When we stumble in ministry there can be many reasons. Here are just a few examples of things that can make us stumble - poor choice of words, underestimating people’s attachment to an issue, presuming to know the thoughts of others, failure to communicate sufficiently or failing to recognize the power of tradition.
Food for thought comes from Peter’s failed attempt to walk on the water. “And Peter answered Him and said, ‘Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.’ So He said, ‘Come.’ And when Peter had come down out of the boat, he walked on the water to go to Jesus. But when he saw that the wind was boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink he cried out, saying, ‘Lord, save me!’ And immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and caught him, and said to him, ‘O you of little faith, why did you doubt?’”(Matt. 14:28-32)
A few considerations might help us the next time we realize we are stumbling. First consider, “What caused me to stumble?” On the hiking trip I stumbled because I wore improper shoes. In Peter’s situation he stumbled because his faith was weak.
There have been times, over the years, when I preached with frustration or anger in my heart. I justified my attitude by focusing on unrighteous behavior in others. The problem with justifying ourselves is that we are not Jesus and it sure is hard to manage righteous anger. When I preach with anger or frustration in my heart I usually say things that are inappropriate. I stumble with my words.
Second, when we stumble we have to move quickly to correct the problem. I remember several occasions when I used inappropriate words in the pulpit. I am not referring to nasty words, but words that discouraged others. When this happened I tried to correct the stumble as quickly as possible.
When Peter began to sink, he quickly reached out to Jesus. There is no sin in failure. The sin comes when we recognize our failure and do not move to correct it.
The third word of wisdom is “depend.” When my friends realized I didn’t have the right kind of hiking footwear they pooled their money and, as a joke, bought me a pair of hiking boots. It is good to have friends when we stumble. They can support, encourage and help us recognize and correct our problem. In Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 we read these words, “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their labor, for if they fall, one will lift up his companion, but woe to him who is alone when he falls, for he has no one to help him up.”
Our greatest support comes from Jesus. When Peter sank he reached out to Jesus and cried, “Lord, save me.” Our stumbling can be a great source of spiritual growth. Jesus is there to pick us up when we falter. Jesus uses stumbling to build faith. For this I am thankful.
“When he falls, he shall not be hurled headlong; because the Lord is the One who sustains him with His hand.” Psalm 37:24