What do we do when we are broken from our failures? When the weight of our sin has driven us to depression. When things are crumbling around us and we know it is our fault? I, unfortunately, know too well the pain of Abram. I have sinned in ways that have hurt my family. I have failed in ways that have cost my church. What do we do when we realize that we have been the problem?
Our human tendency will direct us to curl up and hide from the world. We’ll even convince ourselves that this message from the enemy sounds like the Godly thing to do. I say that from the perspective of a leader. When I fail, my first thought is “my church deserves better”, or if at home “my wife can probably lead in this area better than I can so I need to give the reins to her”. Truth is, my wife probably is better than me at a lot of those things. And the enemy will remind me of that every time I fail. Why? Because I’ve been called to those positions. I never earned them. God specifically chose me in spite of my weaknesses so that his power would be even more evident in what He does through me.
It is during these times that I want to quit. I want to step down. I want to, but I know I can’t. Especially in my position. I will recognize that there are some cases where a pastor might fail, specifically in the area of public sin, and it leads to an appropriate resignation as his presence does more harm to the church. But as a general rule, if failure means you’re no longer able to serve, then who will lead our churches? If I fail and tell my men I’m no longer fit to lead, what will they assume if they find themselves broken by inadequacy one day?
This is the position that we find Abram. Abram has failed. Miserably. His shame is too great to bear. If he is going to make it, God has to restore him, and do it quickly.
When Abram was ninety-nine years old the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless, that I may make my covenant between me and you, and may multiply you greatly.” (v. 1-2)
Got it. Don’t make any mistakes. Good grief. So what is Abram’s response? He falls on his face. He can’t even lift his head from the weight of that command. Then God does what he does best…he restores Abram. If you’ll allow me to paraphrase, God says to Abram, “I have given you a new name. You are not longer to identify yourself as a failure. As for the future, I will make you the father of nations, I will make you fruitful, I will subject kings to you, I will establish a covenant between us.”
He then asks Abraham to make a one-time decision to commemorate this moment. He and all his household are circumcised. That seems like a huge ask, but don’t think of it in terms of the obviously uncomfortable experience. Think of it in terms of it’s fleeting nature. It’s not something that lasts, because it doesn’t have to. God doesn’t need Abraham to do something every day for him. God promises to fulfill his covenant and challenges Abraham to do two things. Call yourself by your new name and ceremonially cut yourself off from the rest of the world. You are set apart and you need to identify that, even if you don’t act like it.
What do we do when we are broken? Stop identifying ourselves as merely failures. We are, in fact, more than conquerors because in spite of our failures, the God of the universe fought and won the fight already. We also need to be set apart. What that means for us today is not the absence of sin, but that we stand in opposition to it. That we identify what it is and who is behind it…it is an attack by the enemy himself. An attack on us and an attack on one whom God loves.
When you are tempted, don’t focus on the fact that your flesh is weak. Focus on the fact that your enemy is attacking and wants to defeat you. That thought alone may give you the resolve you need. However, if and when you inevitably fail and are momentarily defeated, immediately rise and say “Where, O death is your victory? Where is your sting? I am more than a conqueror through Christ who loves me.”