I am reading through the book of Acts in the bible at the moment, and something caught my eye today in the comments that I saw below the scripture. As I read those, I was reminded that “Mistakes are always effective teachers, because their consequences have a way of making lessons painfully clear”. I also read that “Those who learn from their mistakes are likely to develop wisdom.” The comment in my Life Application Study Bible draws attention to John Mark, a man who accompanied the apostle Paul and Barnabas in their first missionary journey. It seems that during their second stop, Mark left them and returned to Jerusalem. Although the reason for this is not clear, the apostle Paul refuses, going against Barnabas’ advice, to take John Mark on their second missionary journey, because “he had deserted them” the first time round (Acts 15, 38). It is clear, however, from Paul’s own writings that despite his earlier rejection of Mark, he holds him in great esteem and regards him as an asset in his own ministry.
So the question I ask myself is: How does someone like John Mark, who has obviously let others down and experienced such rejection from a leader of Paul’s calibre, find the strength and will to persevere in his call to bring Jesus and his message to the people? What is the missing link between one’s failure and the ability to pick ourselves up and move on from past mistakes?
The obvious answer of course is God’s grace and forgiveness. However, this only becomes obvious for some, once we are on the other side of failure and regret. For very many, although not aware at the time, the leap from darkness to light, the leap from shame to freedom comes through the relentless love of Jesus which manifests itself through the ongoing encouragement of “nameless and faceless” people, whom we more often than not, take for granted and use as a springboard to get to where we are aiming to be. The answer then of course is: second chances, third chances, seventy times seven.
In Mark’s case, Jesus’ compassionate love was shown in the person of Barnabas who upon Paul’s rejection and determination not to take Mark as a companion on their second journey, decides to part company with Paul and take Mark himself. Bearing in mind that up to this point Paul and Barnabas were obviously close, and that Barnabas had put his neck on the line defending the authenticity of Paul’s conversion to other Christians in Jerusalem, it must have taken great courage and humility for Barnabas to once more sacrifice something dear to him in order to salvage and preserve somebody else’s potential.
We often hear people say: “Behind every successful man there is a great woman”. I would like to expand on that and say “Behind every successful man or woman, there is a selfless, hidden encourager”. Success, of course, not understood in worldly terms but more as the achievement of great things with our character remaining spotless and intact at the end of it. Yes, it is true that in making grave mistakes, we learn our most important lessons. But in order to learn from those mistakes, we need to be released by those whom we have hurt and sometimes destroyed in the process. It is no good acknowledging a mistake and repenting from it, if unforgiveness still remains in the hearts of those victimized by our selfish actions. It takes the humility which stems from recognising our own flawed souls, to grant someone forgiveness and the opportunity to break through the net of guilt and regret. Forgiveness and encouragement are the precious tools God lovingly places in the hands of his unassuming dear children in order to release others to fly to higher heights.
In worldly fashion, we tend to look up to and study in depth well-known biblical figures such as Paul, Moses, David. But what about the hundreds, the thousands of invisible to man but clearly dear to God, who in giving up their own dreams and hopes, in putting at risk what is most dear to them, become the missing link, the stepping stone upon which the heroes, the overcomers are able to stand on and receive encouragement from, at crucial moments in their lives when serious mistakes are made and the ensnare of their enemies is shouting at the top of its voice: “You’ve messed up and deserve to be punished and carry this with you for the rest of your life”? What about them?
If you are one of those people, if you feel your call in life is to be that stepping stone often trampled on or unnoticed by those whose success you are shaping up by becoming that stone, fear not and take courage, for man looks at appearances; man looks at what is seen, but God looks at a man’s heart and at what is hidden from us, but is obvious to Him. God will always have the final say in EVERYTHING.