As rejection letters go this one wasn’t too bad. I had an idea for a book, had written most of it, and decided to send a proposal to a publisher that was fairly new on the scene.
I imagined them reading the first few lines and shouting, “This is it! Our next bestseller!” Their offices would shut down and celebrate before a contract was even signed. Within two weeks I received a response. “Thanks so much for your proposal. Your topic is certainly a worthy one, and we’re honored you thought of us as a publisher. Unfortunately, we don’t believe this book is the right fit for us at this time. Our niche is in practical church leadership, and we don’t typically publish inspirational works.”
Someone taught me to look for the good things so I did. “Worthy topic.” “O.K.,” I thought. “I’m on the right track.” They were “honored” I thought of them. “Great. I made them feel good about themselves. That’s honorable of me.”
Nothing in there about bad writing. They could have said, “We read your sample chapter and honestly…we don’t really understand what it was we were reading.” It was just not a match for the kind of publishing they do. It wasn’t bad. But it was still a rejection.
It did not matter that Karen kept reminding me I had only sent the proposal to one publisher. It did not matter that she recounted the stories I’ve shared of writers who were turned down numerous times before they found their publisher.
It didn’t matter. I spent exactly 36 hours and twenty-one minutes feeling like a failure.
Maybe you have too. You lost a job. You lost a marriage. Never finished school. Watched your business go under. Planned to improve yourself one year but didn’t change a thing. You described yourself as a failure and thus prescribed your role for life. You’ve lived with the consequences ever since and decided to return to something safe. Instead of pursuing something else and risk failure you retreated to the familiar.
If you can relate to what I’m saying, you can relate to Peter. He’s been fishing all night and hasn’t caught a thing. After the events of the cross he retreated to what was most familiar to him. Something safe. He went fishing.
After a long night he has nothing to show. It’s not the first time he’s failed either. It’s not the first time shame has been taunting him: “Maybe you’re not really cut out for this business.” “You don’t have what it takes.” “You let yourself down and you’ve let others down.” No one else has to say these things. The tapes are playing in his own mind.
But that’s when Jesus appeared on the shore. Peter jumps in the water and meets him by a charcoal fire. The last time we saw the words “charcoal fire” Peter was warming himself while turning a cold shoulder to Jesus. At that charcoal fire Peter denied Jesus. At this one he will see his shame burn away and his new life appear when Jesus gives him an assignment. “Feed my sheep.”
Failure and the shame that accompanies it can cause us to quit. We go into hiding and don’t take another swing at the ball. We disappear into the bushes like Adam and Eve, afraid to make another move.
I did. For exactly 36 hours and twenty-one minutes I resolved to never write again. “How can God use me if I can’t get a publisher to take a chance?” I thought. I know. It sounds crazy, but you’ve said similar things, haven’t you? The Enemy will take anything we think we’ve failed at and use it to stifle us. He plants the thought in our minds that failure makes us unfit to be used by God.
Whatever your point of failure is, take it before Jesus. That weekend in Cancun when you were younger. That word you spoke to that friend that ended the friendship. Those thoughts you have that no one else knows.
If Peter can take his denial to Jesus, you can take your misdeeds to him too. Jesus does not call the holy. He makes holy the ones he calls. That’s what he does with Peter. He sets him apart for his service.
Peter’s task is to feed the sheep. The one who denied Jesus three times would now be the one who would lead the fledgling church in its infancy. The one who was afraid to die at the first charcoal fire found the courage to die by the second.
Jesus tells Peter how he will die. He tells him that when he grows old “…you will stretch out your hands…” This is a metaphor for crucifixion. He would face death on account of his faith because he faced his failure.
Early Church Fathers wrote about Peter’s history. Clement of Alexandria (c. A.D. 150-215) wrote “They say when the blessed Peter saw his wife led away to death, he rejoiced that her call had come and that she was returning home.” Then, sometime after witnessing his own wife’s martyrdom, he endured his own. Tertullian (A.D. 155-250) wrote that “Peter endured a passion like that of the Lord” and “In Rome Nero was the first to stain with blood the rising faith. Peter was girded about by another when he was made fast to the cross.”
Jesus has a way of using people who have failed. Abraham’s cowardice caused him to lie about his wife being his sister before God made him the father of many nations. Moses’ anger resulted in a dead Egyptian and a 40 year hiding in the wilderness before he led God’s people to the Promised land. David had Uriah killed so he could have Bathsheba before God used him as an example of a man after his own heart.
He used Peter, denials and all, to lead his own bride, the church.
And he has something for you to do too. It may not be leading the church the way Peter did, but it does include loving the church the way Jesus did. Your failures are not final.
Publishers can send nice rejection letters. But Jesus won’t. You’re a part of his story.
And there’s more writing to be done.
Question: What failure is keeping you from moving forward?