A man named Gary Kildall wrote the first complete software operating system for a personal-style computer. In the 1980s, IBM executives flew to the West Coast with every intention of inking a deal with Kildall to license his operating system for installation in every personal computer IBM would sell. But Silicon Valley legend has it that Kildall never showed up for the meeting, opting to go flying in his newly acquired airplane instead.
Put off by Kildall’s lack of interest, IBM began looking around for another software package and found a small company called Microsoft, founded by a Harvard dropout named Bill Gates and his friend Paul Allen. The rest is business and financial history. Gary Kildall passed up a potential opportunity to be where Microsoft is today.
To those who make them, there are no little mistakes. And even when no one knows about our mistakes except ourselves and God, we still wrestle with our own embarrassment and puzzlement over how we could have been so careless, shortsighted, foolish.
In the middle of the repercussions of our mistakes, it’s easy to think they are nothing but a colossal source of shame and a gigantic waste of time. Wrong! Mistakes can be BIG clarifying moments.
From Catastrophe to Clarity
When we make a mistake, it only becomes a clarifying moment in our life if we respond appropriately.
1. Admit. The first step toward clarity is admitting our mistake. Something in our flesh wants to justify, rationalize, or deny that what we did was a mistake at all. The king of Israel rationalized his sin of adultery and complicity in murder for almost a year. But he finally said, “I have sinned against the Lord” (2 Samuel 12:13).
2. Apologize. Just because we say we failed doesn’t mean we’re sorry. The apostle Paul said there is a sorrow that leads to repentance that goes much deeper than mere regret (2 Corinthians 7:9-10). It is not regret that brings clarity, it is repentance.
3. Accept. Even when we admit to God and others that we have failed, often it’s hard to admit it to ourselves. The person who struggles to admit his own mistakes has not learned the first truth about himself: We are fallible beings who need the grace of God. The person who hasn’t embraced that fact may not have fully embraced the grace of God either (Ephesians 2:8-9).
4. Assess. Part of the clarifying process is to take stock of what happened. Why did I fail? What can I do to keep this from happening again? One of the best debriefings in Scripture is when Jesus met with Peter and the other disciples on the shore of the Sea of Galilee after the Resurrection—and after Peter’s denial that he was a follower of Jesus. Sitting around a breakfast fire, they talked. By the time the conversation was over, Peter had been recommissioned in service to Christ (John 21:1-23). Find a trusted friend and talk about what happened in your life. Face it from a practical perspective as one who wants to learn and avoid repetition.
5. Appropriate. For those who will appropriate the grace and forgiveness extended by God and others, there is life after mistakes. One of the most life-changing insights that comes in clarifying moments is that no sin is deeper than the grace of God (Romans 5:20). That is not an invitation or license to make more mistakes but a motivation to make fewer. Nothing motivates me to change my ways more than when I hear Jesus say, “Go and sin no more” (John 8:11).
6. Apply. Woodworkers who invest in a beautiful and rare batch of wood learn quickly to apply this rule: Measure twice, cut once. Living carefully, waiting on God, praying before acting, counting the costs—all these are steps learned by people who profit from those clarifying moments that everyone else calls mistakes or failures (James 1:19).
From Hindsight to Foresight
Hindsight is 20/20—and it’s supposed to be! God gives us the advantage of hindsight about the past in order that we might have foresight about the future. Let your mistakes be clarifying moments, and you’ll be amazed how little hindsight you need as you continue your walk with the Lord.
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