What to Do After Messing Up

At Saul’s coronation ceremony, Samuel reminded the Israelites of their history of disobedience. It culminates in their latest transgression: “asking a king for yourselves.” (1 Samuel 12:17). He pointed out the sinfulness in that they requested a king “when the Lord your God was your king” (v. 12); thus essentially asking for a transfer of public power from God to a human so that they could be like other nations. 

After a public display of God’s displeasure through thunder and rain during the time of wheat harvest, the people ask Samuel to intercede for them with God. 

Samuel’s reply holds some of my favorite verses in the entire Bible for how much they speak to the heart of humanity (1 Samuel 12: 20-25).

“Do not fear. You have done all this wickedness; yet do not turn aside from following the Lord, but serve the Lord with all your heart. And do not turn aside; for then you would go after empty things which cannot profit or deliver, for they are nothing.”

When we mess up, large or small, our natural inclination is to run away. To hide. To try to fix it ourselves. We see this even in the very first transgression: Adam and Eve hiding, “clothed” with fig leaves in an attempt to hide their shame and nakedness. 

When I was little, I once snuck back into my classroom during recess to peak in my teacher’s purse. I distinctly remember just being curious as to what was in it — I wasn’t going to steal anything. But I also knew I shouldn’t. So when the teacher walked back into the classroom and caught me, I snapped the top shut and ran to the bathroom, cheeks burning in embarrassment. After a trip to the principals office and a quiet apology, I avoided my teacher’s gaze for days. I was confident she hated me and likely misunderstood my intentions. But she treated me the same as she always had: with kindness and understanding. 

Even though I had messed up, the answer wasn’t to fall headlong into a life of dishonesty and crime. It wasn’t to run away from the instruction and gaze of my teacher. It was to be reconciled back to where I started as a good student. 

I’m convinced that we’re often harder on ourselves than God. Sin is a big deal — such that it required the death of Christ to overcome. But Christ already died. He already paid the price. Thus, when we mess up, the proper thing isn’t to run away in shame or seek out another way to live — both result in empty things which cannot profit or deliver, for they are nothing. 

When we mess up, come back to the Lord with your whole heart. He is the only safe place; and His arms are always open to His children, even right after a huge mistake

Photo by Kees Streefkerk on Unsplash

“For the Lord will not forsake His people, for His great name’s sake, because it has pleased the lord to make you His people.”

God still found delight in the most disobedient nation I’ve ever heard of. God does not forsake His people. The only way to separate yourself from Him is for you to choose to do that. God is all in. Consequences and repercussions may be a result of disobedience, but these do not remove the love of God. His love is constant, even in His correction.

“Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord in ceasing to pray for you; but I will teach you the good and the right way.”

I love that despite all of the disobedience that Samuel had witnessed, he committed himself to continue praying for and teaching this nation. This reminds me to not lose hope on myself or even others. As long as there is breath, there is hope, even for the most disobedient and stubborn. And it is a key Christian responsibility to not give up. 

“Only fear the Lord, and serve Him in truth with all your heart; for consider what great things He has done for you. But if you still do wickedly, you shall be swept away, both you and your king.”

Fear God, serve Him in the way He asks with all of your heart. Remember all of His past blessings! His deliverances, His gifts, His encouragements, His forgiveness, His redemption. His love. Remember it all. 

And just because you have a king, doesn’t mean the way things work has changed: the natural result of rebellion is destruction, with or without a king. You are still responsible for yourself. 

The refrain that I hold in my heart the most is, Do not fear. Even if you mess up terribly, return to the God whose faithfulness never wavers.