The Bible is filled with people like Mother Teresa. Real people. Like Peter. Like David. Like the Samaritan woman who met Jesus by the well. Flawed humans who failed time and time again, often miserably. Yet, despite their faults and their failures God used them to great purpose, first restoring them, and then raising them. In the stories of the fall and rise of these men and women is the hope that there will be restoration for all of us who struggle with our own faults, our own failures.
But how do we make the restoration possible? There are three steps to restoration. The first step is realizing that there is something wrong somewhere. The second step is understanding what is wrong and accepting it. The third is rectifying what is wrong and setting it right. Then God steps in and restores!
Step 1: Realization
Most of us don't like to admit that there might be something wrong in our lives. We like to think of ourselves as being perfect and, consequently, build ornate and intricate facades around us that look deceptively real, and over time have convinced everybody, including ourselves, that they are, indeed, real. At some point, however, a storm hits you — it always will — and everything around us starts to totter and crumble.
Is there a storm in your life now? How are you dealing with it? Do you blame yourself? Do you blame others? Do you blame God? (It is amazing how we are so quick to blame God for things when they go wrong, but so slow to acknowledge him when things are right.)
Are you like the city Isaiah addresses: "O afflicted city, lashed by storms and not comforted (Isaiah 54:11). Do you wonder where he is in all this and why he isn't saving you? Well, he may be watching to see what you are going to do because he knows that the storms (not necessarily sent by him) have a way of stripping off the paint, the deception, the denial; of tearing the façade off your life and making you realize there is something terribly wrong somewhere.
The story of King David offers some fascinating insights. He was the second king of Israel, following Saul to the throne after the latter died a horrible death. The people loved David and why shouldn't they: brave, handsome, charming, battle winner - he was all they wanted in a king. But as the years went by David started to change. He began to get lazy, indolent.
2 Samuel 11, which tells the story of the fall of the king, begins with a revealing statement: "In the spring, at the time when kings go off to war, David sent Joab out with the king's men and the whole Israelite army. But David remained in Jerusalem." In the old days David would have led his men into battle, but now he delegated the task because he had other things to do. Like peep on women.
One day when he was on the roof of his palace he saw a woman bathing and consumed with desire for her he sent for her and consummated his desire for her. Does the good king know what he is doing is bad? I am sure he does, but we are experts in the art of justification and I can imagine David justifying his actions: "I am king. These are my subjects. They belong to me. I can do with them as I please. So if I want to bed a woman — no matter that she is somebody else's wife — I bed her!"
End of story? Not quite. A storm hits. The woman gets pregnant. David gets alarmed. His deceitfulness is about to be exposed and he can't have that so he begins the cover up, which ends with the murder of the woman's husband.
Cover ups never work, however, because even if there is nobody in the world who might know what you have done, there are always at least two people who do. There's God. And there's you. In David's case there were many. Bathsheba, whom David married, knew what had happened and I can only imagine the way she taunted the king every time they had a fight. David's children knew and the moral degradation of their father had seeped its way into their own souls with sex and violence part of their own lives. The people also knew, and while they may not have known all the details, they knew enough to murmur about it. And all this, compounded with David's own guilt would have been enough to drive the king close to insanity.
And at some point, the king would have had to realize that something was wrong. But is he wise enough to know what it is? You’d think it was obvious, but it rarely is.
Let's look at another man, Peter. One of Jesus's favorite apostles, he had some extremely inflated opinions about himself, especially about his bravery and steadfastness. Soon after the supper, which would be Jesus's last with his apostles, he sought out Peter and said to him, “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:31).
In typical fashion, Peter boasts that he will never betray his Lord. “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death,” he says, rather grandiosely.
Jesus answers, “I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me.”
And that is exactly what happens. A while later Jesus is arrested. Watching the horrific treatment his master receives at the hands of his accusers, Peter panics and hides. In a way, he is trying to implement another kind of cover up. And the storm blows – as it always will. He is recognized, not once but three times, and all three times he denies knowing his Lord.
At some point, Peter, like David, would have realized that something was wrong. But what? What is obvious to us, looking in from the outside, is not as obvious to those on the inside. We only need to examine ourselves to know the truth of this. What are you doing that is wrong? Nothing, right? See what I mean?
The Samaritan Woman
Let’s look at another person, a woman this time, identified in the Bible only as a Samaritan woman. She was a woman seeking happiness (like all of us do), and believed she would find happiness in marriage (like many of us do). So she got married. But the guy turned out to be a jerk. Maybe he was a philanderer, so she kicked him out and got married again.
The second was obviously not much better because she kicked him out too. Maybe he was too lazy to get a job. She found another guy! But he turned out to be just as bad — maybe he was drunkard– and he got shown the door too. Husbands #4 and #5 met the same fate and now she was with prospective husband #6! You have to give her credit for not giving up, but at some point, surely this woman has asked: Isn’t there something wrong? In the dark quiet of the night, when she lies with nothing but her thoughts, tears coursing down her cheeks from the pain of rejection, self loathing, abandonment, doesn’t she question why she is going through life like this. But does she really try to find the answer?
When things are not working in your life do you wonder why? Do you cry out to God for answers? Do you really want them? Because God will come to give them to you - or send somebody to tell you. And it may not be pleasant.
Step 2: Understanding and Acceptance
Once we have realized that something is wrong in our life, the next step is understanding what is wrong and accepting it. Strangely enough, although this should be obvious, it often takes somebody else to point out what is wrong. This isn’t easy, either for the person, or for us.
Consider our three characters again:
God had to send Nathan to David to point out the error of his ways and the prophet knew that he was treading on thin ice. David had already shown his proclivity to cover up his wrongdoing, even to the extent of murder, and there was nothing to stop him from having Nathan slain too. Nathan, however, exhibiting a wisdom that could only have come from God, told David a story:
The Lord sent Nathan to David. When he came to him, he said, “There were two men in a certain town, one rich and the other poor. The rich man had a very large number of sheep and cattle, but the poor man had nothing except one little ewe lamb he had bought. He raised it, and it grew up with him and his children. It shared his food, drank from his cup and even slept in his arms. It was like a daughter to him.
“Now a traveler came to the rich man, but the rich man refrained from taking one of his own sheep or cattle to prepare a meal for the traveler who had come to him. Instead, he took the ewe lamb that belonged to the poor man and prepared it for the one who had come to him.”
David burned with anger against the man and said to Nathan, “As surely as the Lord lives, the man who did this deserves to die! He must pay for that lamb four times over, because he did such a thing and had no pity.” (2 Samuel 12:1-6)
Then Nathan, his heart surely in his mouth, said: “You are that man! Why did you despise the word of the Lord by doing what is evil in his eyes?”
This was the moment of truth for David. Either he understood the gravity of his sin and accepted it, or he continued to deny it and cover it up. Fortunately David got the message. He understood that although his basic premise seemed right, it wasn’t entirely right. Although he was king, and was ruler over his subjects, there was another king who was ruler over him! “I have sinned against the Lord,” he said (2 Samuel 12:13).
And Scripture doesn’t say it but I believed he wept!
The Samaritan Woman
Jesus reached out to the Samaritan woman, himself. He sat down by a well and when the outcast woman came to it to draw water he asked her for a drink laying the groundwork pretty much as Nathan had.
The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?”
Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”
“Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water?
Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”
He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back."
“I have no husband,” she replied.
Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.” (John 4:9-15)
And in a few minutes she got it. The reason she was never happily married, or even happily unmarried, was because she kept trying to quench her parched soul with the love of men when the only thing that could was the love of God. Like David, she understood that while her basic premise was right – she needed love, it wasn’t entirely right – it was the love of God she truly needed.
And Scripture doesn’t say it, but I believe she wept!
Jesus came to Peter too, and although he didn’t say a single word, the disciple read him loud and clear. This is what Scripture says happened after the third denial on that fateful night.
Just as he was speaking, the rooster crowed. The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times.” (Luke 22:61-62)
I can only speculate on the myriad thoughts that raced across Peter’s mind at that awful moment of his life and I imagine that overriding them all was a terrible sense of failure, compounded by tremendous guilt and shame. But through it, was the look that he saw in Jesus’ eyes that said: I still love you.
That was Peter’s moment of truth. Would he understand and accept it? Or would he run away from it? The Catholic Church was born at that moment as Peter understood that although his basic premise was right — he wanted to love Jesus to the point of laying his life down, it wasn’t until that he fully understood the love Jesus had for him that he would be able to do so.
And Scripture says that Peter wept!
Step 3: Rectification and Restoration
After the remorse comes the need for rectification, otherwise the tears are wasted. A lifestyle needs to be changed. Not easy under the best of circumstances, it is made much harder when one is used to living in a particular manner for years. Yet it is possible, and one only needs to look at these three people to see the truth of that.
I don’t think David became celibate, but I am fairly certain that his sexcapades came to a halt. With the man’s appetite – one mustn’t forget that he had eight wives and at least ten concubines! – that couldn’t have been easy, but the impetus of his new-found understanding and acceptance would have propelled him onward.
Also goading him on would have been the fear of how close he had come to losing it all. David would surely have remembered his predecessor Saul, also anointed of God, who had blown both kingship and anointing because of his wrong attitude, and the knowledge would have terrified David! The heart wrenching Psalm 51, with its passionate appeal to God not to take his Holy Spirit away, is evidence of that.
And once the rectification process commences, God starts the restoration process, and we see how David is not only forgiven but raised to even greater heights, and a few hundred years later Jesus is referred to as a Son of David. What greater glory?
The Samaritan Woman
Not much is said about what happens to the Samaritan woman after her encounter with Jesus but one can infer a lot from the little that is said.
It might seem a little unkind to think that she went home and kicked out the man she was living with, but with her new understanding of what it truly meant to worship God – see John 4:21-26 – I am certain that she would have set the relationship right.
We can see God’s restoration and upliftment begin almost immediately, however, as Scripture records how the woman turned evangelist:
Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I ever did.” So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. And because of his words many more became believers.
They said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.” (John 4:39-42).
Peter’s rehabilitation is one of the most amazing stories ever recorded in human history as he went from being a boastful, egocentric, hot-tempered man to a Spirit filled preacher and shepherd like his master, becoming the first pope of the Church.
God’s restoration is poignantly described in John 21, when Jesus asks Peter three times if he loves him, ending by telling the apostle to feed his sheep. It was a task he conscientiously undertook, thereby indicating that Jesus’s prayer for Peter to strengthen his brothers after he turned back (see Luke 22:32) was truly answered.
Beginning with the conversion of about 3,000 people following Peter’s first speech on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:41), he worked to establish the church of Antioch, presiding for seven years as the leader of the city's Christian community. He then preached to scattered communities around the world until his death.
He is said to have been crucified under Emperor Nero, the cross being upside down at his own request since he saw himself unworthy to be crucified in the same way as Jesus. There is no mention that he boasted again that he would die for Christ.
He just did.
Conclusion: The Foundation
There is much that is wrong with our lives and if we truly take a good look at what is wrong, we will discover that the error lies in the foundation. Somewhere we have a faulty premise that needs to be corrected. A man who gets angry believes that he has the right to get angry because he has been provoked. Another believes that he needs to lie, cheat, or steal in order to succeed in business because after all that’s the way the world is. A woman who is sexually promiscuous believes that she can do so because she needs the love that she needs so dearly. Another believes that that it is right to destroy her colleague by any means possible because she has been hurt by her. Funnily enough, all these may be believers who are regular at worship services in church and prayer groups.
Jesus warns: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ (Matthew 7:21-23)
He then tells them what is wrong: “Everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” (Matthew 7:26-27)
The foundation is Jesus and his word. If we do anything in opposition to his word, no matter what reasons we may come up with to justify it, our foundation is faulty and we will go crashing down when the storm blows. And, as we have discovered, blow it will.
The man who gets angry, but wants to set the right foundation, will know that his anger goes against love which is patient and kind (1 Corinthians 3:4) and also against God’s exhortations to get rid of anger (Colossians 3:8). Consequently he will endeavor not to get angry, and if he does get angry, he will ensure it does not cause him to sin (Ephesians 4:26).
The man who believes that it is okay to lie, cheat or steal to succeed will find plenty of advice in the Bible to the contrary. Matthew 16:26, Proverbs 11:4, Revelation 21:7-8 are just a few verses that speak about lying, cheating and stealing.
The woman who believes that it is okay to be promiscuous will find that any form of sexual immorality is wrong (1 Corinthians 6:18) and the immoral person faces dire consequences (Galatians 5:19-21; 1 Corinthians 3:16-17).
The woman who believes that it is right to destroy her colleague will know that forgiveness is key to being forgiven by God and her unforgiving and unloving behavior would jeopardize her very salvation (Matthew 6:14-15).
If, however, we put our foundation on Jesus, then we are secure. And when the storm blows – and (I dare repeat myself) blow it will – we will remain firm: “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.” (Matthew 7:24-25)
To build this foundation, however, our existing foundations may need to be broken. This can be a very painful process. I recall how severely I was crushed in the early days following my conversion, as God chiseled and hammered away at all those aspects of my life that were not needed, and what an agonizing experience it was. I used to beg God to be gentle. Jesus speaks of this pruning in John 15. Malachi calls it the refining fire and there is a lovely story told (author unknown) that might explain how the process works.
Some time ago, a few ladies met in a certain city to read the scriptures, and make them the subject of conversation. While reading the third chapter of Malachi they came upon a remarkable expression in the third verse: "And He shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver." One of the women offered to find out the process of refining silver and get back to the group at their next Bible Study.
That week, the woman called a silversmith and made an appointment to watch him at work. She didn’t mention anything about the reason for her interest beyond her curiosity about the process of refining silver. As she watched the silversmith, he held a piece of silver over the fire and let it heat up. He explained that in refining silver, one needed to hold the silver in the middle of the fire where the flames were hottest as to burn away all the impurities.
The woman thought about God holding us in such a hot spot; then she thought again about the verse that says: ‘ He sits as a refiner and purifier of silver.’ She asked the silversmith if it was true that he had to sit there in front of the fire the whole time.
The man answered that not only did he have to sit there holding the silver, he had to keep his eyes on the silver the entire time it was in the fire. If the silver was left a moment too long in the flames, it would be destroyed. The woman was silent for a long moment as she ponded the silversmith's words. Then she asked him, ‘How do you know when the silver is fully refined?’
The silversmith smiled at her and answered, ‘ Oh, when I see my image in it.’
May the Spirit be with you.