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by Jacob Ninan

Jesus had a plan for Peter after he had fallen, to return to Him and to be able to strengthen the others (Lk.22:31,32). In order to return to the Lord and to be useful to Him after we have failed, there are three levels in relation to which we need to work - with God, with those whom we have hurt as a result of our failure, and with others who know about our failure. Each level can be a big hurdle for us to cross. But there is everything that is good waiting for us at the end of it. On the contrary we will lose everything if we give up here.

Take our relationship with God. We may know all the right verses that tell us about God's love for us, the extent of His mercy and forgiveness, etc., and there may be well meaning brothers who exhort us. But it may be still a struggle for us to take hold of any of God's promises because we are painfully aware of how we have failed the One who loved us, gave Himself for us and did nothing but good for us.

And then there are people, perhaps innocent ones, who have suffered as a result of our failure. Perhaps we have sinned in such a way as to cause direct harm to someone else. Or perhaps the shame and sorrow we have caused to our loved ones is too much for us to face up to.

The world can be quite cruel when it comes to dealing with one who has failed. People who used to know us may be embarrassed to be seen with us. Those who have been quite close to us seem to keep away now, when we need them the most. There may be others who are talking about us behind our back, perhaps exaggerating and distorting facts. We do not feel quite able to face others because we can imagine what all they might be thinking about us.

When it happened to Judas Iscariot, he took the easy way out by committing suicide. He could not face up to the shame before people. More than that, he probably could not face up to the fact that he, Judas Iscariot, had failed. We read of Ahithophel who used to be known for his wisdom, committing suicide when his advice was rejected and he felt humiliated (2Sa.17:23). We may not commit suicide physically, but we can do it spiritually by running away from the scene, withdrawing into a shell, or even reacting violently against God or men.

How did Peter come out successfully where Judas failed? Both had betrayed and denied the Lord, their Master - one with words and the other with actions - and yet Peter ultimately came out of it. He came out spiritually stronger than he had been before he had failed, strong enough to help others, just as Jesus had prayed for him. What was his secret?

Conviction of what he had done hit him hard when Jesus looked at him (Lk.22:61). He went out and wept bitterly. But he could not forget the love and mercy he had seen in the Saviour's look. Here we see godly sorrow and deep repentance, balanced by a vision of God's sheer goodness and mercy. We cannot come back to the Lord if one of these is missing.

Many try to come back to God as if nothing serious has happened. They say a casual prayer of repentance and `claim' forgiveness. There is no sorrow or hatred over sin, no desire to take vengeance on the devil by turning our back to sin, etc. (2Co.7:11). They do not receive forgiveness even if they imagine they have, because forgiveness is only for those who fear God so as to want not to sin again (Ps.130:4).

But others allow themselves to be overpowered by discouragement and a sense of hopelessness because they can think only think of their failure and do not turn to look at Jesus.

The first thing God wants from us after we have fallen is to acknowledge our sin (Je.3:13). Calling it by nice names, pretending as if it never happened, justifying ourselves, blaming others or circumstances, etc., will not do us any good. We have to `eat the humble pie'. We have to face up to it honestly, in our own mind and before God and men.

If we will not acknowledge the symptoms of sickness, we cannot start the treatment. The more self righteous we have been, the more difficult it is for us to accept that we have failed. There is a defence mechanism in our ego that springs up and gives us every other explanation except that it was our sin or mistake. But the truth is that there is nothing good in our flesh (Ro.7:18). It is also true that we all have the same flesh, which we have inherited from Adam. Every evil thing that others have done has come from their flesh, and we too are quite capable of doing the same or even worse things. Therefore the first step on the way to recovery is to acknowledge the fact of our failure. We must do this even if it hurts us badly, or it takes time to come to grips with it. Once this is done, the rest of the steps are comparatively easy.

Even though it was a shock for us to realise that we have fallen, it was not at all a surprise for God! He knows the end from the beginning. When He chose us in Christ, He not only knew where He would pick us up from, but also what all we would do afterwards (1Pe.1:1,2). He knew that He was still going to be able to complete what He had started in us (Php.1:6). This gives us confidence to go back to Him.

When we go to the Father in repentance and honest acknowledgment of our failure, He receives us just the father of the prodigal son did. Then we must take it that He has cleansed us in the blood of Jesus Christ and made as just as clean as if we never sinned (1Jn.1:7).

Of course, we must do whatever we can to set things right with people we have hurt. But there may be things that cannot be undone, and wounds may take long to heal. But we can hope that our own meek behaviour can help towards the healing.

Once we have accepted responsibility for our failure, it will be easier to face people who know about it. We need not be upset with those who misunderstand us because we have given room for it ourselves. We can comfort ourselves by remembering that when the Lord has forgiven us, that is enough.

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