Joel Osteen - Don't Be Defined By Your Mistakes
I want to talk to you today about "Don't be defined by your mistakes". We can all look back and see times where we gave into temptation, we let our guard down and compromised, we were sloppy and didn't handle a situation the way we should. It's easy to be defined by one mistake in life, by one moment, by divorce, by a business that didn't make it, by how we raised our children. The enemy is called the accuser, he would love for you to go through life letting that one mistake, that one bad season caused you to be condemned, where you're not passionate about your dreams. But that mistake didn't stop God's plan. You may have failed, but you are not a failure. That was a moment in your life, that was one season, it doesn't determine your future. Don't let that mistake define who you are. If you go around wearing like negative labels "Divorced", "Addicted", "Failed", "Compromised", it will keep you from the fullness of what God has in store.
If you're a baseball fan, you may remember the name Bill Buckner, he was a star player for the Boston Red Sox for many years. He had more hits than Joe DiMaggio or Ted Williams. One season he won the batting title, had the highest batting average in all of baseball. He was a great teammate, a leader in the clubhouse, but in 1986 during the world series he went to field a slow-rolling ground ball and missed it. It went right between his legs and the other team scored and tied the game. That opponent went on to win the world series, the fans were so upset so disgruntled, they never let him live it down. He became known as the player, that missed the ground ball.
Despite his illustrious career, despite all of his hits, all the runs he scored, they didn't remember any of that, all they remembered was that one bad play, that one mistake. Bill Buckner passed away earlier this year, 33 years after that game. The first line in the National Associated Press article was Bill Buckner, a star hitter, who became known for making one of the most infamous plays in baseball.
People will try to define you by your mistakes, they'll try to stick labels on you, remind you of all the times you failed, the times you compromised, the times you didn't measure up. Sadly, some people will choose to remember your failures more than your victories. Like with Bill Buckner, despite all the good you do, despite the time you make sacrifices to help others, you're honoring God, but when you make one mistake, when you go through one bad season, don't be surprised if people don't try to convince you to live condemned like you're washed up.
"Well, God's not going to bless you, you missed the ground ball, you went through the divorce, you gave into temptation, just sit on the sidelines". No, don't let people label you. They don't determine your destiny, they cannot stop what God has ordained for your life. The only one that can stop you is you. If you let your mistakes define you, if you wear labels that people stick on you, if you believe the lies from the accuser - that will keep you from your destiny. And when someone keeps bringing up your past mistakes, trying to get you to live condemned, they may not realize it, but they're working for the accuser.
The enemy uses people. You can't stop them from putting labels on you, but you can take them right off: "I am not defined by my mistakes, I'm defined by what God says about me. I'm forgiven, I'm redeemed, my past is over, my mistakes are behind me, my failures are in my yesterday and you know what? I'm not bringing them into today". God's mercy is new every morning receive that mercy and move forward. What about the failure? It's in the past. What about the mistake? It's covered by mercy. What about the divorce, the compromise, the times have blown it? That's over and done. Life is too short to let what happen in the past to keep you from the great things God has in your future.
After Jesus was crucified and rose from the dead, he appeared to some of the disciples as they were meeting in a room. Thomas wasn't there that day. They went out afterwards and found him, they thought Thomas would be excited to know that they had seen the Lord. Thomas wasn't buying it, he said "Unless I see him with my own eyes, unless I feel the nail prints in his hands I'm not going to believe". Eight days later all the disciples were in a room, Jesus came walking through the door, he went right up to Thomas, held out his hand and said "See the nail prints, feel the scars in my side". Thomas fell on his knees and said, "Lord, I believe".
What's interesting is Thomas doubted that one time, but he's become known as "Doubting Thomas". People have stuck their labels on him. You would think that he had doubted his whole life, that he was always questioning his faith, but this was just eight days of his life. It's easy to judge people by one mistake. It's easy to let one failure define who you are. If Thomas would have worn that label "Doubter, failure", he would have missed his purpose. And we hear a lot about doubting Thomas, what we don't hear much about is: Thomas is the one that took the Gospel to India, it's believed that he took the message of Christ further than any disciple. I've been to India many times with my father, it seems like every other believer is named Thomas, he made a great impact with his life.
We call him "Doubting Thomas", you know what God calls him? Believing Thomas, forgiving Thomas, anointed Thomas, favored Thomas. In the same way God is not judging you by one mistake, by one bad season. Why are you beating yourself up? Why are you wearing labels that people have stuck on you? Why have you settled where you are? There is an incredible future awaiting you. You haven't made too many mistakes, you haven't missed your chance. If you'll remove the labels that are telling you everything you're not, how you blown it, you doubted it, you failed - that's in the past, that doesn't have to stop you. The enemy would love for you to go through life living condemned, wearing in negative labels: "Doubter", "Failure", "Divorce", "Unworthy". Do yourself a favor, take off those labels and put on what God says about you: "Forgiven", "Redeemed", "Blessed", "Qualified", "Victorious".
Sometimes we make mistakes with good intentions. Bill Buckner wasn't trying to miss the ground ball, he wasn't being undisciplined, slacking off, he was being his best and still missed it. You may have done your best, but the relationship didn't make it. You gave it your all, but the business didn't succeed. Like Thomas, your heart is right, you love God, but you didn't handle the situation the proper way and now it sets you back. This is what happened to Moses: as a young man God gave him the dream, that he would deliver the Israelites out of slavery. He knew he was supposed to do it, but he got in a hurry and did it out of God's timing. He saw a Hebrew slave being mistreated by an Egyptian supervisor, he didn't think anyone was watching and he killed the supervisor.
Moses wasn't trying to make a mistake, he wasn't being defiant, he just made a bad choice. He had to flee for his life, he spent 40 years on the backside of the desert in hiding. It looked like that one mistake stopped his destiny, that that one bad choice disqualified him. I'm sure in the desert thoughts told him, "Moses, you're a failure. What were you thinking? Why are you so impatient? You blew it". He was wearing all these negative labels. He thought that mistake would define him. The good news is, God doesn't judge us by one mistake or by two mistakes or for some of us about 10,000 mistakes. God's calling on your life is irrevocable, he doesn't change his mind. Moses had given up, he had accepted that he would never accomplish his dream, but God doesn't give up. You may have counted yourself out - God has already counted you in. He chose you before you could choose him. That mistake is not who you are, it's what you did, it didn't cancel your destiny. That one bad season doesn't determine the rest of your life.
Forty years later when Moses was 80 years old, God came to him and said: "Now, Moses, it's time, go deliver my people". I can imagine Moses nearly passed out, "God are you sure? You mean after I failed, after I blew it, after I was impatient, you're still going to use me"? Here's a key: God doesn't define us by our mistakes, he refines us by our mistakes. He will take those failures and those wrong turns and use it to do a work in us. The scripture says Moses became the most humble man in all the earth. Out in the desert he learned to be patient, he learned to trust God in a new way. If you'll keep the right attitude, God will use your failures to get you prepared for where he's taking you.
Like Moses you may have blown it, you feel like you're out in the desert, convinced that you've seen your best days. Now get ready, your time is coming, God is about to do a new thing. That relationship that didn't work out, that's not how your story ends, God has someone else coming, someone better than you've imagined. That addiction that you're struggling with, it is not your destiny, that is a season, not a lifetime. Don't let it become permanent, take off that label that says addicted, put on some new labels: free, whole, restored.
My father was married at an early age, and unfortunately the marriage didn't work out. He had to resign from his church, denominational leaders told him that he would never pastor again. He didn't know any better, he put their labels on him: failure, washed up, unqualified. He didn't get into the marriage, thinking it was going to fail. He had good intentions, but sometimes life doesn't turn out the way we thought, that's when the enemy goes to work overtime, trying to convince you to let that mistake define who you are. My father took the bait he lived condemned, ashamed, embarrassed. He thought that mistake would define the rest of his life. So he got out of the ministry and started selling insurance.
One day he learned what I'm telling you, that our failures don't cancel God's plan. God has already taken into account every mistake we would ever make. My father took off the negative labels, he stopped seeing himself as washed up and started seeing himself as forgiving, as redeemed, as a child of the Most High. He got his passion back and got back in the ministry, started pastoring a church. Eventually met my mother, they fell in love and were married for almost 50 years. Daddy pastored Lakewood for 40 years. It would have never happened if he had let that mistake define who he was. If he would have gone around wearing negative labels, down on himself, he would have missed his purpose.
You may have made mistakes but you have to learn to forgive yourself. Quit beating yourself up over what didn't work out. Sometimes we can forgive others easier than we can forgive ourselves. People tell me, "Joel, I didn't raise my children right, I blew my marriage, wasted years of my life on drugs". That's on the past, you can't change what's behind you, but you can do something about what's in front of you. God's mercy is bigger than any mistake that you've made, he can still get you to where you're supposed to be, but you have to do something important - forgive yourself, quit dwelling on everything you're done wrong, how you should have been more disciplined, how you didn't control your temper. The moment you ask God to forgive you, he forgave you. Not only that, he doesn't remember your mistakes. Why don't you quit remembering what God has forgotten? Quit replaying your failures, quit reliving your mistakes, thinking of the times that you didn't measure up - that's just making you more guilty, more condemned.
When Jesus was about to be crucified, he told Peter that he would deny him three times, before the rooster crowed that night. Peter said, "Not me, Lord, I'm your main disciple, I'll never let you down". Later that evening Peter did exactly what Jesus said. What's interesting is Jesus already knew that Peter was going to fail, he already knew he was going to blow it, but he chose him as his disciple anyway. You would think God would choose people more disciplined, more faithful, more committed, but God knows we're not perfect, he knows we're going to make mistakes. And Peter was so down on himself, so ashamed, the scripture says he went out and wept bitter tears. Was it long after that, that Jesus was crucified, Peter never had the chance to tell him that he was sorry, he had to live with this guilt, this heaviness.
Two ladies went to the tomb to check on Jesus body, an angel appeared said, "Don't be afraid, Jesus has risen. Now go tell his disciples and Peter that he is alive". Of all the people God could have mentioned at that critical time, the only one he specifically pointed out was Peter. God was showing us, "I don't define you by your mistakes, I don't cancel your destiny because you failed". Fifty days later the church was about to be birthed, they needed someone to give the inaugural address, someone to speak at this historic event. I can imagine, the disciples talking: "Matthew, you should do it. You're a great speaker, you would be good. "John, you should do it, you're very powerful". Then someone spoke up and said, "No, Peter it's supposed to be you, I remember Jesus said, 'you are Peter and upon this rock I will build my church'".
All the disciples chimed in "Yes, Peter you're definitely the one". He said, "There's no way, fifty days ago I denied him, I blew it, I failed, I'm ashamed, it was my worst moment". He was wearing all these labels, telling him that he had missed his destiny. Just as he's about to walk away condemned, guilty, something rose up on the inside, he said "Hey, wait a minute, I'm not defined by my mistakes, one bad night doesn't cancel what God has ordained for me". He stood up and spoke to the crowd: three thousand people came to know the Lord. Maybe you too have failed, the good news is: God already knew it was going to happen, it didn't stop your destiny, you're still going to accomplish your dream, you're still going to have a happy family, you're still going to meet the right person. Now do your part, take off the negative labels, quit dwelling on what you don't deserve, how many times you blown it, God is saying: get back in the game. If Peter can stand up fifty days after he denied Christ and start the church, then you too can still become all you were created to be.
Matthew chapter 3, Jesus was baptized in the Jordan river. When he came up out of the water this voice boomed out announcing that he was the Son of God, it was a significant moment, Jesus ministry was about to begin. You would think Jesus would go back to Galilee where all the people were, start teaching and healing, but right after this first public endorsement, right after this sign of God's favor, the scripture says, "Jesus was led by the spirit into the desert to be tempted for forty days". If you would have seen Jesus out in the desert, you could have thought, "I just saw him come out of this glorious moment, I just heard the voice saying he was the Son of God, what's he doing out here? This is a mistake, he's off course".
Sometimes what we think is a mistake is really the hand of God. It doesn't say the enemy led him into the desert, it says the spirit led him into the desert. There will be times God takes you into things you don't understand, feels like a failure, the door closed, the person walked away, the contract didn't go through. You could be down on yourself, thinking "God, I was being my best, what did I do wrong"? How do you know that wasn't the spirit leading you out there? Some doors are supposed to close, some people are supposed to walk away, some opportunities are not supposed to last. On the way to our destiny, like with Jesus, God will lead us into a desert experience, into something that doesn't make sense. And if we let what seems like a failure define us, then we will miss what God really had in mind.
As soon as Jesus passed the test, after those forty days, Jesus came out of the desert and started his ministry. What looked like a failure, what looked like he was off course, was really leading him to a new level of his destiny. Quit being discouraged over what didn't work out. You did your best, but the business didn't make, it feels like a failure, no, that's not how your story ends, God led you into the desert because he has something much bigger in your future, he had to close that door to get you to the fullness of what he has in store.
Every silent season is not the enemy. Every desert experience is not a bad thing - you don't know what God is up to. When we go through what seems like a failure, it's easy to think, "Joel, I don't have God's favor now, nothing's working out". No, stay in faith, you're on the verge of a new level, God's about to take you where you've never been. Now keep passing these tests, other people may judge you about where you are, look down on you, think you're finished. "Man, you're in the desert, you're way off course". Don't pay any attention, God has the final say. They may discount you now, but your time is coming, they will see you promoted, honored, in a position of greater favor.
A friend of mine pastored a church for thirty years, very successful, he poured his heart and soul into it and he saw God's blessings and favor. But a few years back things begin to go downhill, so he started working harder than ever, he would meet with members in their home at night, started a 6:00 a.M. Prayer meeting, did everything he could to keep it going, but instead of increasing it kept decreasing. Eventually he saw the writing on the wall and had to turn it over to another group, they came and brought their own members and started afresh and anew. After 30 years he left there, feeling like a failure. They didn't give him a going-away party, nobody said "Thank you". Some of his peers look down on him, saw him as a quitter: "Why didn't you stick with it? Why didn't you push through it"? He felt shame and embarrassment, all those years of work had nothing really to show for it. He thought his legacy would continue, but this new group came in, changed the name of the church, basically just bought the building.
He couldn't understand it. After such a long season a favor, how could it come to an end so abruptly? He was certain that was the enemy closing the door. The truth is, it was the spirit leaving him into the desert, it was God taking him through a silent season not to leave him there, but to increase him, to take him somewhere that he had never been.
A couple of years later he had the opportunity to work with another ministry. Today he's impacting more people in a week, than he would in a whole year at his church. He and his wife never dreamed they'd see this much influence and favor. Some of the same peers that looked down on him, made fun of him, now they want him to come and help their church. They're celebrating what he's doing.
Maybe what you think is a failure is really just a desert experience, it's all a part of God's plan to get you to where you've never dreamed. You think you've missed it, "Why did this door closed? Why do these people walk away? What did I do wrong"? Nothing, it's God leading you. On the other side of that silent season is a new level. Don't judge your future about where you are in the desert, you can't let what you don't understand, what does it make sense caused you to get better, sour, give up on your dreams. No, keep doing the right thing, keep being good to people, keep honoring God and like my friend, you're going to come into something more than you've imagined. When you look back, you will realize, it wasn't the enemy stopping me, it was the spirit leading me, it was God taking me through a silent season, so he could launch me further than I thought possible.
My challenge today: don't let what you've been through taint the rest of your life. God wouldn't have allowed it if it was going to keep you from your purpose. And whether you brought the trouble on yourself or whether the spirit led you into the desert, one thing I can assure you: God is not finished with you, your mistakes did not cancel your destiny, you wouldn't be alive if there wasn't something awesome in your future. Now, why don't you take off all the negative labels and put on some new labels: forgiven, redeemed, child of the Most High God? If you'll do this, I believe and declare, despite your mistakes, despite your failures, despite your doubts, you are still going to leave your mark and become who you were created to be. Right now guilt is leaving, discouragement is leaving, favor is coming, promotion is coming, breakthroughs are coming, healing is coming, the fullness of your destiny, in Jesus name.