Editor’s note: This article was adapted from “Losers and Winners, Saints and Sinners: How to Finish Well in the Race of Life” (New York: Warner Faith, 2005). Used by permission.

Maybe your parents gave you a name you don’t particularly like. I heard about a mom and dad who decided to give their child the very curious name of “Odd.” Poor kid! Obviously that invited ridicule and mockery all through grade school, high school and college. But the jibes made him want to achieve, and he became a very successful lawyer.

Because people ribbed him his entire life, he decided that upon his death, he wanted an unmarked tombstone placed at his grave so his name would never be uttered again. His wishes were honored. The problem was when people saw this tombstone without an inscription, they almost always said, “That’s odd.”

Jesus gave to His disciple Simon the new name of Rock. Why? He knew Peter would eventually grow into the name. His given name, Simon, means “a listener” or “a hearer.” Upon seeing him for the first time, Jesus essentially gave him a nickname – a new title to describe the person he was going to become. He said, “Your name is going to be Peter or ‘Rock'” (the literal meaning).

I think the others might have done a little snickering at that point. If there was anything Simon was not, it was a rock. A rock is stable and solid. Peter was given to the emotion of a moment. He could be hotheaded. But God saw him for what he would become.

We know Jesus knew what He was getting. He knew Peter would fail. He knew Peter would fall short. He even knew Peter would ultimately deny Him. But Jesus also knew Peter would make a comeback. He knew that after his early failure, “the rock” would courageously serve the Lord all the days of his life. He looked right through him, and He saw potential.

In the same way, Jesus looks at you and doesn’t see you just for what you are. He sees you for what you can become. We see a lump of clay; God sees a beautiful vase. We see a blank canvas; God sees a finished painting. We see a lump of coal; God sees a refined diamond. We see problems; God sees solutions. We see failures; God sees potential success. We see a Simon; God sees an apostle Peter.

God can take the failures of our lives and use them for His glory. That doesn’t mean we should go out and intentionally fail. It means that when we do, we can learn from those mistakes. The doorway to success is entered through the hallway of failure. If at first you don’t succeed, relax – you are just like the rest of us!

Have you ever tried to do something for God that was a complete failure?

It may have been a prayer for someone to get better physically, who actually got worse. I remember once a friend was feeling nauseated and asked if I would pray. I did just that, and his nausea increased! He said he would never ask me to pray for him again!

Perhaps you tried to do some good work in your community and it failed.

Let me say to you: Thank you for your failures! I would far rather try and fail than never do anything at all. Besides, failure is not always such a bad thing. We learn from our mistakes. Failure can indeed teach success.

Successful people know how to handle failure. Many failed initially only to succeed later. Albert Einstein failed at math before he discovered the theory of relativity. Isaac Newton had to have an apple fall on his head before discovering the theory of gravity. Michael Jordan failed to make his high-school basketball team before making the NBA.

You might say Peter was the patron saint of ordinary people. In short, Peter was a man just like us. The point: God can take an ordinary person and do something extraordinary. Jesus did not choose the apostles because they were great. Rather, their greatness came as a result of Jesus’ choosing them. In the same way, God did not choose you because you were great. You aren’t. Nor am I. Yet in His grace and mercy, He can do something wonderful with both of our lives.

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