When I was about 11 years old, someone made the mistake of asking me to carry a platter of watermelon out into the back yard where everyone was gathering for dessert. Trying to be helpful, I made my way outside with the platter, and everything was going fine until I started walking down a small hill. I’ll spare you the details, but let’s just say that I ended up being royally embarrassed and no one other than the dog ate dessert that night.
Ever since that relatively isolated event, many of those who had witnessed or heard about my watermelon adventure have reservations in trusting me to carry food items not already in packaged containers. I find that outrageous because I am now 21 and have not spilled any other platter in the past 10 years (well, other than that butter incident the other night). Unfortunately, certain family members don’t take that into consideration. Every time something needs to be carried, they see a vision of me flying down that hill (which was slick from the rain, by the way), and either they ask someone else to do it or make wisecracks about why I shouldn’t.
For too many years I believed that God also saw me in the same way. Meaning, He would never allow me to do something in an area where I had slipped up in the past. Thankfully, God doesn’t operate this way. When He looks at us, He doesn’t see stains of failure or past mistakes. Rather He looks at where our hearts are at, and if He sees a willing heart, then God gives the assignment. Past performance plays no part in who God chooses to use.
We see this truth resonated over and over again throughout the Bible. David messed up his God-given mission by committing adultery, playing a role in another man’s death and taking a census that went against God’s instructions, yet God still used him to lead the nation of Israel and blessed him with a dynasty. Peter deserted Jesus and denied knowing Him, yet God later used Peter to spread the Good News about the same man he deserted and denied. Mark left Paul and Barnabas during their first missionary journey, then two years later was graciously allowed back into ministry. God uses the weak, the ones who have failed and the ones who ran out of second chances long ago.
I find this to be very encouraging because I’m definitely a long way off from being perfect. I’ve made some pretty stupid mistakes; I’ve not always had the right motives; and there have been times where I’ve been pretty irresponsible with what God has given me even since becoming a believer. But maybe that’s what encourages me most about the stories mentioned— they were all believers who were in ministry when they failed, and even then God still welcomed them back.
Like the father of the prodigal son, God welcomes us back with open arms. That’s the beauty of grace, as Relient K points out, and it makes life not fair. God’s grace doesn’t stop being extended to us after we’ve said the sinner’s prayer—that’s just the beginning. Grace is a continual gift that allows us to not only be forgiven for past wrongs, but gives us the opportunity to be trusted again for service. Although that doesn’t mean that we should purposely act irresponsibly or squander what we’ve been given, it does take a huge weight off our shoulders when we do mess up.
And we will mess up. We will hold on when we should have let go. We will walk when we should have run. We will go when we should have stayed. And we will hurt others when we should have loved. But God forgives, He forgets, and best of all, He restores.
As Brennan Manning wrote in Abba’s Child: “God not only forgives and forgets our shameful deeds but even turns their darkness into light.”