Are you wondering if you can ever reach a point of joy and contentment when you look back at a life of stupid mistakes, botched relationships, wrong decisions, and seemingly one failure after another?
The short answer is: you can, but not by yourself.
You need a powerful source and guide: the Bible. Both the Old and New Testaments are packed with the histories of those who made mistakes, serious ones, who blundered through life, and who would have become utter failures, but for God’s saving mercy. In fact, you might say that, from one point of view, the Bible is a chronicle of bad choices, stupidity, and tragic failure covering many centuries and a variety of cultures. And all these could have been written off as tragedies, but for the grace of God.
If you’re feeling like God will never forgive you, read the story of King David (2 Kings 11 and following). Not only did God forgive and bless him, but “God testified concerning him: “I have found David son of Jesse, a man after my own heart” (Acts 13:22).
The point is the same in whatever generation you choose to analyze. People have chosen the wrong school, the wrong career, the wrong spouse, a foolish investment, a bad move across the country, or across the ocean, that proved to be a monumental mistake. You might be thinking of your own decision that altered the course of your life.
But God saves and rescues us not because we’re so smart and good, but because we’re not. He loves us not because we’ve made no mistakes in life, or because we’re the best of the bunch, but because we’ve made too many unforced errors. In fact, our performance (whatever our report card says), plays no role in our forgiveness, our salvation, or God’s deliverance from bad mistakes. His mercy and grace have no human prerequisites. He doesn’t build our spiritual house with the shoddy, third-rate materials we bring to the work site.
Just as God isn’t interested in the slightest in our evaluation of our own successes or righteousness, so it is with our lack of them. We aren’t the judges of our own lives. Our personal analysis of ourselves is going to be at best a misjudgment. Let’s not hide from God behind the sad excuse that we’ve outdone everyone else in history in the mistake department. This is just another form of vanity, or false humility.
There’s another point to be made here. I call these “good mistakes.” These are blunders that seem on the surface to be so profound that we could never recover from their consequences: stupid things, careless and thoughtless actions, dumb decisions that lead to an opposite track headed in the wrong direction. Such bad mistakes can lead to a lifetime of regrets and relentless self-condemnation—the very things that block happiness.
Yet, because of his creative power (and no other reason), God takes the mess, the broken pieces of our lives, and creates an entirely new start, an open door to something of greater value. God has the capacity to take the rubble of our error (or of something someone else has done to us), and turn it into a major advantage or advance. It’s not that he does something for us in spite of our mistake, but he uses the mistake itself as the means for the blessing!
Charles Colson was a member of President Richard Nixon’s staff. He allowed himself to be drawn into the intrigues of the Watergate scandal (1972). Watergate was a break-in into the Democratic National Committee headquarters to steal documents and wire-tap the telephones. It has since then been used as a showcase of the extent of abuse of political power.
Considered the “Evil Genius” and mastermind of the Watergate break-in, Colson ended up doing time in prison. Of the biggest mistake of his life, he writes, “…the real legacy of my life was my biggest failure—that I was an ex-convict. My greatest humiliation—being sent to prison—was the beginning of God’s greatest use of my life; He chose the one thing in which I could not glory—for His glory.”
The story of Charles Colson “is a testimony to God’s grace and mercy.” It was precisely because of this colossal life-blunder that he came to faith and spent the rest of his life in a far-reaching Christian ministry—Prison Fellowship.
Prison Fellowship is considered “the nation’s largest Christian nonprofit serving prisoners, former prisoners, and their families, and a leading advocate for criminal justice reform.” Charles Colson’s global influence for good—in prison work, evangelism, and apologetics—has exceeded that of most other pastors, evangelists, and missionaries.
There are many cases where someone else’s behavior or decision affects our lives in unwanted ways.
Martin Luther unwittingly triggered off the Reformation by nailing his “95 Theses” to the door of the Schlosskirche (Castle Church) in Wittenberg. Writing in Latin, he had intended his points to generate an in-house discussion among scholars and theologians only, because of the explosive nature of the content. But someone else took things into his own hands, translating it into German, and then printed and distributed the 95 Theses widely among the people. In Luther’s mind, this was a frustrating and embarrassing mistake. The rest is history.
I’ve had my own share of mistakes that have turned into tremendous blessings for our family. Now I have much less fear of making major life blunders, and have been slow to label them as “mistakes.” What does that even mean if God is in charge? The Psalmist had it right when he declared that there is no place in the universe we can go where God is not present (Psalm 139:7-10).
Such interesting “rearrangements” in life happen when God involves himself in our lives, takes over the reins, and turns things around for our good. We sometimes forget that he is God and has plans and purposes for our lives that far exceed our own. He likes performing these redirections, he’s good at it and is able to do the unexpected, even the impossible, when all hope is lost. Here’s something to celebrate with fireworks, and a reason to be joyful when literally nothing else—no other technique, belief, or self-help—works for the long haul.