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How to Successfully Prepare to Fail

by Stephen Davey Scripture Reference: John 18:15–18, 25–27

Sin can occur in a moment, but it usually arises from a heart that has been prepared for failure. Peter provides us with a perfect example—and an enduring warning.


How would you like to have the entire world read about your failure to live up to some promise you made? How would you feel if for the rest of your life, people were given a written record of some act of cowardly unfaithfulness to the Lord? Well, that is exactly what we have in the record of Scripture regarding the apostle Peter and his denial—2,000 years later, we are still reading about his failure.

Now before we read it again, keep in mind that Peter alone was willing to trust Jesus and walk out to Him on the water; it was Peter alone who swung a sword in the garden of Gethsemane to protect Jesus. And now it is Peter, standing out here in the courtyard of Caiaphas, as Jesus stands trial before the Sanhedrin.

All four Gospels record Peter’s denials, but today I want to touch on just a few verses in John’s Gospel and then try to understand why this happened. We begin in John 18:15:

Simon Peter followed Jesus, and so did another disciple. Since that disciple was known to the high priest, he entered with Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest.

This other disciple is certainly John, who referred to himself in the third person throughout his Gospel. So, John also followed along here, but he has got some connections, and he is allowed into the high priest’s courtyard. John then speaks to the servant girl who keeps the door, arranging for her to let Peter into the courtyard as well.

Verse 16 tells us that Peter is almost immediately recognized by this servant, who says to him, in verse 17, “You also are not one of this man’s disciples, are you?” Peter simply replies, “I am not” and then walks over to a firepit to keep warm.

Again, in verse 25, Peter is asked, “You also are not one of his disciples, are you?” And he denies it again, saying, “I am not.” Then we read this:

A relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, asked, “Did I not see you in the garden with him?” Peter again denied it, and at once a rooster crowed.” (verses 26-27)

How in the world does someone deny the Lord—especially someone like Peter?

Well, for one thing, we never sin suddenly—just out of the blue. When we fail and fall, it is because that moment of sin has been in the making for some time!

Peter illustrates what I call preparation for spiritual failure. If you want to fail spiritually, or morally or ethically, well, stir into your life these ingredients. They will guarantee disaster, even to the point of denying Christ in the public square.

We will call the first ingredient self-confidence. You might remember at the disciples’ last meal with the Lord in the upper room in Matthew chapter 26, Jesus predicted that they would all abandon Him that night. Peter responded in verse 33, “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.” Essentially, he is saying, “Lord, I can understand why these other fellows will fail you, but I am stronger than they are.” Peter thinks he is a spiritual giant—he is way too self-confident of his loyalty to Christ.

So, if you want to successfully prepare to fail, stir into your life self-confidence; then add another ingredient we will call defiance.

Jesus goes on to inform Peter that he will be the chief denier—he will deny Jesus three times before the rooster crows in the morning. And Peter scoffs back at the Lord, in verse 35, “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!” He is basically telling the Lord, “You don’t know what You are talking about. I know better than You.”

You want to fail? You want to guarantee a wrong turn in life? Then start telling the Lord He does not understand your situation and the pressure you are under. He does not understand your overbearing spouse or your miserable job; He does not know what justifies your sin.

Let me tell you, beloved, Peter’s defiance of Jesus, the Living Word, is no different from you arguing with the written Word. A lack of submission to God’s Word will set you up to fall down.

The next ingredient is prayerlessness. This is really just another symptom of self-confidence. The night before, Jesus had asked Peter to pray with Him in the garden of Gethsemane, but Peter, along with James and John, went to sleep.

Jesus had said to them in the garden in Matthew 26:41, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.” In other words, you had better pray so that you do not enter into temptation unprepared. Beloved, there is a direct relationship between praying and purity—between prayerlessness and faithlessness. Peter missed the prayer meeting and entered into this courtyard unprepared.

Now prayer is rightly called a spiritual discipline, not spiritual recreation. And that is because it is hard work. It is not an indoor sport, or we would spend all Sunday afternoon engaged in it.

That is why the apostle Paul wrote to Timothy, in 1 Timothy 4:7, “Train yourself for godliness.” “Train” translates the Greek word gumnazō, from which we get gymnasium. Paul is telling Timothy to go into that spiritual gymnasium and work up a spiritual sweat. Godliness is not a coincidence any more than muscles are. It takes work—disciplined choices—every day!

When you became a Christian, you became a “gymnast.” You were given a membership card in the spiritual athletic program of the kingdom. So, what’s the tone of your spiritual muscles today? Without prayer, you are going to be flabby and weak! Peter fell apart in public because he had ignored the Lord in private.

The fourth ingredient of spiritual failure is independence. Earlier, John 18 tells us that in the garden Peter bravely tried to prevent the Lord from being arrested. He swung his little sword and cut off the ear of the high priest’s servant. Jesus made it very clear that fighting was not a part of His plan, and He strongly rebuked Peter.

Peter wanted to do things his own way. Jesus said, “Pray.” Peter went to sleep. Jesus said, “Let me wash your feet.” Peter said, “Not on Your life.” Jesus said, “It’s time for My arrest.” Peter chopped off an ear. Jesus said, “You’re going to deny Me three times.” Peter said, “You couldn’t be further from the truth.”

Peter was a self-made, independent man. In fact, the only time Peter came in second was when he lost the footrace with John to the empty tomb. Peter was a natural-born leader, with willpower and courage. He would have been a terrific advertisement for some conference on self-esteem. He had train cars full of it.

But God is very gracious. The Lord is patiently training Peter; in fact, He is fashioning Peter into a much smaller vessel—one small enough to hold the Lord’s great power and gracious Spirit. At this point, Peter is a giant vessel, and frankly, he is full of himself. He is so full, he is ready to tip over and fall.

Self-confidence, defiance, prayerlessness, and independence are all ingredients of spiritual failure. Peter had them all—and I do too. How about you? How we need to thank the Lord for His patience with all of us.

And did you know the New Testament reveals that while Peter failed, he ended up growing as a result of it? He never forgot the sound of that rooster—it did something to him as he wept bitter tears over his failure.

Did he learn over time? Oh yes. As an old apostle, Peter will write these words:

Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. (1 Peter 5:5-7)

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