Erick Schenkel
Tue April 4, 2017 · Comments

5 Biblical Characters Who Prove That Failure Isn’t Fatal

In the weeks leading up to Easter, we are pleased to offer this blog series inspired by Max Lucado’s book, “Six Hours One Friday.” You can share Hope this Easter by sharing this blog and the accompanying video collection we title “The Hope Collection.” - Erick

There have been times in my life where I’ve experienced the pain of my poor choices or actions. In these moments, it can be easy to entertain a notion that I have blown it, that God can’t use me and there’s no hope for restoration. I think we all face these feelings when we fail.

During these times, I draw strength from God’s word, where He tells the stories of heroes of the faith who have blown it. In some cases, their failures are so extreme, it would be natural to say that God would have a right to turn His back on them.

But that isn’t God’s nature. He is all about redemption. So when we fail, we can be thankful that God loves a good comeback story.

Paul reminds us that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to His purpose.” (Rom. 8:28) This should give us hope that no matter what we may have done, our adventure isn’t over. God’s at work reclaiming our story.

Here are stories of five biblical characters whose failures weren’t fatal:

1. King David’s sin

There’s no question that David is one of the Bible’s more important figures. It’s easy to be inspired by his youthful willingness to fight Goliath, his tender friendship with Jonathan, his worshipful Psalms, and his enduring patience under wicked King Saul. 

It’s almost hard to fathom that this beloved character who’s spoken so highly of in more than half of the Bible’s books would also be guilty of breaking half of God’s commandments. David coveted Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba (2 Sam. 11:2-3), committed adultery with her (2 Sam. 11:4) effectively stealing her from Uriah (2 Sam. 12:9), lying to him (2 Sam. 11:12–13) , and eventually having him murdered (2 Sam. 12:9).

When the prophet Nathan confronts David for his depravity, he immediately repents, confessing his sin. When the son that is born to David and Bathsheba gets sick, David fasts, prays, and mourns his sin in an effort to see God to heal the boy. When the child dies, David simply receives this outcome as God’s judgment. 

Here's the principle so failure doesn't get the last word: When we have sinned, we must recognize it and repent. God’s forgiveness doesn’t save us from the consequences of our conduct, but if we’ve abandoned the behavior and are willing to accept the consequences, God will still use us. 

2. The prophet Elijah’s breakdown

Elijah had so many miraculous experiences, you’d think that he’d have unshakable faith. After all, he caused the rain to stop for more than three years (1 Kings 17:1), was fed by ravens (1 Kings 17:4), saw a limitless jar of flour and jug of oil (1 Kings 17:14), witnessed a widow’s son resurrected (1 Kings 17:22), and beat the prophets of Baal by calling down fire from heaven (1 Kings 18:38).

But when the showdown with the Baal worshipers so angered King Ahab and his wife Jezebel that she vowed to see him dead, Elijah couldn’t take it. The pressure of being such a high-profile prophet of God had gotten to Elijah and he hightailed it into the wilderness. When God met him there, Elijah was undone, feeling like he was the only prophet left—confident that he was completely isolated and imperiled.

How do you imagine God responded to Elijah? He fed Elijah and allowed him to rest. After a time, he finally answered Elijah’s complaints and He encouraged Elijah with a still, small voice that he was not alone. (1 Kings 19)

Principle: Burnout is only permanent if you allow it to be. Don’t listen to everything that you’re tempted to believe when you’re exhausted. Take time to care for yourself physically, spiritually, and emotionally—and then get back in the game. 

3. John Mark’s desertion

John Mark’s family was an important group of people in the early church. When Peter was miraculously released from prison, he knows that the believers will be gathered at the home of John Mark’s family. (Acts 12:11–13) Due to his family’s significance in the movement and relationship to Barnabas, Paul and Barnabas pick John Mark up on the way back from a mission trip to Jerusalem to take him with them to Antioch. (Acts 12:25)

From there, Paul and Barnabas are sent to Cyrus, bringing John Mark along with them as an assistant. (Acts 13:1–5) But somewhere along the way, John Mark decides that he’s had enough. After sailing to Perga, Acts tells us matter-of-factly that John left them there and returned to Jerusalem. (v. 13). Essentially, he quit when the going got rough.

We don’t know why John abandoned them, but we know that it wasn’t honorable. When Barnabas later suggests to Paul that they go get John Mark, Paul refuses. Such a strong disagreement arises between the two that Barnabas and Paul separate. These two men who had been on multiple mission trips together are so divided over young John Mark that they will no longer work together. (Acts 15:36–41)

Many years later, when Paul is sitting in prison awaiting trial, he writes a letter to the church at Colossae. He not only tells them that John Mark is with him and has been a great comfort, but he also tells them that they’re to welcome John Mark if he shows up. This kid that had sorely disappointed Paul had now become a man who brought him comfort. At one time John Mark was a personality that caused division in the body, but now Paul is proudly calling him a “fellow worker.” (Col. 4:10–11)

Principle: We all develop gradually. Failure isn’t always a sign that we can’t cut it. Sometimes we’re trying to operate at a level that we’re not mature enough to handle. We can always outgrow those kinds of failings, provided we don’t give up.

4.  Paul’s awful history

Before Paul became the writer of most of the New Testament books, he was Saul of Tarsus, a terror to the early church. Not only was he present when Stephen, the first Christian martyr, was killed, he gave his approval of the murder. (Acts 7:57–8:1)

From there, Luke tells us that Saul made it his business to destroy the church, going door to door in Jerusalem looking for people who followed Jesus so that he could throw them in prison. (8:3) After putting these people in prison, he planned to hunt down the Christians they sent mail to. (Acts 22:4–5) On his way he had an encounter with the resurrected Christ, and the rest is history.

Did Paul regret his behavior before meeting Jesus? How could he not? In his letter to Timothy he said,

“Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.” (1 Tim. 1:15–16)

Principle: For those who put their trust in Christ later in life, there are bound to be reasons you feel unqualified for service. But the gospel is so powerful that our transformation becomes a profound testimony to God’s goodness and grace. 

5. Peter’s denial of Christ

Loud and impetuous, Peter was the biggest personality in any room. It’s no wonder that he’d join James and John as one of Jesus closest friends and confidants. In fact, he was the only disciple willing to try walking on the water (Matt. 14:28–29), and was the first to call Jesus the Christ and son of God. (Matt. 16:16)

When Jesus predicts that Peter will deny him, Peter proudly rebuffs him. (Matt. 26:34–35) But that very night after Jesus is arrested, someone confronts Peter in the courtyard of the Sanhedrin and accuses him of being a follower of Christ. And, just as Jesus predicted, Peter denies him three times—the third time cursing his accusers. When he realizes what he’s done he breaks down and weeps bitterly. (Mk. 14:66-72)

Did Peter’s failure exclude him from Christ’s plans? On the contrary, Peter is the first of the twelve that Jesus appears to! (Lk. 24:34, 1 Cor. 15:5) He restores Peter in a touching moment on the Sea of Galilee. (Jn. 21:15–17) And Peter goes on to become the leader of the disciples, preaching the first evangelical message after which more than 3,000 people get saved. (Acts 2:14-36)

Principle: Failure doesn’t disqualify you, even if you’ve been following Jesus for some time. 

Your story is still being written

The only way that failure can get the last word in our life is if we choose to let it. We serve a God who is able to take our defeats and missteps and still use us to bring glory to his name.

Whether you’ve been walking with him faithfully or you’ve had a few stumbles along the way, he’s encouraging you to help build his kingdom. If you’re ready to get serious, download a free copy of "We Are All Missionaries." This 4-week group study takes a closer look at what it means to share the gospel, and explores biblical examples of how to do it.

Erick Schenkel brings a range of experience to his role as Executive Director of Jesus Film Project®. Erick led a church-planting team that established a church and an elementary school in Massachusetts, USA, right after his graduation from Harvard College. While leading this church, Erick earned two masters degrees and a PhD from Harvard in the Study of Religion. During this time, he and his wife, Elizabeth, developed a desire to work in the Middle East.

Erick moved to Central Asia and was director of the non-profit organization. Partnership in Academics and Development, from 1999 until 2012, working in the fields of education and economic development. During that time, the Schenkels also worked alongside Jesus Film® teams in Central Asia. Erick took the lead in starting a Bible school and served as director of a movement of nationally-led churches. Erick then served for five years as Strategy Director for North Africa, Middle East, and Central Asia for Campus Crusade for Christ. Erick became the third Executive Director of Jesus Film Project in March 2012, succeeding Jim Green and founder Paul Eshleman.