Paul, described the difficulties, “We have become a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to men” (1Cor 4:9). The word translated “spectacle” is “theatron,” from which we derive our word “theater.” Paul's thought is like this: God has put us who bear His Message onstage in a theater in which no one wants to buy a ticket.
Your life, especially the difficult parts, will never make sense until you see it as part of a larger, eternal drama being played out on the world’s stage for both a visible and invisible audience. This epic drama began a long time ago when Lucifer chose to rebel against God and will answer several vital questions: Who will ultimately prevail in the eternal battle between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Satan? Who is the more worthy ruler of the universe? Will Satan be able to turn God’s creatures-like you and me-against our Creator?
The visible audience for this drama is those around you who are carefully watching how you respond to the joys and disappointments, the blessings and adversity, the successes and failures that come your way. But as we play our assigned role in this universal drama for the life span God gives us, there is also a vast unseen audience watching our performance, including God, the angels in heaven, the demons on earth, and Satan. You will never be able to properly evaluate the whole of your life including your failures until you understand the duration of this drama, your role in it, and your reward.
I want you to prepare for the grand finale and restart.
The duration: It’s longer than you suppose
Financial planners often use the term “time horizon” when advising clients. Before a good planner will offer advice about the right mix of stocks, bonds, and cash in an investment portfolio, he will want to know the client’s investment time horizon: how long do you have before you will need the money you are investing? If retirement is twenty years away, you can afford to take some risks, since you have time to recover from any mistakes. However, if you will need the money in three years, you need to avoid risk since you don’t have time to recover from any misjudgment. Had my investment fiasco occurred when I was sixty rather than thirty, I would have been in trouble. But fortunately, as much as my loss hurt at the time, today it’s little more than a funny story and a learned lesson about avoiding get-rich-quick schemes.
Knowing your time horizon not only helps you make financial decisions, but it can help you place your other failures in proper perspective. If you make a major mistake in your twenties with your money, career, or relationships, you are more likely to have decades to recover from that mistake. However, if that mistake occurs in your sixties, the results can be catastrophic...or so it seems.
Let me talk about recovering from failures. Draw a time line representing you life and make on that line when you anticipated retiring. God is the One who determines the number of years we have here on earth. If you are a Christian, God has given you eternal life, and that means your time horizon is forever.
Let me illustrate of the dot and the line to illustrate the impact of the truth. Place a dot on a piece of paper, and then draw a line from that dot all the way across that piece of paper. The dot represents the seventy or eighty years you have on earth, but the line represents your life after you die. Tragically, most people expend all of their energy living for the dot and give very little attention to preparing for the never-ending line.
Let me apply that reality to recovering from failure. Assume that, like Moses, you experience a major failure around the age of forty. Although up to that time you’d experienced some success, that major failure is the defining event of your life.
Your own mistake has seemingly negated all the good things in your life to that point.
However, after a brief intermission, you are ready to begin your second act at age forty-one. Nevertheless, you can’t help but wonder, Do I have enough time to recover from such a colossal mistake? When you understand that your time frame is not limited to your few years here on earth, it changes your perspective your failure. God has given you an eternal time horizon. Your second act goes on and on and on and on, making your first act only a prelude to the real show.
Your role: It's different than your think
Kenneth Ulmer relates a story about a criminology course he took in college. He says that he “cut that class every which way but loose.” But when he heard about an assignment to write a research paper, he poured himself into the project, hoping he could compensate for his frequent absences. The professor returned Ulmer’s paper with this evaluation: “Good paper, great content, great research.” But on the paper was a giant F circled in red, accompanied by an explanation: “But this was not the assignment.” Ulmer says that he learned a valuable lesson that day: “It does not matter how well you do what you do, if you do not do what you should do.” What a great principle to remember for completing any assignment, especially the one God has given to each of us. If we don’t understand the role God assigned us to perform in this life, how can we accurately evaluate our successes or failures?
The executive who finally receives the title of chairman, the worker who accumulates a million dollars in his 401(k) plan may consider himself successful...until the day he hears God say, “But that wasn’t the assignment.” Similarly, some people who stumble in life through a broken marriage, bankruptcy, termination, or unrealized dream still have the possibility of hearing God says, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” How is that possible? When we connect our mistakes to the role God has assigned us, then what we term failure can actually become a success. So what part has God assigned to us for the years we are on earth’s stage? What’s our role? It’s the same role that Jesus had during His thirty-three years here on earth: “I glorified You (God the Father) on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do” (Jn 17:4).
Our role is to glorify God during the time we are on life’s stage. The word glorify is one of those overused religious terms that few people really understand. To “glorify God” simply means to "make God look good to other people." Glorifying God involves turning the spotlight away from us and shining it on God of the eternal drama which we each play a minor role. That’s what Jesus did while here on earth. Jesus’ words in Jn 17:4 could be paraphrased this way: God, played the part You assigned Me to play I made You look good while I was here on earth.
What does all this have to do with our failures? Our mistakes provide some of the best opportunities for us to make God look good. A spotlight can shine in only one direction at a time. When we are successful, the spotlight is directed toward us (“Isn’t she talented!” “Isn’t he shrewd!” “Aren’t they a model couple!”). But when we fail, our mistake gives us the opportunity to turn the spotlight away from us and onto God, who is willing to forgive and restore. That reality led to Paul’s observation: “Power is perfected in weakness. Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me... For when I am weak, then I am strong."
The reward: It’s greater than you imagine
God doesn’t reward failure. However, God does reward you for connecting the whole of your life, including both successes and failures, to His eternal purpose of drawing people to Himself. Just look at what He did for Jesus. Because Christ spent His entire life turning the spotlight away from Himself and focusing it on God the Father, God “highly exalted Him” (Phil 2:9)-and He will do the same for you. “If we endure, we will also reign with Him” the Bible promises (2Tim 2:12).
No, there is no prize for failing. But when we ask God not only to forgive us but also to use our mistakes for His eternal purpose, the reward He offers is both unimaginable and unending.
Jesus said, “I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish” (John 10:28). If you have trusted in Christ as your Savior, your failure does not have to mark the end of your life. Even your physical death doesn’t bring the curtain down. Everything you have experienced in your life so far-including the failure that many still haunt you-is just a prelude to your second act. And that second act can begin right now-and go on forever and ever and ever.