I have one of those “most embarrassing moments” memories from when I was 18, in my first job in Belfast. We were still in the midst of “the troubles” in Northern Ireland and there were soldiers on the street corners. I had hopped off the bus to walk the five minutes to work when I walked past two soldiers. Oh, I forgot to mention that I was trying out my brand new, ridiculously high-heeled boots. As I passed them, one of the soldiers said something suggestive, that I won’t write here. Thinking I was Miss Super Cool in my swanky boots, I tossed my hair over my shoulder, glanced back at him and said something like “get lost, creep” – at that exact moment, my feet decided to trip over each other and down I went, like the proverbial sack of potatoes, just a few feet away from the two soldiers, who stood there, smirking while a red faced me scrambled back up again and scurried away. I wasn’t injured, but my pride?…. well that’s a different story! I went a different route to work for about a year afterwards and for years afterwards my cheeks burned every time I thought about it.
It’s humiliating to stumble, isn’t it? Especially in front of others. I’m not just talking about a physical stumble – we’ve all stumbled at one time or another in our Christian walk. If you’re in a place today where you’ve stumbled, I hope this post encourages you.
What can cause us to stumble?
James 3:2 tells us that “we all stumble in many ways.”
It’s amazing how it always seems to be just when you’re in full stride; confident and feeling good about life that you suddenly seem to hit that bump in the pavement that causes you to stumble. But what causes those “bumps” that we trip over?
Here are a couple:
Pride and Haughtiness: If you’re carrying a bucketful of pride, as I was that day, thinking I was so cool, know that there is nothing that empties it out faster than a good stumble!
An Unbridled Tongue: If I had checked those nasty words before they came out of my mouth that day, and had instead looked at the path ahead and kept walking, I might not have stumbled.
James 3:2 and also the next verse to goes on to describe how our tongue, such a small part of our bodies, can stumble us if we do not have control over it:
And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. James 3:2-4
Have you stumbled? Do you know someone who has stumbled? How does one “recover” from a stumble?
Don’t Blame – Shift; Acknowledge, Repent, Move On:
Do you ever sit in a coffee shop and people watch? If you do then you’ll have observed what people usually do when they trip. They almost always look back at the pavement as though something had tripped them. It’s as if there’s something instinctive in us to want to “save face” when we stumble; we need someone or something to blame. A bit like Adam in the garden. Instead of just acknowledging his sin to God and asking God to forgive him he blamed Eve: “It was the woman you gave me who gave me the fruit, and I ate it.” (Genesis 3:12)
That leads me into the next observation on what do when we stumble, which is to surreptitiously glance around to see who might have seen it happen. We feel shame, even guilt. Sometimes fear grabs hold, a fear rooted in pride; we’re fearful of acknowledging that we’ve tripped up in case we “lose favour” with people or worse, with the Lord. But look at what 1 John 1:6-10 tells us: If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. If we claim we have not sinned, we are calling God a liar and showing that his word has no place in our hearts.
What a gracious Father we have. Slow to anger; quick to forgive (when we acknowledge and confess our sin)
Isaiah 40:30-31 (AMP)tells us: Even youths grow weary and tired, And vigorous young men stumble badly, But those who wait for the Lord [who expect, look for, and hope in Him] Will gain new strength and renew their power; They will lift up their wings [and rise up close to God] like eagles [rising toward the sun]; They will run and not become weary, They will walk and not grow tired.
Usually when I read this much loved, much quoted scripture I’m focused on the last part of the verse – I want to soar like that eagle! But look at what it says at the beginning: “even youths grow weary and tired and vigorous young men stumble badly” – Wow.
A Stumble and a Fall Are Not The Same
So you messed up? You stumbled? Isaiah 40 says to wait for the Lord and your strength will be renewed Like the eagle.
Acknowledge your sin, repent, get back up and keep walking! God isn’t waiting to beat us with a big stick when we stumble; He knows we will stumble, but He also promises that His right hand will be holding us that we won’t fall.
Psalm 37:23-24 “The Lord directs the steps of the godly. He delights in every detail of their lives. Though they stumble, they will never fall, for the Lord holds them by the hand”
A stumble and a fall are two different things!A person who stumbles gets right back up again and keeps walking. A fall is something more serious.
I had a bad fall (I’m talking about a literal, physical one) two years ago. I fell down a full flight of stairs, knocked myself unconscious and broke my arm in two places. Now, that was a fall – not a stumble!
Doesn’t Psalm 37:23-24 say that the godly wont fall because the Lord holds their hand? Yes it does – but the modern translations just use the word “fall”; the word is actually translated to mean “utterly cast down” – Wiped out; like me, falling down the stairs, knocking myself out – really doing a proper job of it!
Often when we stumble It can feel a lot like a bad fall. If you’re in that place today, be encouraged; you are not a terrible Christian, you haven’t failed. Remember what we read earlier “even youths grow weary and tired and vigorous young men stumble badly”.
God, in His loving kindness and mercy makes provision for your recovery and restoration, through repentance and forgiveness.
You might feel embarrassed for a while, but that won’t kill you; (I’ve been there often) In Psalm 37 is a beautiful promise that God has a firm hold of your hand and he will not allow any fall to ruin you – you won’t fall flat on your face, though it might feel like you have.
“Follow The Leader”
Follow and obey the leadership of The Holy Spirit. Keep in step with Him (Galatians 5:25)
God’s Word provides life-giving direction and instruction for us, with our clumsy feet: lighting our path and directing our steps.
Those who love Your law have great peace; Nothing makes them stumble. Psalm 119:165
My son, let them not escape from your sight, But keep sound wisdom and discretion, And they will be life to your soul (your inner self) And a gracious adornment to your neck (your outer self). Then you will walk on your way [of life] securely And your foot will not stumble. Proverbs 3:21-23
I have instructed you in the way of [skillful and godly] wisdom; I have led you in upright paths. When you walk, your steps will not be impeded [for your path will be clear and open]; And when you run, you will not stumble. Proverbs 4:11-12
“We all stumble in many ways”, but our Father God desires to see us get up again and keep walking, not in our own strength but in His enabling strength and power.