It had been a terribly hard day in my small multi-grade classroom in San Marcos, Texas. The students were noisy and rude, and an angry parent had given me some not-so-nice words.
Maybe I was in the wrong profession. Maybe I wasn’t cut out to be a teacher. Maybe I should just quit, and face the fact that I had failed.
Then, as I started thinking about it more, I realized that Jesus, the Greatest Teacher who ever lived, also failed. He only had 12 students. They heard his lessons every day and even lived with him, yet not one of them really understood his message while he was alive. One betrayed him, one cursed and swore that he didn’t know him, and all of them disputed about “which of them was to be regarded as the greatest”—and that was AFTER he told them he would die for them (Matthew 26:69-75; Luke 22:14-53; see also Matthew 20:17-28). And these were the guys who were supposed to lead the church!
Talk about failure!
Would you have died for such rude and rebellious students? I wouldn’t have! Not only did Jesus die for them, and for the wayward crowds, he also went to his grave as an apparent failure.
Christians hear repeatedly that they ought to be like Jesus. But I don’t want to be like Jesus in some ways. I don’t want to be a teacher who fails. I don’t do well with discouraging days or unruly, thick-headed students. I get depressed and begin to wonder if the world (or at least the teaching profession) wouldn’t be better off without me.
To put it mildly, I like success. In fact, I thrive on it. I don’t mean success eventually. I mean success right now—success I can see, smell, savor, grasp, touch, and best of all, report to the conference office or local school constituency. “Look at me!” I want to shout to all who will listen.
I don’t want to be like Jesus. I don’t want to be like the teacher who failed. I want to be greater than Jesus. I want everything I touch to be a shining success. The only problem is that my desire hasn’t come true. I am not greater than Jesus. I also fail.
However, I have discovered that apparent failure and ultimate failure are not the same thing.
I remember the first evangelistic series I ever preached. It was in Corsicana, Texas, a town of 26,000 people with an Adventist church of 12 aging members. I was 26 at the time and longed for young Adventists to come to the meetings to make connections with young people from the community also coming to the meetings.
I discovered there was a young Adventist student at the local community college. I visited his dorm room, prayed with him, and pled with him to attend my meetings. He never did. I failed. In fact, by that time I had managed to fail at a lot of things. In the spring of 1969, I turned in my ministerial credentials. Unlike Jesus, I quit. I even decided to give up Adventism and Christianity.
A couple of years later, I was driving across north-central Texas and detoured off the interstate to buy something for my wife at the grocery store in Keene, the location of an Adventist college. While going through the front door, I was stopped by a young man.
“Aren’t you George Knight?” he asked.
I said yes.
“Do you remember me?”
Now at that point I usually try to fake it, but I was so discouraged that I just told him the truth.
“You visited me in my dorm room in Corsicanna. That visit was the turning point in my life. I am now studying to be a Seventh-day Adventist minister.”
I realized I had been successful and didn’t know it. I had planted seeds that had germinated underground where I couldn’t see them. My problem was that I also wanted to see the seeds grow and harvest them—all in a very short period of time.
What I had to learn is that even though one may plant, it is others who water, and still others who harvest. Meanwhile, the Holy Spirit is quietly working in hearts at each stage of a person’s spiritual development. It was the same way in Christ’s teaching ministry. By all human standards, he was an outward failure. Even though he had planted and watered, it wasn’t until after his resurrection and Pentecost that fruit came to maturity on every hand.
Teachers experience the same thing.
We need to take strength from his experience, knowing that with his help, we are planting seeds for the kingdom of God. Don’t give up, even if you feel like a failure!
This blog is adapted from the article “Jesus: The Teacher Who Failed” by George R. Knight.
Note: Article written and posted in English