When I was in high school, I went deep-sea fishing with my dad and brother and reeled in nothing all morning except a sunburn. Everyone got skunked. Near lunchtime my brother decided to lose his breakfast over the starboard side. Always game for a bit of sibling rivalry, I joined him. Suddenly this huge school of oceanic fish appeared out of nowhere, feeding unceremoniously upon our breakfast, apparently delicious the second time around. Less than 10 minutes later, the entire boat caught their limit. We should have charged a chum fee.
We fished all morning and all we got was sick. But once we were sick, all we got was fish.
Ironically, that seems to be how God works. When we come to the end of ourselves, when we humbly acknowledge the mess we've landed ourselves in, God delights to pour out His glory in sudden, unprecedented, and unpredictable ways.
If you have ever said to yourself, "I wish I could see God do something amazing"—you can! Not only is this possible, it's what God is calling you to. God desires this for you. This is why we must stop running from Him and earnestly seek to obey. When we do that, our messy lives become the canvas for His incredible glory. But the key is thankful living.
Thank the God of second chances
Last year, I got a ticket for having expired tags. It was the second ticket in two years I had received for that particular infraction. It might not be the only ticket I've received since moving to Washington. I'm really a good driver. At least that's what I keep telling the police. I went to the court to see if the judge would waive the ticket fee for my expired tags, since I complied and registered my car immediately. I thought the judge would notice that I was nicely dressed and had a cheerful demeanor and in general conclude that I was good for society. The problem was that she didn't look at me at all; she looked entirely at the computer screen, which I prayed didn't list all of my past infractions. That prayer didn't get answered quite the way I was hoping.
"I see here this isn't the first time you've driven with expired tags."
"No, your honor."
"Looks like you've been busy, Mr. Howerton."
"Yes, your honor." I couldn't think of anything to say that would change my situation. So I blurted out, "I throw myself upon the mercy of the court!" I'm not kidding.
She looked up from the computer screen. Then she smiled and waived the penalty. I was given another chance!
Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time: "Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you." (Jonah 3:1-2, NIV)
You know what that is called? A second chance. God is the God of second chances (or ten thousandth chances). If this isn't enough to drop us to our knees in humble thanksgiving, I don't know what is!
Mess begets ... masterpiece
No matter where you are, God is offering you a second chance. No matter what you have done, no matter how many times you have done it, no matter where you have wandered, God is saying, "If you invite Me to, I'll forgive and forget. If you let Me, I'll make it as if it had never happened. If you allow My Son to take it, He will take the stain of your sin and shame and make it white as snow."
Proverbs 28:13 says, "People who conceal their sins will not prosper. But if they confess and turn from them, they will receive mercy" (NLT). Another translation of this proverb concludes, "He gets another chance" (TLB).
Picture a white canvas, representing your potential in life. Now imagine you've thrown dark oil paint at it, splattering it with red (symbolizing your murderous selfishness) or charcoal (for your stoic idolatry) or teal (standing for your horrific style choices of the 80s). The paint visually communicates what our sin, our stain, our running from God looks like. We think, That's it; now I've made a mess of things. It is all I can see. Game over. But it's not. Those simply become the colors that God, the master artist, takes and uses to begin His masterpiece called you.
For this we thank the God of the second chance. When we stop running from Him and surrender our lives to Him, that's when He does His best work. Accept His grace. Be filled with gratitude. Make a commitment to developing a heart of praise. Leave your pity party behind. Develop a thankful heart.
I recently reconnected with an old friend, Brad, who had mentored me in some early years in my ministry. Several years ago Brad had stepped away from ministry and then revealed that he had failed morally, and an affair cost him his marriage, his reputation, and his ministry. For a while he continued to make poor choices, and as he did so he realized his misery continued to grow. Finally, he stopped running from God. He realized the mess his choices had landed him in. And he simply began, very humbly, to do what God said. He confessed all his sins. He begged forgiveness from all he had hurt with his actions. He broke off the affair and began living in purity, pursuing God's best for sexuality and for life. He began to see a Christian therapist, and he submitted himself to three pastors and another older, mature Christian leader. Working together, they became his restoration team. They met together weekly over the course of 18 months for study, for accountability, for counsel, and for prayer.
It has been four years since Brad's confession of failure. His ex-wife recently called and forgave Brad for the hurt he had caused her and the family. His girls, both twentysomethings, have expressed forgiveness as well and enjoy a relationship with their dad. And after nearly three years of restoration, the five pastors Brad submitted to unanimously asked him to pray about rejoining God's movement in ministry. They felt that his story and subsequent journey of healing would be encouraging to those who assume God's grace doesn't extend into their mess. Long story short, one year ago Brad launched a church called Life Change Community Church, built on the principle that God can change anybody's life. Life Change, in the first 12 months, has grown to 300 in attendance, with nearly one-third of those folks experiencing God's grace and giving their lives to Jesus Christ for the very first time. When I was talking with Brad recently, he told me, "God is good, Mike. I'm living proof of grace." He also said that his life verse, the verse that fuels his drive daily, is Jonah 3:1: "The word of the lord came to Jonah a second time" (NIV).
It's true for Jonah. It's true for Brad. And it's true for you.
Excerpted from Glorious Mess, copyright ©2012 by Mike Howerton. Used with permission of Baker Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group. All rights reserved. Material is not to be reproduced, scanned, copied, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without written permission from Baker Publishing Group.
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