When We Have Failed – What Next?
No Second Best
Growing up in the southernmost part of India, my friend and I would often pass the potter’s house on our way home from school. Stopping to rest under the tall coconut tree in front of his shop, we would watch intently as he and his wife made their clay pots.
Numerous times I stood there mesmerized as he took a lump of clay and began spinning it on his wheel. Soon that which was formless turned almost magically into a beautiful and usable vessel.
Quite often I would observe that what he was working on became marred. Yet the potter was never as disappointed as we were. He knew his craft well. He simply took the piece off the wheel, kneaded the clay again and started over. This next time it seemed to me the new creation surpassed the one previously attempted.
In Jeremiah 18, the Lord had His prophet watch a potter go through this exact same routine. Then God spoke through His servant, saying, “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel” (Jeremiah 18:6). These words were intended as both a warning and a message of hope that in spite of repeatedly messing up, God could still make something beautiful of this nation.
All of us have been on God’s wheel only to be taken off and repeatedly remolded. Who can’t identify with these lines?
When God wants to drill a man,
And thrill a man,
And skill a man,
When God wants to mold a man
To play the noblest part;
When He yearns with all His heart
To create so great and bold a man
That all the world will be amazed,
Watch His methods, watch His ways!
How He ruthlessly perfects
Whom He royally elects!
How He hammers him and hurts him,
And with mighty blows converts him
Into trial shapes of clay which
Only God understands;
While his tortured heart is crying,
And he lifts beseeching hands!
How He bends but never breaks
When his good He undertakes;
How He uses whom He chooses,
And with every purpose fuses him;
By every act induces him
To try His splendor out—
God knows what He’s about.1
Too often, however, we fight the potter, sometimes sinning grievously in the process. More often than we care to admit, our flaws have been exposed in the protracted process of becoming what God has in mind.
We find ourselves thinking thoughts like,
“How do I keep going when I know I am justly reaping what I sowed? What happens if I become physically sick because of my sin (see Psalm 32:3–5)? I can’t ask God to heal me because I know this was a road I rebelliously chose to walk down. When it’s bankruptcy time, when I crash and burn, what am I left with?”
Unfortunately, our thoughts then lead to, “I’ve ruined my life. Things can never be the same. I’ll never be what God wanted, not with how I messed up this time!” These are the ruminations
of being consigned to “second best.”
Probably the same thoughts and desperate emotions marked Adam and Eve after hearing the words, “You must leave the Garden,” knowing that Paradise was lost at their hands . . . the same for Samson when he was captured and blinded by the Philistines . . . the same for John Mark when he was kicked off the missionary team.
This is precisely when the devil implements one of his most devious strategies. The enemy isn’t really as concerned about our sin as he is our response to it. His intent is that through our collapse, we will simply give up. So he seeks to discourage us to the point at which we lose all hope and even the desire to try anymore.
As I look back on past experiences when I know I failed, it seems the devil always showed up promptly, trying to make my mess ups seem worse in my mind than they already were. “You’re a hopeless case,” he would whisper, attempting to drown me in discouragement. You see, he’s “the accuser of our brethren, who accused them before our God day and night . . .” (Revelation 12:10, NKJV).
Many times when I’ve failed, I’ve felt like I should just toss in the towel. Resign. I’ve also felt like the worst husband or the most unfit father. Secretly, I wished someone else would just assume my responsibilities, because I certainly didn’t believe I was doing a good enough job.
In such moments when we most need hope, Satan slithers by hissing that hope is all but gone: “There will never be any more hope. Not after what you did!”
But remember that this hellion is a notorious liar. Jesus called him “the father of lies” (John 8:44).
If we foolishly believe the devil’s falsifications, we certainly will give up. But if we resist him and lift up our eyes to where our help comes from, we will experience the lifegiving restoration that can only come from God. I believe that is why Paul encourages us in 2 Corinthians 4:18 to “fix our eyes not on what is seen [the natural], but on what is unseen [the supernatural]. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”
God’s desire is that through our failure we will allow Him to make us into useful vessels that far surpass the beauty we had before. But this doesn’t mean we have to see ourselves as accepting God’s second best for our lives. Our failures don’t warrant us to live by Plan B rather than the first choice of Plan A. That’s not how He thinks.
It’s true that sin has its price to pay. But that doesn’t prohibit the Lord from doing what He wants through the lives of His children. God remains forever able to fulfill His perfect plan for us. Remember, I said perfect plan, the best plan, not the second best.
God sees the end from the beginning and knows all things before we even enter the scene. His perfect plan remains.
Was it the devil who introduced that reduced-to-second-best concept? I know this may be hard for some people to believe right now, but I write the truth—God is in the business of making miserable failures into beautiful demonstrations of His mercy and grace.
His ways are above ours. Far above! His original purposes for us are not lost.
The next time it seems the locust and cankerworm have eaten the fruitful life you once knew, look up (see Joel 1:4, KJV). Even if you doubt who you are and how you acted, please don’t doubt who He is and how He acts!
When you wake up to the scattered remains of your once-beautiful world looking for strength to carry on, know that this is not the end.
When unexpected storms of severe criticism, slander or even being blacklisted bruise the reed—I tell you the truth, hope still remains.
The next time you fail and wonder whether God is still able to make something—something even better than before—out of your life, you need to know that the answer is 1,000 times, YES! Confident in His skills, God is still totally capable of making everything better.
Never doubt the ability of the divine Master Potter to beautifully refashion flawed pieces. He’s been doing it since the beginning of time.
© 2006 by KP Yohannan, the president and founder of Gospel for Asia. It was written with the intention of encouraging and edifying the Body of Christ. To learn more about Gospel for Asia or to receive additional free resources, visit Gospel for Asia’s website.