The last Langstaff Letter brought a round of responses. It seemed to impact people, particularly leaders and pastors. One person wrote, “When a leader shows appropriate vulnerability, like you have done here, it helps the rest of us to also be vulnerable.” I smiled as I read what another person wrote, “I’d be hard pressed to reduce my mistakes down to just 12. Mine would be a 3 volume set.” I wrote back to this pastor requesting a copy. In light of the responses I received, I have decided to write a follow up letter in order to examine a little further ‘Learning Lessons From My Mistakes.’
So here are some additional thoughts –
MISTAKES ARE INEVITABLE
All of us make mistakes. I don’t know anyone who hasn’t. To attempt to be perfect and never make mistakes is hopelessly unrealistic. It’s like expecting a child that is learning to walk to never fall over. How many times do they stumble and fall, before they get the hang of it. Even as adults, we still occasionally have a fall, particularly as you get older. Let us walk in faith, but be realistic. Mistakes will happen.
MISTAKES OFTEN LEAD TO FAILURES
Making a mistake doesn’t mean you are a failure. You are only a failure if you give up. Thomas Edison, in reference to inventing the electric light bulb, stated, “I didn’t fail 1,000 times. The light bulb was an invention with 1,000 steps.” Edison never gave up. Instead he persevered. Most mistakes aren’t fatal, unless you stop trying.
MISTAKES HAVE CONSEQUENCES
Mistakes, particularly if they involve sin, do have consequences. Some consequences are temporary. Some are permanent. Some are small, others are huge and some are even life changing.
King David made a mistake in deciding to take a census of the nation of Israel (see 2 Samuel 24). He later realized his mistake, even his sin, when he said, ‘I have done very foolishly.’ David realized that considering Israel’s strength on the basis of fighting men, as other nations did, was to violate Israel’s relationship with Yahweh, who was the source of their true strength. In this case, the consequence involved the choice of three things from God that involved a plague.
As mentioned in the previous Langstaff Letter, I made a mistake that led us to plan to build a retreat center. The retreat center never happened because it was not of God. This mistake cost us thousands of dollars but I learned the lesson of checking out guidance and not rushing in to things before you knew for sure it was God.
GOD CAN REDEEM YOUR MISTAKES
God can redeem your mistakes and even turn them into a testimony. The promise of Romans 8:28 is true, ‘And we know that all things work together to those who are called according to His purpose.’ Even the most grievous mistakes, that involve sin, can be redeemed by God. Peter made plenty of mistakes. The night Jesus was on trial, he really blew it. Before the cock crowed, he had denied Jesus three times, after which he went out and wept bitterly. But Jesus didn’t cast him off. In a tender yet tough scene on the Sea of Galilee, following another miraculous catch of fish and breakfast together, Jesus asked Peter three times, ‘Do you love me?’ Each question an echo of the three times Peter had denied Him. Out of that moment came the renewed call to be a leader of God’s people and to ‘Feed His Sheep.’ Jesus redeemed the tragic, sinful mistakes of Peter’s life and He can do the same for you & I today.
LEARNING FROM YOUR MISTAKES
When we make a mistake, a question we face is what we can learn from it. George Bernard Shaw once said, ‘We learn from experience that we don’t learn from experience.’ In other words, we keep doing the same things over and over again. It is a case of history repeating itself. But it doesn’t need to be that way. By contrast, Henry Ford declared, ‘The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing.’ Thomas Edison also had some insight, when he spoke about one of his many attempts to invent something, by simply stating, ‘”I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
LESSONS FROM THE WORD
Proverbs 24:16 declares, ‘For a righteous man may fall seven times and rise again.’ If you have made a mistake, particularly if it involves sin, you need to confess it and if necessary repent (see I John 1). Then you need to get up and keep moving forward. To not do so would be like a child who has fallen over, choosing to continue laying on the ground, even crying, stubbornly refusing to get up and try to walk again.
Whether we made a mistake because of lack of knowledge or wisdom or because of sin, we don’t have to stay down. We are to get up and move forward!
ONE LAST STORY
Over 35 years ago, I was involved with Jim Bakker and the PTL Club Television Ministry, which, at that time, was one of the biggest Christian television ministries in the world. I was, for a time, the Australian Director, and for one year hosted an Australian version of the PTL Club, which was produced in Jim Bakkers studio in Charlotte, NC. It was an exhilarating time, being involved in Christian television. I was also on the American PTL Club many times. Consequently, I saw much of what was going on behind the scenes and I used to say to myself, ‘If you, Lord, can do so much with this ministry in its present state, what could you do if they ever get their act together?’ But they never did get their act together and in 1987 the ministry collapsed and Jim Bakker ended up in jail. I don’t believe that he deserved that. It seemed like they were trying to make an example of him. He spent time in prison in Rochester, MN and, on two occasions, I went with a mutual friend Bob Gass and spent a day inside the prison with him. The first visit was an awesome experience. I will always be grateful to God for Jim Bakker and the help that he gave me with the TV ministry in Australia. When he was finally released, he wrote a book entitled, ‘I Was Wrong.’ He finished his book by describing an experience when he went back to the old barn at Heritage, USA for the funeral service for his long time side kick ‘Uncle Henry.’ He describes the scene that day and the feelings he had this way-
“For a moment my heart ached for what once was, but as I continued to look around the room and saw so many friends, who were still serving God after surviving all that had happened at PTL, I was reminded afresh of God’s promise, ‘I will never leave you or forsake you.’ The promise was not for me alone; it was for these people too. The faith of many in this room had been severely tried, and they had come through the refining fire as pure as gold. They had not gotten bitter; they had become more loving, more Christlike. PTL was not a group of buildings; it was the people of God, in whom God was working. They truly were the People That Love, the people who, no matter what, have continued to Praise the Lord. Slowly, and with deep emotion, I began to read the Twenty-third Psalm, ‘The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want . . . Yea, through I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil . . . Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies.’ I had once thought that God had abandoned me. I thought that my days of ministering for the Lord were done. I thought that I would never preach again. I was wrong.”