (presence) or only “His Hand” (favor)?   In God’s presence, you take on “the mind of Christ” (Phil. 2:5); His thoughts become your thoughts, resulting in changed behavior.  Spiritual maturity is the visible evidence of Christ’s presence in your life.  What is your current position?

Strategies to return to our first love

Once aware of your current position, it is time to develop specific approaches to move you back into fellowship with the Lord (1 John 1:3).

Recommit yourself to Him Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness? (Rom. 6:16)  If after examination you find that you have left your first love, repent and return to Him.  Nothing you can do will ever separate you from God’s love (Rom. 8:39) and He stands faithful to forgive you (1 John 1: 9).  Recommitment involves renewing your loyalty to Christ and His lordship over your life.  This includes directing your time, talents, and treasures to the service of the Lord.

 Renew your love for HimI will love You, O LORD, my strength (Psalm 18:1).  Tell the Lord how much you love Him.  Although He is all-knowing, He still wants to hear you tell Him how much you love Him.    Let Him know you desire Him with all your heart and soul (Ps. 42:1-2).  Show your love for Him through your praise and worship.  You are never closer to Him than when you “love on Him” (Ps. 22:3).

Reprioritize your life around Him.   Christ set the standard for priority when He said, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” (Matt.  6: 33).  However, to make God the center of your life is counterculture.  Everything in modern society encourages and rewards people who place themselves “at the head of the line”.  But when we place Christ first in our life, we are assured that we have chosen the “Good Part” (Luke 10:38).

Now is the time to return to your first love.  He is waiting with open arms.

SELAH:  The gospel group, The Winans, recorded a song entitled, Prone to Wander, which best describes the believer’s tendency to leave their first love.   Read these lyrics “thoughtfully” and reflect on those times when you were “prone to wander”.  Afterwards write your version of prone to wander including the “happy ending” when you promise, “Never to wander again”.

Prone to wander, exploring the unknown
Prone to wander, seeing if we’ve grown
Destined to blunder, hope that I’ll recover
Never to wander again

I never should have left your side
It took deep waters to make me realize
Not within your borders, void of any order
Never to wander again

I have been mixed with deep experience
Both good and bad, yes, good and bad
But it has caused me Lord
To love you more than I ever have, ever have

Prone to wander, no more my refrain
Cause I’ll never leave your side no more again
Destined to blunder and hope that I’ll recover
Never to wander, said I’ll never leave your side
Never to wander, said I’ll never leave your side
Never to wander again.