Messing Up and Moving On

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Fairly late the other night, Stuart sent me a message saying that he had not yet received my devotional for the next morning. There was a good reason he hadn’t received it: I had not sent it. And the reason was because I had forgotten all about it!

Though I had worked on an article that afternoon, I was interrupted halfway through by a long phone conversation. After putting the phone down, and noticing it was 6:00 PM, I went home for dinner, without giving the article another thought. By the time I saw Stuart’s message, it was late and, to be frank, though I attempted to finish it, I was too tired and too distracted in my thoughts to do it justice. Thankfully, Stuart had something in the pipeline and hence no one was any the wiser. But I felt bad. I felt guilty that I hadn’t fulfilled a responsibility to my fellow church members. I messed up and felt like a disappointment before the Lord.

Have you ever failed, messed up, and then felt miserable before the Lord? You know: feeling like the Lord was frowning at you and perhaps not as affectionate and accepting as he is when you don’t mess up? This kind of response can be paralysing. If so, be encouraged that the gospel empowers us to move on, even when we mess up.

The gospel informs us that we are not saved by our performance. Nor are we kept by our performance. Jerry Bridges helpfully wrote, “Because Christians are accepted in Christ Jesus, we are as loved and accepted on our worst day as much as we are loved and accepted on our best day.” We need to preach this good news daily to ourselves. When we believe this, then even when we mess up, we can and will move on with joyful hope.

Though we know intellectually that we are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, nevertheless our practical default is one of legalism. That is, though saved by grace we slip into the error of living as though we are kept by our good works. If we have a good day in which we have read our Bible, prayed, behaved righteously, and fulfilled our duties, we rest content that we are accepted by God. We conclude God is pleased with us and therefore he accepts us. We go to sleep feeling confident about God’s affection toward us.

Now contrast that kind of a day with a bad day. That is, a day in which you messed up, in almost every way. You overslept and didn’t read your Bible. You didn’t pray before rushing out the door. You nearly (or actually!) swore at the taxi driver who cut you off and were grumpy and agitated towards others for the rest of the day. Or perhaps you simply failed to fulfil a particular responsibility, as I did. Regardless, as your day comes to an end, you conclude that God is very unhappy with you and that he is shunning you. After all, since you messed up, you must make up for it. If that is you, well, stop it! Rather, preach the gospel to yourself and move on.

I am grateful that my recent failure was a means of reminding me that I am not loved and accepted by God because I write devotionals; rather, I am loved and accepted by God because I am his reconciled and beloved child through his beloved Son. This both motivates me to not mess up and sustains me when I do.

Brothers and sisters, you will mess up. But because God has justified you in the Lord Jesus Christ, and therefore is interceding for you (Hebrews 7:25), you can move on ahead with joy. God neither frowns at his children nor does he forsake them when they falter. Rather, he forgives and helps them to move on.

Messing up and moving on with you,

Doug