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  • Adam Schell

Are We Disappointing God?


Failing at Faith

40 years ago, this year, the city of Louisville hosted the first-ever Triple Crown of Running. Now, for those of you who don’t know, the Triple Crown of Running —whose name is clearly inspired by horse racing’s Triple Crown — is a series of three races that are run around downtown Louisville every year in the weeks leading up to the Kentucky Derby. And just like the three races in horse racing’s Triple Crown are all different distances, the three legs of the Triple Crown of Running are three different distances.


And over the years, these distances have been tweaked and changed. But for the last few years, the Triple Crown of Running has started with a 5K, which is followed by a 10K, and the series finishes with a 15K. But since we live in America where we prefer to measure distances in miles instead of kilometers, those numbers probably don’t mean much to you. So let me give you the conversions. A 5K is 3.1 miles, which means a 10K is 6.2 miles, and a 15K is 9.3 miles.


And last Saturday was the final leg in this year’s Triple Crown of Running, the 15K race. And there were officially about 1,800 people who competed in this race…and I just so happened to be one of them. So how did your pastor do?


I don’t want to brag or anything, but when I crossed the finish line someone was there waiting to hand me this medal. And, if you’ve competed in any kind of organized race over the last few years, you got that joke. But if you haven’t, you might be wondering why a few people were laughing.


So, here’s the deal, the only time that most of us ever see anyone receive a medal after they finish a race is when we’re watching the Olympics. And we all know that there are only three medals passed out for each Olympic event. If you come in third place, you get the bronze. If you come in second place, you get the silver. And if you win, you bring home the gold.


But if you take a look at this medal, you can see it isn’t bronze, or silver, and it definitely isn’t gold. And that’s because I didn’t finish in the top 3 last weekend. So how did I actually do? Out of 1,790 runners, I came in 920th place. So I was pretty well smack dab in the middle of the pack. And the only reason I received this medal is because everyone who finishes the race gets a medal.


But the crazy thing is that I worked really hard to end up smack dab in the middle of the pack. I started training for this race at the beginning of the New Year, and I did that by doing a lot of running. So to get ready for this one race, I went out running 3 or 4 times a week and covered almost 130 miles in the last three months. But I still came in 920th place.


And I gotta tell you, this isn’t the first time this has happened. This is the fifth time that I’ve participated in the Triple Crown of Running…and no matter how hard I train, no matter how many miles I log, I always end up somewhere in the middle of the pack. So even though I got a nice little medal when I crossed the finish line, it’s pretty clear that no matter how hard I try I’m never going to become one of the world’s fastest runners. 


And we all know what happens when you try really hard to be good at something and it just doesn’t work out. When you can’t succeed no matter how hard you try, you feel like a failure.

When you can’t succeed no matter how hard you try, you feel like a failure.

So, yes, there are times when I get home after a race and I check the final results where I feel like I’ve failed at running. And at one point or another, you’ve felt the exact same way. 


Now, maybe you haven’t felt that way about your running abilities. Maybe it happened to you when you went out for the basketball team in middle school. And even though you spent hours out in your driveway working on your ball-handling skills and trying to perfect your jump shot, you still got cut. Or maybe it happened when you were taking Algebra in high school. But even though you did all the homework and stayed after school with your teacher to get some extra help, you just could not figure out how to solve for x. Or maybe it happened to you when you first got married and decided to cook your new husband or wife a special meal. But even though you checked, double-checked, and even triple-checked the recipe to make sure you did everything right, your special meal turned into something your dog wouldn’t even eat.


But no matter how it happened to you, we all have areas in our lives where we want to succeed but we end up feeling like failures.

We all have areas in life where we want to succeed but we end up feeling like failures.

And, even though I have never heard anyone flat-out say this in all the years that I’ve been a part of or pastored a church, one of the areas where we want to succeed but often end up feeling like failures is our faith. 


And we end up feeling like we’re failing at faith because a lot of us have been followers of Jesus – we’ve been Christians – for years if not decades of our lives. We go to church whenever we can, and when we can’t we watch church online. Our bookshelves are lined with books written by Beth Moore and Max Lucado. We subscribe to devotional emails. We wear Christian t-shirts and have pillows on our couches that have Bible verses cross-stitched into them. We don’t hesitate to drop our loose change into the red kettles whenever the Salvation Army is collecting and we try to pause whenever one of our friends on Facebook asks for prayer. In short, we try really hard to be good Christians. 


But no matter how hard we try, it feels like we haven’t done enough. We know there are still commandments that we struggle to keep and things that Jesus teaches us that we’d rather ignore. We know that we could always read our Bibles more often and that we could spend more time in prayer each day. We know that we could do a better job of sharing our faith with others and that we could probably afford to give a little more to the church.


So when we hear the Apostle Paul – who was the foremost missionary and theologian of the first century – compare our journey of faith to running a race, we know that people like Abraham and Moses, like Peter, Paul, and Mary, like Billy Graham and Mother Teresa are way ahead of us in this race. And the only reason we’re going to receive a reward when our race is over is the same reason that I got a medal at the end of last weekend’s 15K, and that’s because everyone who runs the race gets a prize. So, yes, there are times when we feel like we’re failing at faith.

There are times when we feel like we’re failing at faith.

And sometimes we feel like no matter how hard we try to be good Christians there’s always more that we should be doing. So we end up feeling like we’re disappointing God.


But the question is: Is this how God wants us to feel? Does God want us to feel like we always disappoint him? Does God want us to feel like we can’t ever do enough? Does God want us to feel like we’re failing at faith? 

Does God want us to feel like we’re failing at faith?

Well, I think we can find an answer to that question in the passage of scripture I want us to take a closer look at today. So, if you’ve got a Bible close by or a Bible app on your phone, go ahead and open it to Matthew 25. Matthew 25. And just as a quick reminder for you, the book of Matthew is essentially a biography of Jesus. So in the book of Matthew, you can read about Jesus’ birth and his baptism, his ministry and the miracles he performed, his crucifixion and his resurrection.


But in the passage we’re going to look at today, we’re going to find a parable that Jesus taught. And what is a parable? A parable is a short story with a point. So let’s take a look at Jesus’ parable in Matthew 25. We’ll start reading in verse 14, which says:


14 “Again, the Kingdom of Heaven can be illustrated by the story of a man going on a long trip. He called together his servants and entrusted his money to them while he was gone. 15 He gave five bags of silver to one, two bags of silver to another, and one bag of silver to the last—dividing it in proportion to their abilities. He then left on his trip.


16 “The servant who received the five bags of silver began to invest the money and earned five more. 17 The servant with two bags of silver also went to work and earned two more. 18 But the servant who received the one bag of silver dug a hole in the ground and hid the master’s money.


19 “After a long time their master returned from his trip and called them to give an account of how they had used his money. 20 The servant to whom he had entrusted the five bags of silver came forward with five more and said, ‘Master, you gave me five bags of silver to invest, and I have earned five more.’


21 “The master was full of praise. ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in handling this small amount, so now I will give you many more responsibilities. Let’s celebrate together!’


22 “The servant who had received the two bags of silver came forward and said, ‘Master, you gave me two bags of silver to invest, and I have earned two more.’


23 “The master said, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in handling this small amount, so now I will give you many more responsibilities. Let’s celebrate together!’


24 “Then the servant with the one bag of silver came and said, ‘Master, I knew you were a harsh man, harvesting crops you didn’t plant and gathering crops you didn’t cultivate. 25 I was afraid I would lose your money, so I hid it in the earth. Look, here is your money back.’


26 “But the master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy servant! If you knew I harvested crops I didn’t plant and gathered crops I didn’t cultivate, 27 why didn’t you deposit my money in the bank? At least I could have gotten some interest on it.’


28 “Then he ordered, ‘Take the money from this servant, and give it to the one with the ten bags of silver.


Matthew 25:14-28 (New Living Translation)


Now, in this parable, the master clearly represents God and the servants clearly represent us. And I told you a minute ago that this passage can help us answer the question: Does God want us to feel like we’re failing at faith?


So based on the master’s interaction with his servants, how would you answer that question? Based on the way the master interacted with his servants in this passage, do you think God wants us to feel like we’re failing at faith?


Well, if you were paying attention to the way the master interacted with the third servant, the obvious answer to that question is yes. Because in this parable the master calls the third servant to the carpet and the master doesn’t hold back when he starts chewing the servant out. He calls the servant wicked and lazy. And he scolds the servant for not even doing the bare minimum to make sure the master got some sort of return on his investment.


And based on that interaction, it would seem like God wants us to feel like we’re failing at faith. Based on that interaction, it would seem like God wants us to feel like we’re wicked and lazy. Based on that interaction, it would seem like God wants us to feel like we’re not only not doing enough for God, but we’re not doing anything at all for God.


So, yes, if we focus on the master’s interaction with the third servant, it feels like God wants us to feel like we’re failing and faith. But you do realize there are two other servants in this story, right?


Maybe you didn’t, because the master is so harsh to the third servant it’s easy to forget what he said to the other two servants. So let me remind you what the master says to the other two servants because he says the exact same thing to both of them. The master tells both of these servants:


“Well done, my good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in handling this small amount, so now I will give you many more responsibilities. Let’s celebrate together!” 


Does it sound like the master wants the first two servants to feel like they disappointed him? Does it sound like the master wanted his first two servants to feel like they hadn’t done enough for him? Does it sound like the master wanted his first two servants to feel like they were failures?


Of course not. The master calls them good and faithful and then the master invites them to come and celebrate with him.


So what’s the difference between the first two servants and the third servant? The first two servants are celebrated and rewarded because they were faithful with what their master gave them. Even though these servants were given a different amount of money – the first received five bags of silver, the second got two – and even though their faithfulness produced different results – the first servant earned five more bags of silver and the second only earned two – the master told them both the exact same thing.


The master didn’t demand the second servant to accomplish the same thing the first servant did. The master expected the second servant to be faithful with what he had been given.


And that’s what God wants out of us. God doesn’t expect you to do the things that Abraham or Moses, or Billy Graham and Mother Teresa did. God expects you to be faithful with what God has given you.


That realization is part of why I keep going out and participating in events like the Triple Crown of Running even after I finish in 920th place. I compete in these races even though I know I’m not going to be the fastest person out there. Instead, I compete in them because they challenge me to take what I’ve been given and do the best that I can with it.


And ultimately that’s what God wants from you. God doesn’t want you to feel like you’re failing at faith. God wants you to be faithful with what he has given you.

God doesn’t want you to feel like you’re failing at faith. God wants you to be faithful with what he has given you.

And when you realize that you’ll also realize that being a Christian isn’t supposed to feel like it’s impossible, because when you are faithful with what God has given you’ll never disappoint God. Instead God will tell you the same thing he told the first two servants. When you’re faithful with what God has given you, he’ll tell you, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”

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