We were at Legacy Family Camp last week, and I gleaned so many incredible nuggets to share, including an amazing sit down with Sis. Dorethea Jones! Listening to her is always just a spiritual goldmine, and she really shared her heart with me. I’m working on putting all those incredible notes into post format for next week!
Tuesday evening, Bro. Ron Tiller spoke just for a moment in his opening remarks about failure and getting back up. That moment triggered some thinking and reading that developed into this thought, and I truly hope that I can get it across to y’all in my words as strongly as I feel this in my heart!
God can use my failure. But He will not use a failure.
The first is an experience. The second is an identity.
For a just man falleth seven times, and riseth up again:
In a few short months, my six month old baby will be pulling up on couches and chairs, a weaving cruise on wobbly legs. Failure is an experience he will hit head (and diaper) first many, many times on the way to walking.
But no baby physically capable of walking ever plopped down and gave up the effort just because they fell down.
Em won’t mistake the experience of failure for an identity of failure.
But neither you nor I am a failure until we are done trying.
Hebrews 11 is commonly known as the faith chapter, and it houses a list of epic heroes whose Biblical feats are the stuff of legend.
But among these are also epic failures:
- Noah -passed out drunk and his shame had to be covered by his son
- Abraham -lied
- Sara -doubted, to the point of laughing at the incredible promise of God
- Isaac -was deceived in giving the blessing
- Jacob -Bless Jacob’s heart, he was forever messing up! Heel grabber at birth, tricked his dad, played blatant favorites with his wives and children, and the list goes on
- Moses -killed a guy, argued with God about a stutter, disobeyed
- Rahab -listed right there in Hebrews 11: she was a harlot! And you think you’ve got problems?
- Samson and David are also mentioned, and their failures were notorious!
And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise.
If they were able to accomplish unbelievable feats and leave powerful legacies despite their failures before Jesus shed His blood for the remission of our sins and failures, how is the enemy able to convince us that we can’t do the same?
Their actions, mistakes, and even circumstances were not the determining factors of how they identified themselves.
The Kingdom is all about identity.
But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light:
1 Peter 2:09
For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father
For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise
The whole purpose of the cross was to give us the opportunity to change our identity:
- From corruptible to incorruptible
- From mortal to immortality
- From convicted to converted
- From sinful to sonship
God did this directly with many of our favorite Old and New Testament heroes:
- Abram (high father) to Abraham (father of a multitude)
- Sarai (my princess) to Sarah (found differing translations, we’ll go with “mother of nations,” and I’m happy to stand corrected by those wiser than I!)
- Jacob (holder of the heel, supplanter) to Israel (God contended)
- Simon (he has heard) to Cephas/Peter (rock)
And there were also times where people in the Bible changed their own identities for varied reasons.
By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharoah’s daughter; Choosing rather to suffer afflication with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; Esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompense of the reward.
Samson did all he could to dissociate himself from his identity as a Nazarite, taking Philistine women and not esteeming the sacredness of his (I’d say more honestly his parents’) vow. Esau too had an identity crisis, and not only despised his birthright (and its associated identity) but lived his entire life much less like a grandson of Abraham and much more like the people of the “strange women” he married.
Identity is powerful. It is belonging. It is purpose. It is the marker of passion and calling.
It can also be the end of all of those things if we replace the identity God would have for us with an identity of failure and hopelessness.
Last story. Promise.
Rizpah was a concubine of King Saul, a possession for his pleasure and the provision of sons, without the status of a spouse. Her name literally meant “pavement” (Strong’s Hebrew 7531/7532).
After David’s ascension to the throne, Rizpah’s two sons, along five other sons of Saul, were killed in order to redress Saul’s past slaughter of the oath-protected Gibeonites. The seven sons were hung “before the Lord” on a hilltop to appease the vengeance of the Gibeonites.
Though the law demanded that those hanged on a tree must be buried before sunset of the same day, Rizpah’s sons and their brothers were left to the depredations of nature.
And day after day, month after month, Rizpah defended the bodies of her dead men from the ravages of predators. The former concubine of a dead king, she had no station, no family, nothing of her own to care for besides her murdered sons.
Until this point in her very short story, Rizpah’s only identity since the death of Saul of any meaning was as a political pawn (hence the Ishbosheth/Abner debacle), to be used and determined by others.
But something changed in those months on the hill.
Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the Kind, the LORD of hosts.
Then flew one of the seraphims unto me, having a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar: And he laid it upon my mouth, and said, Lo, this hath touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged.
Rizpah now means live coal. No longer pavement to walk on, to be used at the behest of an impartial builder.
Rizpah stood in defense of her sons. Her sacrifice prompted David to attend both to their proper burial and also the burial of the bones of Saul and Jonathan. Some believe that this action solidified his kingship. Because of Rizpah.
Identity is powerful.
But it’s also malleable. It can be changed. You are not just the sum of your relationships, career, and mistakes.
Your identity can be one of passionate purpose, infinite potential, and glory to the One who called us out of darkness into His marvelous light.
And I can’t take credit for this last line because it is my dad’s, but it is so beautifully perfect:
“Don’t quit, Rizpah. There is an Isaiah waiting to be touched by you.”