Story by Lana Sweeten-Shults
Photos by Gillian Rea
GCU News Bureau
Grammar nerds had to have appreciated Ashley Wooldridge’s explanation of how God has a plan for our lives, no matter how much we might mess up — no matter how much we feel we might have disappointed Him.
“Don’t ever use a period where God puts a comma,” he said.
If there’s one thing he wanted those gathered at Chapel on Monday at Grand Canyon University to remember about his talk, it was that “God does not use periods in your life. He only uses commas, if you will allow him to use a comma and move you on.”
More plainly put, no matter your failures, God doesn’t stop believing in you. He always has a plan for you even though you might think what you have done has disappointed Him so much that He simply will stop using you in that plan.
Wooldridge, the senior pastor of Christ’s Church of the Valley in Peoria, spoke about failure and those feelings of disappointment that may lead us to step away from Him even though one part of the Bible, John 21, illustrates to us that God is always with us.
He started his talk by sharing with the GCU Arena audience that one time he was sure he disappointed God. It was while he was preaching at church.
“Everything is going well,” he said. “About 20 minutes into the message, I throw to a video that’s a live story of these people that were wrestling with forgiveness themselves. And so I’m sitting on stage just like this, and the room’s all dark and people are watching this video. I’m looking out and I’m thinking, ‘Man, God, You’re so good, You’re really moving in this service today.’”
That’s when the stage manager walked out on stage – something he never does – and whispered in Wooldridge’s ear that his zipper was down.
“I feel like when I preach, my job is to remove all barriers to people hearing God’s word. That’s really important to me,” he said. “ … I said, has anyone heard a word I said this whole entire time? I mean, how disappointed is God in me right now, right?”
Wooldridge laughed, then asked what it is in your life you feel might be disappointing God the most. He said we all have these kinds of failures – whether it’s failing in school and disappointing our parents, or struggling with drug or alcohol addictions.
And here’s the trap we fall into, he said: “We’re not really sure if God still has big plans for us because we often feel God’s disappointed. Can God still use us?”
Wooldridge then told the story of Jesus and the Miraculous Catch of Fish from John 21:
“Most of us know that Peter failed big time. Right after Jesus was arrested, Peter fails Jesus, not just once, but three times. … You have nothing on Peter. … We’re told the third time, he’s around a campfire and he denies even knowing Jesus. The Book of Luke tells us that right then, Jesus turned and looked eyeball to eyeball with Peter right as he’s denying Him. Have you ever had someone catch you in the middle of failure and sin? … Those are the worst kind of failure sometimes.”
Jesus gets the disciples back together and tells them to go out and change the world; instead, Peter decides to go fishing — and not recreational fishing. He returns to his old job as a career fisherman.
“He’s going back to his old way of life. Why?” Wooldridge asks.
He says that not only does Peter return to his old job, his fellow disciples decide to do the same: “When you let a failure pull you aside and get you off track, you bring other people with you.”
They fished all night but didn’t catch one fish.
“Could it be Jesus wants them to know when you get off track with me, your life is going to come up empty?” Wooldridge asked.
That’s when Jesus, whom the disciples didn’t recognize at first, had a simple solution – to throw the net on the other side of the boat. Their catch was so big they couldn’t haul in the net.
“Here’s what I want you to know,” Wooldridge said. “The difference between success and failure is oftentimes just the width of the boat.”
He said it’s easy to get off track in life. It’s easy to feel disappointed and think that God feels the same. But even when you’re falling away, God is always close by, and it takes just a step, sometimes just the width of a boat, to get back to Him.
“So what did you do this weekend? Did you spend it partying or binge-watching Netflix, or chasing that next sexual experience somehow? … It didn’t feel empty in the moment. It doesn’t. Sin never does. But you always wake up the next morning with an empty heart.”
Wooldridge grew up playing sports and put it this way: If you mess up enough times on the field, the coach won’t leave you in the game. You’re sitting on the bench.
But that’s not what God does.
In speaking with Peter, Jesus asks Peter three times to make sure he knows there is nothing that he could have ever done to pull him far enough away from God.
“Failure is an event, never a person,” Wooldridge said, looking at his own failures in college and telling himself, “I’m not sure God can use my life for anything big — look how disappointing I must be to God. I wonder if some of you feel the same way.”
Then he returned to that story of Jesus and the Miraculous Catch of Fish from John 21. “Jesus said, ‘Peter, go feed my sheep. What are you doing back fishing? Failure is an event. It’s not final unless you let it be.’”
Wooldridge told GCU students that their generation has the ability to change the world but that it’s going to take some of them taking that small step back toward God to make that kind of impact.
“Don’t ever use a period where God puts a comma,” he repeated.
● Chapel replay.
● Next Monday: No Chapel because of the Presidents’ Day holiday.
You can reach GCU News Bureau senior writer Lana Sweeten-Shults at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 602-639-7901. Follow her on Twitter @LanaSweetenShul.