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When God Leads You Into Failure

I knew God was leading. I had no way to explain things otherwise. And trust me, I wouldn’t have been thinking about getting into a relationship with this guy – at least not a second time – if I hadn’t been sure of that.

The signs were all there. The things God was showing me in my own heart and life, the healing and growing that had taken place, and then, the prayer saga. I’d felt impressed to pray for him and about our friendship for a certain period of time. During this time, many things happened – changes in my heart, circumstances changing, specific verses God would give me in my devotion and prayer time, friends that randomly came or called (some very out of the blue) with confirmations of the exact things I’d felt God was showing me.

One night, while unsure and really praying about things, I got in my car and the song that came on the radio right then seemed to be a promise just for me, confirming the other things that I’d been seeing:

“And God says:
I’m gonna turn it into something different
I’m gonna turn it into something good
I’m gonna take all the broken pieces
And make something beautiful like only I could
So put it all in the hands of the Father
Give it up, give it all over
To the only one who can turn it into something beautiful
Something really beautiful.”
(Steven Curtis Chapman, “Something Beautiful”)

It just seemed like God was reaching down, taking me by the hand, and saying, “I’ve got this.” Now I realize full well that a song by itself wouldn’t be considered sufficient “evidence” to enter a relationship. I have a good bit of skeptic built into me, too. But it was just one thing among many. I honestly don’t remember anything in my life that I’d prayed so much over, surrendered so deeply, and seen so many providential workings. I’ve heard that some good ways to know God’s will are:

His Word
The promptings of the Holy Spirit
Godly counsel
Providences

I had them all. So when he ended up approaching me about getting back together, right at the next to last day of the period I’d allotted to prayer, there was no way I could say no! God had answered. And we moved forward – with effort, care, and prayer.

So when we sat there, some months later, facing another failed relationship attempt, it was hard to know what to say. Hard to know what to think… Another break up. Another round of the pain. Embarrassment, “wasted time,” that empty feeling of lost love. It hurt because we both had tried really hard. We both wanted it to work. We sacrificed for it. We invested our hearts. And we both saw God work for us – not only before, but during the relationship! More messages I’d seem to get from His Word, more answered prayers, more help. Still, it never would quite come together all the way. And eventually we faced the facts, chocked it up to a case of square-peg-round-hole, thanked each other for the good times and good lessons learned, and amicably parted ways – to go face the pain of loss. All. Over. Again.

“I should have known better,” I chastised myself. “I should have seen it all along! God, did You lead us out here for this?? Were You really leading us?” My father’s opinion was, “Well, I think the Lord allowed it so that you could be sure in your heart that it wouldn’t work.” Maybe true, but it rang pretty hollow. Especially when this wasn’t like Israel wanting a king where God “allowed” it, even though they should have known better. Trust me, I’ve done things before that, looking back, I know God allowed but probably wouldn’t have slated as His “Plan A” for me. I’ve written those off as learning experiences and praised God He was merciful. But this seemed different… God didn’t just “allow” the relationship, He lead me into it! Or did He?

Two options of belief seemed available:

Believe that God led me into something that caused apparent failure, embarrassment, and pain.
Believe that God wasn’t really leading after all. I misinterpreted things somehow, and if I was wrong after all that, I must really have no idea how to hear the Lord…

Neither option was inviting. “God, what WERE You doing?” The question bothered me even more than the relational result. Yet in the midst of it all, my mind went back to another group who sincerely saw God leading, only to end in disappointment and apparent failure.

It was the early 1840’s. This group had been earnestly studying the scriptures. They’d been praying. And they’d come to the bold conclusion that prophecy showed Jesus was coming soon – very soon. So they started to share that message. And they saw God work. God seemed to open doors for the Advent movement. God seemed to bless them. God added to their numbers, provided resources, and they experienced the Holy Spirit’s power like never before.
But it wasn’t easy. Many sacrificed much. They sold their houses, gave up their jobs, and were kicked out of their churches. Some even lost their lives in the strain of spreading the message. But it was worth it! Jesus was coming. Actually, they’d already been disappointed once. They previously believed that Jesus was to come in 1843. He didn’t. But they kept studying, realized the mistake in their calculations, and determined to try again. October 22, 1844. It had to be right. All the signs and scriptures pointed to it. All the marks of a God-ordained movement were there. They KNEW God was leading them, in spite of the difficulties and disappointments. Ellen White, one of that group, writes about it as “the happiest year of my life” (1BIO 50.4).

But then came October 22, 1844. And when the day came and went, with no Jesus arriving, the disappointment was more bitter than I think we can imagine. Their whole lives and their whole faith hinged on this hope. They gave all for what they were SURE was God’s leading. What now?

Some wouldn’t let go of the predictions. They kept setting more dates. And as those dates came and went, they eventually fell away. Others determined that God must not have been leading after all, so they went back to their old lives, ate the “should have known better” humble pie, and tried to make due – some giving up their faith altogether.

But for a few, this disappointment was not the end but the beginning. They could not give up faith that God had been leading them. They could not explain it any other way! Yet something had gone wrong… So they prayed, they searched, they prayed some more. And in the end, they realized that they’d had the date right, but the event wrong. Jesus had gone to cleanse the most holy place of the heavenly sanctuary, not the earthly one. He started a beautiful and sobering work. The judgment hour had come (Rev. 14:6-7). Yes, something did happen that day. They HAD been right! Yet also wrong.

So if God really was leading them, as they found, why did He allow them to be make such a mistake? They were searching before! He could have shown them the error then… But He didn’t. Why? We may not fully understand. But we know this: God used their misunderstanding to start a movement and spiritual awakening that would not have happened otherwise. Actually, the whole experience was predicted in prophecy (Rev. 10:8-11). It was somehow part of the plan… And when they continued to follow, in the wake of bitter pain and disappointment, God blessed them, He took them forward, He allowed them to “prophecy again,” and He made them a prophetic movement that is changing the world still today.

So as I look back at my experience, I have to ask: When faced with my own disappointment, what will I do?

Will I stubbornly cling to being “right?” Try to go back to the same thing, hope to force it to work this time, and likely end up like the continued date setters who eventually had to throw in the towel, more exhausted and discouraged than before?
Will I conclude that God wasn’t leading after all, eat my humble pie, and try to forget it ever happened? “Should have known better. Won’t do it again.” Even if I’d have to give up a large chunk of my faith in God and His leading to ensure not being “fooled” again?
Or will I accept, like the early Seventh-day Adventists, that God can be leading and yet still allow “misunderstandings?” That means that maybe God WAS doing something through the relationship. Maybe He DID lead us. Even though His purposes may have been different than we thought, and we may have gotten some things wrong. Like the early Advent believers, we can pray, ask God to reveal what He’s really working, and allow it to be not the end, but ultimately the beginning of something new – different, but still vitally important.

Today I sit here and I remember the song once again:

“I see you sitting over there with your head in your hands
And the mess life’s made of your best laid plans
You really want to shake your fist
But you don’t know who to blame
Well you can blame yourself or the man upstairs
Or the guy on the screen who says he cares
But all the shame and the blame won’t change a thing
What’s done is done

But grace has just begun

And God says:
I’m gonna turn it into something different
I’m gonna turn it into something good
I’m gonna take all the broken pieces
And make something beautiful like only I could
So put it all in the hands of the Father
Give it up, give it all over
To the only one who can turn it into something beautiful
Something really beautiful.”

No, I don’t know what something “different” will look like in this case. And maybe you don’t in your case of “disappointment” either. But He’s told me it will be beautiful. He’s said he makes all things beautiful – in His time. What will God start out of our “failures?” What is He creating? What will He bring out of the pain and disappointment? How will He fulfill His promises? I don’t know yet. But I believe we will find out.

*Anastasia Grace is a pseudonym. “Anastasia” is a Greek name meaning “resurrection,” or “one who is to be resurrected.” Thus, Anastasia Grace: resurrected by grace.

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