Escape From “Try-Fail-Repeat”
July 05, 2020*
By Pastor John Partridge
“Fall down seven times, stand up eight.” – Japanese proverb
Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67
Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30
If you do a search online for quotes about falling down, or about failure, you will be bombarded with results and it isn’t difficult to understand why. Failure is as common to the human condition as breathing. We learn to stand, and to walk, by falling down and pushing ourselves back up again.
And often repeated, and likely ancient, Japanese proverb says, “Fall down seven times, stand up eight.”
Winston Churchill once said, “Success is not final; failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”
But sometimes simply trying again isn’t enough. As much as we might want to win an Olympic gold medal, most of us will never win one. For couples struggling with infertility, simply trying again may never be enough. And those of us in the church, who have spent years, even decades, trying to follow the teaching and the example of Jesus Christ have sometimes despaired over our repeated inability to get it right.
So, what should we do?
Are we doomed to continually repeat our mistakes?
Will we ever be good enough?
Is there any hope for us?
Of course, there is. But first, let’s begin by remembering the story of how Abraham sent one of his servants on a quest to find a wife for his son Isaac. Knowing that the Canaanite people, among whom he lived, worshipped different gods than he did, and had different values than he did, Abraham sent his servant back to Ur, among the Chaldean people, to Abraham’s own extended family to search for a wife for his son. And when the servant arrived there, he described his mission this way in Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67.
34 So he said, “I am Abraham’s servant. 35 The Lord has blessed my master abundantly, and he has become wealthy. He has given him sheep and cattle, silver and gold, male and female servants, and camels and donkeys. 36 My master’s wife Sarah has borne him a son in her old age, and he has given him everything he owns. 37 And my master made me swear an oath, and said, ‘You must not get a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, in whose land I live, 38 but go to my father’s family and to my own clan, and get a wife for my son.’
42 “When I came to the spring today, I said, ‘Lord, God of my master Abraham, if you will, please grant success to the journey on which I have come. 43 See, I am standing beside this spring. If a young woman comes out to draw water and I say to her, “Please let me drink a little water from your jar,” 44 and if she says to me, “Drink, and I’ll draw water for your camels too,” let her be the one the Lord has chosen for my master’s son.’
45 “Before I finished praying in my heart, Rebekah came out, with her jar on her shoulder. She went down to the spring and drew water, and I said to her, ‘Please give me a drink.’
46 “She quickly lowered her jar from her shoulder and said, ‘Drink, and I’ll water your camels too.’ So, I drank, and she watered the camels also.
47 “I asked her, ‘Whose daughter are you?’
“She said, ‘The daughter of Bethuel son of Nahor, whom Milkah bore to him.’
And when her family had heard the story 58 …they called Rebekah and asked her, “Will you go with this man?”
“I will go,” she said.
Why is that important? Simply because the odds against success of Abraham’s servant were astronomical. Without GPS, or maps, or telephones, or mail, or photographs, or even a good sketch, the difficulty of even finding Abraham’s family was overwhelming and the chance that a woman there would be suitable, and available, and that both she, and her family, would be agreeable for her to leave them forever and marry a man she had never met, in a country none of them had ever been to, was almost completely impossible.
Failure was almost inevitable.
But Abraham trusted God.
And Abraham’s faith was so obvious, and evident in his daily life, that his servant understood the power of Abraham’s God and the power of an earnest prayer to that same God. And so, Abraham’s servant prayed… with an almost impossible set of conditions… and God answered.
And, at the end of the day, the family asked Rebekah if she trusted that the servant really was who he said that he was. Did she trust that her grandfather’s brother really did have a son that was her age? Did she trust that Isaac was a man to whom she could tolerate being married? All those things are built into the question when her family asks her, “Will you go with this man?”
And Rebekah trusts God, and says, “I will go.”
The odds of failure were astronomical.
When the God that created the universe by speaking it into existence is a part of the equation, the odds don’t matter.
And then, with the coming of Jesus, the world begins to understand better how God chooses to use his power and how much God cares for the people of his creation. In Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30, Jesus says:
16 “To what can I compare this generation? They are like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling out to others:
17 “‘We played the pipe for you, and you did not dance;
we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.’
18 For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ 19 The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ But wisdom is proved right by her deeds.”
25 At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. 26 Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.
27 “All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.
28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Jesus says that the people of his generation acted like the children who played in the marketplaces. The children weren’t happy because the adults wouldn’t play their games or sing their songs, and the adults weren’t happy because John the Baptist and Jesus wouldn’t play by the rules of their games either. Much like we often see in our culture today, their critics wanted things both ways and spoke ill of them no matter what they did. John didn’t drink or socialize, and they said he was a demon. Jesus drank and socialized, and they said he was a drunkard and a friend of the wrong kind of people. But Jesus ignores the criticism and invites the world to find comfort and rest by following him.
Are you tired of trying to live up to everyone’s expectations? Are you tired of all the arguing? Are you tired of the Coronavirus? Are you tired of politics? Are you tired of the burdens and expectations that government and culture pile on you? Are just tired of being tired?
There is a different way.
Jesus says, “Come to me” and “I will give you rest.” Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
But how does that work when I seem to keep repeating the same mistakes?
How does that work when I can’t ever seem to be good enough?
Friends, you are not alone. This is not a new a new question. In Romans 7:15-25a, the Apostle Paul admitted to wrestling with the same frustrations, inadequacies, and failures and he explains it this way:
15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.
21 So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? 25 Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!
Paul says that as hard as he intends to do good, and as hard as he tries to do good, he cannot manage to do the good things that he wants to do. And, at the same time, as hard as her intends not to do evil, and has hard as he tries not to sin, he cannot manage to stop sinning. Paul’s understanding is that human beings are not inherently good, that good does not live, at least exclusively, within us because we are consumed by our sinful nature. As much as we want to do good, as hard as we try to do good, our lives become an inescapable, rotating carousel of Try-Fail-Repeat. Paul says that the rules and laws that we know in our mind are at war with the sin that is at work within us.
But as disastrous as this might sound, this is exactly where the story turns around.
There is rescue.
There is an escape.
Our rescue from the repeating carousel of Try-Fail-Repeat is found in Jesus Christ who rescues us from ourselves and the sinful nature that lives within us.
It is Jesus who can rescue us from trying to live up to everyone’s expectations.
It is Jesus who can rescue us from all the arguing.
It is Jesus who can rescue us from the fear of the Coronavirus.
It is Jesus who can rescue us from the drone of politics.
And it is Jesus who can rescue us from the burdens and expectations that government and culture piles on you.
Are just tired of being tired?
Abraham trusted God and sent his servant on an impossible mission.
Abraham’s servant trusted that God could lead him to the woman that God had chosen.
Rebekah trusted that God had brought Abraham’s servant to her and said, “I will go.”
Jesus asks us to do the same.
Jesus says, “Come to me” and “I will give you rest.”
For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
It’s time to get off the carousel of Try-Fail-Repeat.
Come to Jesus. Trust him. And discover how good it feels to finally…
Have a great week everybody.
You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/wcWZHMTCHIU
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