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Arrogance in Failure

I failed last night.

This wasn’t the first time I’d failed, in general, but it was the first time I’d failed at speaking at church in a long time. Or at the least, the first time I’d fully failed. There have been plenty of times when I put the microphone down and think to myself, “That wasn’t very good.” Last night was not one of those times.

Last night, I put the microphone down and said, “That was terrible.”

I walked back to my office and pouted and stewed. I started to make up excuses, to search for others to blame, but thankfully, I quickly put all that aside and blamed myself.

I had failed, and it was my fault.

After a few minutes, I rejoined our prayer service in the sanctuary, but I couldn’t think, couldn’t focus, couldn’t pray.

My wife gave me a stern talking to after service, and basically said to me, “This isn’t about you. You’re not performing; you’re speaking God’s truth.” Her point was that, so long as I’d delivered a bit of God’s truth, I had done what I could do.

The counterpoint, of course, is that there were a lot of other things I could have done to be better prepared, but in the end, she was still right: it wasn’t about me.

This morning, in my devotional readings, I found this same theme. I was reading about humility, and I realized that my failure last night might have been due to some practical issues, like not being as prepared as I should have been, but my reaction to my failure was all about pride.

I was upset not because of the failed attempt at speaking but because it was I who had failed. I failed, and that was no okay.

My reaction was the problem, not my lackluster presentation of Scripture. How little faith did I have in God—how much misplaced confidence did I have in myself—that an off-night could derail what He wants to accomplish in the church, in the lives of those in attendance, or in the life of fool on stage? It’s the height of arrogance.

At times like this, when I’m faced, once again, with my own sinful nature, I remind myself of my favorite piece from Brother Lawrence’s The Practice of the Presence of God:

That when an occasion of practicing some virtue offered, he addressed himself to God, saying, “Lord, I cannot do this unless Thou enablest me;” and that then he received strength more than sufficient.

That when he had failed in his duty, he only confessed his fault, saying to God, “I shall never do otherwise if You leave me to myself; it is You who must hinder my falling and mend what is amiss.” That after this he gave himself no further uneasiness about it.

May we always pray such prayers.

God, unless You are with me, I will ever be failing. Only You can fill in my gaps; only You can supply what I lack. Only You can save me from failing, and in failing, from my arrogance.

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