When is spiritual failure predictable? The disciples were increasingly aware that Jesus was seriously and deliberately going to get in big trouble and difficulty. The situation was intensely dangerous when Peter felt led of the Lord to say something like: “Master, I know things are getting rough around here, but I want you to know that under no circumstances will I let you down. If every single one of these guys let you down, you can count on me. I won’t.” (I don’t think this made the other disciples happy, and they made sure to record this account in the gospels.) Jesus told Peter that before the crack of dawn Peter would fail him.
Spiritual failure is predictable when we rely on the strength of our own commitment, when we think we stand, when we underestimate Satan’s desire to sift us like wheat, when we lack watchful prayer, and when we presume that we can hide and blend in with nonbelievers without having to admit we love Jesus. All this was true of Peter.
How does spiritual failure happen? Spiritual failure happened to Peter so fast. Surprised by the servant girls’ questions and trying to blend in unnoticed, Peter denied Christ three times. The rooster crowed, and Jesus turned and looked at Peter. Peter remembered and wept with the sting of Jesus’ rebuke, the look of compassion, and the promise Jesus made about Peter’s aftermath of failure to strengthen the others. Spiritual failure is predictable and happens fast, but it need never be final.
Peter posted his sign, “Gone fishing.” After the death and resurrection of Christ, Peter and the others fished all night and caught nothing. “Did you catch anything?” Jesus asked them from the shore. “Nothing,” they replied in admitting their lack of success. Peter knew it was Jesus and struggled towards shore to sit by another fire where Jesus again turned to look at Peter. Three times Jesus asked: “Peter, do you love me with deep intensity?” Jesus asked this three times in order to remedy Peter’s three denials.
On that day Peter became a success because Christ makes spiritual failures into his special instruments and endows them with power from the Holy Spirit for victorious living. Whereas Satan wants us to take the occasions of our failures and make it our identity: “You are a failure,” Jesus defines our identity by his victory. “You are Simon (Pebbles), but you shall be called Peter (a Rock).” Although we all have spiritual failures, Christ refuses to let them define us. All God’s heroes have spiritual failures on their resumes.
Spiritual failure may just be the path to success for the Christian.