Like a dog that returns to its vomit
Is a fool who repeats his folly.
Do you see a man wise in his own eyes?
There is more hope for a fool than for him.
~ Proverbs 26:11-12
When I am preparing to teach, I consider two things—what the text says, and who my audience is. It's all about the takeaway. By that I mean, what the Lord wants them to think about and act upon after I am done teaching. I can usually summarize it in one sentence. If they leave thinking it was a good talk but don't have a clear idea what the Lord is saying to them, then I have not done what I am supposed to do.
My life is also about the takeaway. I have found myself in the same situation over and over, across the years—repeating my mistakes. Failing but not learning. The more time that goes by, the easier it is to forget things I should have taken away from other failures. We all do the same thing. We miss the takeaway—the lesson that the Lord has for us from the times we have not trusted and obeyed him. There is also a takeaway from the times we do lean on him, but that is the subject of another post. It's the foolish mistakes that I tend to repeat, which are nearly always a result of stubbornly doing something that I want, regardless of the Lord's plan for me.
This last year I had a reason to go back through thirteen years of emails I have sent and received. I have everything archived back to 2002. I was working through them sequentially, looking for certain details relating to business matters, but found myself captivated by some of the personal emails I sent. The thing that struck me the most were themes that repeated, over and over—all related to attitudes and mistakes in my life. Some of the emails I wrote in 2003 and 2007, for example, could have been written a few years ago, expressing almost identical issues. I had no strong sense of this, though, until I read what I'd written. There was, for me, a moment of stunned realization.
It is our pride and self-will that keep us trapped in the cycle. We keep thinking we have things figured out, that if we continue justifying our behavior and not trusting the Lord, everything will eventually turn out the way we want. If you pile up failures you might end up broken and forced to lean on God, but if there are a few years in between them, it's not too hard to believe that you can pull things off on your own. That's just foolishness, though. When I read Proverbs 26:11, I am reminded of the sick feeling I should have when my life is the same train wreck, over and over.
The way to break out of it is to realize we don't have things figured out, that we need the Lord's help. We can have hope for our future if we will recognize that we are not wise (Prov. 26:12). We must remember the patterns that we have repeated to our own harm. Journaling is one good way of doing that. It was a fortunate coincidence that I happened to record so much of my life in emails I sent over the years. One of my takeaways from reading those was the reminder that I am stubborn, and need God to work in and through me. It's one thing to say it, and another to accept that no blessing in my life has come any other way.
God has victory for you in the years ahead. Learn from past failures, keep track of them, as well as his faithfulness to you. He can wash you clean from your mistakes and bless you far beyond anything you have lost, if you will lean completely on him.
Lord, give me wisdom so that I may have victory in this life. Reveal to me the patterns and habits that undermine your work in my heart. Forgive me for my self-will and stubbornness. Amen.
~ Michael Cranford has a heart for equipping others to follow Christ in today's world. He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Philosophy from the University of California at Irvine, a Master of Divinity from Talbot School of Theology, and an M.A. and Ph.D. in Religion and Social Ethics from the University of Southern California. Visit his website at OneSteadfast.com and follow him on Twitter at @OneSteadfast and Facebook.