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Failure to Control: Avoiding and Overcoming Spiritual Mistakes

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Failure to Control

Avoiding and Overcoming Spiritual Mistakes

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One of the most challenging things I remember about being a teenager was the pressure not to disappoint my parents and family. Not that they were overbearing, or constantly “on me” telling me what to do or not do. Quite the opposite in fact—they were quite “chill.” But I knew what they expected of me, and if I ever failed to meet their expectations, I felt terrible. Being the human being that I am, there were times I messed up and messed up badly.  

As a teen, it seemed that a lot of my mistakes involved automobiles. Perhaps this is no surprise, as working on our cars to make them perform better was a long-standing family tradition. Working over engines to make more power, changing suspension components to improve handling and swapping parts from one car to another were a part of virtually every weekend as long as I can remember.

It was only a matter of time

My first car accident occurred when I was 17. I was on my way to a wood cutting party that was part of a church fundraiser. I wasn’t going particularly fast, but it was a cold morning, and in the shade of one particular curve there was a little frost on the road. Not much, but enough to put my car into the ditch and require the use of a tow truck to get it home. (See Exhibit A below.)

Brown car with dented front hoodDan Preston
Exhibit A

The second accident was much more serious and occurred when I was 20. It could have easily cost me my life, and would have certainly killed anyone who would have been riding in the passenger’s seat with me. (See Exhibit B.) This one not only involved a tow truck, but also a ride in an ambulance and a citation from the Ohio State Highway Patrol for “failure to control.”

My folks weren’t particularly upset at me—more thankful I was alive. And as much as I tried to make excuses why both of these accidents weren’t my fault, deep down inside, I knew they really were. For the first one, it was a cold January morning in Ohio. I should have known there was a chance there could still be some ice on the road and driven slower. In the second accident, it was a rainy night and I was driving under the speed limit in fact, but my rear tires were completely bald (wonder how that happened?!), and I wound up hydroplaning. Try as I might to blame the weather, the bottom line in both cases is that I made a mistake, lost control and crashed my car.

From physical to spiritual

Perhaps you’ve had a similar experience. Maybe it was with a car, or some other physical thing like a lawnmower, gaming console or hallway mirror. You were fooling around, got careless, lost control and—WHAM! something got broken. Not what you want to happen, but pretty normal, right?

But what about when things go beyond the physical realm? What about when our thoughts begin to wander, we get careless, lose control and make a spiritual mistake? What do we do when we sin? 

Ease off that gas pedal

Just as we learn to slow down in bad weather, we can help prevent sin by learning to slow down our thoughts and actions. Like slowing down during bad weather converts us from an unsafe driver to a safe driver, slowing down to think about our actions can convert us from a life marred with hard lessons from sin, to a life with fewer spiritual mistakes.

This principle can be applied in all kinds of areas of our lives. In a relationship, guys and girls often take things “too fast,” leading to hurt and sometimes, sin. Exploring too far into a relationship—past getting to know one another, before marriage—is dangerous. It can lead to losing control and giving in to sexual desires. And despite popular opinion, sex outside of marriage is sin (Exodus 20:14; 1 Corinthians 6:18, 7:2). 

Another area that is easy to lose control in is with the words we use. Consider what James says about the tongue in James 3:2-5: “For we all stumble in many things. If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle the whole body. Indeed, we put bits in horses’ mouths that they may obey us, and we turn their whole body. Look also at ships: although they are so large and are driven by fierce winds, they are turned by a very small rudder wherever the pilot desires. Even so, the tongue is a little member and boasts great things. See how great a forest a little fire kindles!” Just like a small fire can soon set a whole forest ablaze, a few hurtful words can destroy friendships.

Bridling our tongues, or taking time to think about what we say, is another way of slowing things down. Whether it be in a car or relationship, slowing down is key to avoiding mistakes in many aspects of life. 

Totaled white car with roof collapsed in and glass shatteredDan Preston
Exhibit B

But what if . . .

So slowing down to avoid making mistakes is one way we can work to keep from losing control and sinning. But, just like I had to learn this the hard way, what happens when we mess up and sin anyway? What if we’ve lost control, said words we shouldn’t have, did things we know are wrong and wind up committing sin?

 Acts 3:19 tells us, “Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord” (compare Luke 13:1-5, 1 John 1:8-9). Quite simply, if you mess up, fess up to God so He can relieve you from the burden of sin!

There’s perhaps no better example of this than the story of King David’s sin with Bathsheba. You know the story: David saw Bathsheba, lusted for her and slept with her. To make matters worse, he tried to cover up his sin by tricking Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah, into making him think he got her pregnant. When that failed, David saw to it that Uriah got killed in battle. In one fell swoop, David managed to commit adultery, bear false witness and murder—three direct violations of the Ten Commandments.

So what did he do? Did he give up on life? Did he run from God and never go back to church again? No. Instead of running from God, he ran to God. He simply laid out everything he was feeling to God and offered no excuses. Consider some of the things David says in Psalm 51:3-4: “For I acknowledge my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against You, You only, have I sinned, and done this evil in Your sight.”

David says a lot in these two verses. First, he acknowledges his sin. He doesn’t make excuses like, “Bathsheba shouldn’t have been showing off her body on the roof” or “Well, Uriah would probably have died in battle anyway . . .”

Next, he lays out that his sin bothered him. He says, “my sin is always before me.” David had a guilty conscience. Have you ever had a guilty conscience over something you’ve done wrong? Is there a bigger weight to carry?

Finally, David acknowledges that his sin was against God. Sure, Bathsheba, Uriah and even David were hurt by David’s sins, but the sin was against God. By saying this, David shows that he knows and understands that God is above all humanity. When we sin, we are rebelling against the ultimate authority, the One that created all life. Recognizing that our sin is against God, regardless of whom it might hurt, is an act of humility. David humbled himself before God. 

Oh, and remember that “time of refreshing” we read about in Acts 3? Although there was a punishment to bear for his sins, David eventually became refreshed—or relieved—from his sins, and resumed his walk with God (2 Samuel 12:1-23).

So, what do we do when we sin? We go to God as David did in humility. We acknowledge that what we did was wrong and we repent. It’s not a complicated process, and it’s one that you’re probably already familiar with. However, there is one more step we need to take once we have repented.

Not done learning

As mentioned, I learned from my first accident to slow down in bad weather. When I had my second accident, there was bad weather as well. It was a rainy night and there was some standing water on the road. It was a 45-miles-per-hour zone, but I had already taken the precaution to slow down to about 40. However, when I hit that standing water, I began to hydroplane, lost control of my car and rolled it over several times, eventually landing upside down on a guardrail. Why did this happen? I had slowed down, seemingly learning my lesson from my first accident. So why did I have this second, much worse, accident?

I had neglected something equally important with my car. This particular car was a rear-wheel drive V8, with a lot of power. I grew up in the country where the smell of burning rubber was as natural as the smell of alfalfa and the chirping of crickets on a warm summer’s night. Let’s just say I knew good and well my rear tires had no tread on them, and who was responsible for removing it.

Preventative maintenance

With mistakes we make in life, repenting is only half the battle. Consider what Jesus Christ said in Matthew 12:43-45: “When an unclean spirit goes out of a man, he goes through dry places, seeking rest, and finds none. Then he says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when he comes, he finds it empty, swept, and put in order. Then he goes and takes with him seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter and dwell there; and the last state of that man is worse than the first. So shall it also be with this wicked generation.”

Christ uses the example of a man who is possessed by a demon. The demon is removed from the man, but the man doesn’t really do anything to improve how he lived his life. In time, not only does the demon come back, but brings seven more demons with him. The man winds up in much worse shape than he was before.

Just getting rid of the bad habit of driving too fast in bad weather didn’t prevent this second accident. Because I didn’t replace the bald tires on my car, when I hit that patch of water, I lost control of my car and had a terrible crash. It wasn’t just a matter of speed; it was a lack of basic maintenance on my car that was the issue this time.

Repentance alone isn’t a cure for recovering from a spiritual mistake. Amos 5:14 says, “Seek good and not evil, that you may live.” It’s not enough to just try and avoid making mistakes. We must put good into our lives as well.

How do you seek good? We need spiritual preventative maintenance to stay in control of our lives. Seeking God though prayer, study and meditation are all excellent ways to make sure we keep our lives in good working order.

Take control

I learned the hard way—on two separate occasions—that ultimately, the key to dealing with making mistakes in life is a matter of control. Take control of the situation, before it takes control of you. Whether that is slowing down to avoid making a mistake, or being proactive to fill your mind with God’s Word, you alone are in control of the situation!