Have you ever made a promise to God and immediately broke the promise?
Maybe you heard God clearly, whether at camp, or during a worship set, in a quiet time or after an inspiring message, and you made a commitment to God in that moment, but then broke your commitment at some point.
I know I have. Multiple times.
We all fail to live up to the promises we make to God. What do we do when we break one of those promises?
There are two parallel stories in the Bible that help us see what we should do and what we should not do. They involve two of Jesus’ disciples—Peter and Judas—the former who denies following Jesus and the latter who uses his allegiance to Jesus for personal gain.
For most church folks, these are familiar stories, but when you hold these stories up beside each other, you begin to see a picture of how we should handle our own broken promises.
If you remember in the story of Peter’s denial in Matthew 26, it starts with the disciples gathering in the upper room with Jesus for the Passover meal. At this meal Jesus introduces the new practice of communion, or the Lord’s Supper, and then begins to tell the disciples what is going to happen next.
Jesus details to the disciples how each one of them will disown Him before the night is through. Peter speaks up and makes it clear that he will never disown Jesus, but Jesus tells him, “‘this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times’” (Matthew 26:34).
As the story goes, Jesus is arrested and taken away, and Peter completely denies knowing Jesus three times before the night is up.
Peter did plenty of things wrong that night, but afterwards he did three things right. We need to pay close attention to the things Peter did right.
The first thing Peter did was grieve. The Bible tells us that Peter “went outside and wept bitterly” (Matthew 26:75).
Peter owned the fact that he had made a mistake, and it hurt him deeply. For us, we need to recognize the reality and pain of our failures.
This is an area that many of us struggle to do well. It is important that we avoid minimizing our failures. We shouldn’t pretend they didn’t happen, justify them or make excuses for them.
Instead, we own them. Owning our failures means accepting the hurt and acknowledging the negative feelings they bring.
Psalm 51:17 tells us that God will not turn away from a broken and contrite heart.
If we don’t grieve, we don’t grow. We stay stunted.
So, Peter grieved, but he also gathered around his group of trusted friends. The Bible tells us the disciples gathered together during the time that Jesus died until He came to them again.
When we fail God, we tend to isolate ourselves. No one likes to admit failure. It has a way of pulling us away from others.
In our times of failure, we need to draw closer to our trusted friends instead of farther away.
I believe this is what kept Judas from coming out of his despair over his own failure.
Like Peter, Judas failed God. Just like all the other disciples, he followed Jesus, listened to His teaching and saw His many miracles.
But unlike Peter, Judas failed not only by betraying Jesus in Matthew 26:47-49, but by allowing his failure to define him. Judas chose to isolate himself, and his failure overcame him.
Left to ourselves, we will be overcome by guilt and shame.
Peter grieved and gathered with his close friends, but the most important thing Peter did was turn back to Jesus and cast himself on the mercy of God.
If you read the writings of Peter in the New Testament, you will hear his deep understanding of God’s mercy. Jesus was ready to receive Peter back in spite of his denial of his good friend and master.
God’s mercy is always bigger than our hearts can imagine. The way Jesus receives Peter back is a beautiful picture of God’s mercy toward us. I recommend reading the story in John 21.
God’s mercy looks like Jesus cooking breakfast for a friend who has failed Him.
Judas missed out on this mercy. It’s my belief that God’s mercy was available to Judas if he would have humbled himself and turned back to Him.
We can learn a lot by comparing the actions of Judas and Peter. I pray each one of us would take the path Peter took when he failed God. God builds His church on that path. And God’s mercies are new every morning.
Dave Spruell leads Southeast Christian Church’s Support and Recovery Ministry.