How many times has a single event, or an unfortunate failure, in a person’s life defined his or her life from that point on? Why is it that we are so hesitant to extend a second chance, or to let the victories in a person’s life define them instead of their defeats? Fortunately for Jonah and many others in Scripture—and very fortunately for us—our God is a God of the second chances. What God did for Jonah by giving him a second chance at success, He did for a number of other saints in biblical history. And He stands ready to do the same for us.
Many times I get the feeling from talking with some professing Christians, I get the impression that they believe if we ever make a mistake, it is over—that God can never use us again. Now if anyone should have thought in his own heart that God was through with him, it ought to have been the man Jonah. And yet, “…
the word of the LORD came to Jonah the second time … – Jonah 3:1
Not only was Jonah restored to fellowship with God, but he went on to preach perhaps the greatest revival that the world has ever known. God specializes in reaching out to us in the midst of our failure, for He knows that we are dust, and He knows that we are frail. And while He never condones our disobedience and rebellion, throughout the Bible we see God giving His saints a another chance.
Moses’ world was destroyed when he was forty years old because he murdered an Egyptian official. His only hope was to run to the back side of the desert, where he spent the next forty years of his life—wondering if his life was finished. After those forty years God restored Moses to service, making him the leader, liberator, and lawgiver of hundreds of thousands of Hebrew slaves.
Did God give Moses a second chance after he committed murder and never even paid any official penalty for his sin? Yes. It is likely that you have never committed murder, but if God gave Moses a second chance, He will do the same for you.
David was one of the greatest men in the Bible, but he committed open, flagrant, and grievous sins. On a night when he should have been in battle with his people, he committed adultery with the wife of one of his most honorable soldiers. And when he could not cover up the woman’s pregnancy, he arranged her husband’s death. Adultery. Uncleanness. Murder. Deceit. In spite of it all, God gave David a second chance. Psalms 32 and 51 reveal the process of repentance and cleansing that David went through before he went on to become Israel’s most godly king. After being given a second chance by God, David filled page after page with the hymns of praise and thanksgiving which we read in the Psalms.
The Prodigal Son
One day a son came to his father and said, “I want everything that is coming to me, and I want it now. I’m tired of living here at home, and I’m leaving.” He collected his inheritance and took off for a far country. Now, if his father had been like some fathers today, he might have said, “Good riddance! I paid him off to get him out of my life. He is gone—thank goodness!” But you get the impression as you read the story in Luke 15 that his father anguished over this and might often have looked down the road to see if perhaps his wayward son was coming home.
It is likely that the prodigal son thought that, at best, he might be given a place to live if he returned home, but certainly not be given a second chance at sonship. But when he returned he was welcomed like royalty, and restored with a robe and a ring. Did the prodigal son get a second chance? Yes, he did.
While Simon Peter was supposed to be praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, he was sleeping. When he was supposed to be following the arrested Lord, he was running away. When he should have been comforting the disciples, he was warming himself by the fire of his enemies. And when he should have been defending the Lord, he denied—three times—that he even knew Him.
Then, in John 21, there was a wonderful recommissioning ceremony. The Lord Jesus came alongside this disciple who had so flagrantly failed, and loved him. For every one of his denials, the Lord Jesus recommission him. Three times in John 21 Jesus said, “Simon Peter, do you love me? Feed my sheep.” Simon was restored to ministry and to service. And do you know who preached the greatest sermon in the New Testament? Simon Peter on the Day of Pentecost—when a huge revival broke out (Acts 2). God loved Peter back into fellowship and restored him to a place of ministry.
When the Apostle Paul went out on his first missionary journey with Barnabas, he took along a young man named John Mark. About halfway through this journey, John Mark decided that being a missionary wasn’t all that great. He left Paul and Barnabas and returned to Jerusalem. Later, when Paul and Barnabas were going to visit the churches they established on their first trip, Barnabas wanted to take John Mark again, and Paul refused (Acts 13:13; 15:37–39).
So Paul and Barnabas parted ways, Paul taking Silas and Barnabas taking John Mark. It might appear that Paul never got over John Mark’s failure, but if you fast-forward to the end of Paul’s ministry you discover that he had given John Mark a second chance. In 2 Timothy 4:11 Paul asks Timothy to “get Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for ministry.” John Mark had gone from defector to disciple because of a second chance.
God gave a murderer, an adulterer, a rebellious son, a coward, and a quitter—not to mention a hard-hearted prophet—a second chance. These second chances don’t come overnight, nor do they always happen the same way. Let’s look at some of the ways God has gotten the attention of His saints in order to give them a second chance.
Are you a second-chance saint? Describe a significant “second chance” that God gave you.
The doorway to Moses’ second chance was separation. The Bible says that after Moses failed, he was sent to the Midian desert, and for forty years he was separated from everyone except Jethro’s family. What was God doing? He was making Moses mature—putting a bridle on his passions—so that he would be ready for his second chance when the time was right. What do you think Moses thought about for 40 years? Probably the same thing you would if you hadn’t been used by God for four decades: “I’m finished.” Fortunately, our thoughts are not God’s thoughts.
Have you experienced a second-chance restoration via separation?
While it took separation for Moses, for David it took confrontation. Since David wasn’t owning up to his failures, he needed to be confronted. God sent a prophet named Nathan to David to tell him a little parable, a story, about a humble Israelite who had been wronged. David was so furious that anything like that had happened in his kingdom that he exploded:
“Whoever has done that should be killed!” Then Nathan stepped back and stuck his finger in David’s face and said, “David, you are the man” – 2 Samuel 12:7
And immediately it was all over. David was found out. But through Nathan’s confrontation, David’s healing and restoration began. David became a king with a second chance.
Have you experienced a second-chance restoration via confrontation?
God dealt with the prodigal son through desperation. He had wasted his entire inheritance and was eating out of the pigs’ trough. His desperate situation caused him to come to his senses (Luke 15:17). God took him so low, put him so far down, and took so much away from him that all he had left was desperation. And desperation became the prodigal’s doorway to a second chance.
Have you experienced a second-chance restoration via desperation?
For Peter, the Lord put on a drama, a demonstration (Matthew 26). When Peter was making boastful statements about how much he loved the Lord, Jesus told him, “Assuredly, I say to you that this night, before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.”I’m sure Peter thought that was impossible. There was no way he would deny Jesus. Later, in the midst of his denials, it was the crowing of the rooster that brought Peter to his senses. That drama broke Peter—“he went out and wept bitterly”—and ultimately it led to his second chance.
Have you experienced a second-chance restoration via demonstration?
What did God do with John Mark? He brought Barnabas alongside to affirm him. John Mark didn’t need separation or confrontation (Paul’s remedies), but affirmation—Barnabas’s second-chance strategy. John Mark needed a loving, encouraging person to come up and put his arm around him and say, “I believe in you. And you can come back from what you did to go on and be great for God.” So God used affirmation to get John Mark through the doorway to the second chance.
Have you experienced a second-chance restoration via affirmation?
We already know God’s strategy for Jonah—isolation. He put Jonah in the belly of a huge fish where he had nothing to do but pray and no one to talk to but God. More than likely, the company of 600,000 Ninevites started looking a little more inviting after five minutes in a whale’s belly. Jonah qualified for a second chance while contemplating his potentially untimely demise, and God gave him the chance.
Have you experienced a second-chance restoration via isolation?
Regardless of the strategies God tailor-makes for His saints—regardless of the size and shape of the doorway to the second chance—everyone goes through stages of getting there. Whether the stages last forty years, as with Moses, or less than three days, as with Jonah, we need to know them. If we haven’t been through them already, we will.
Out of the six strategies/stories, which can you relate to the most, and what draws you to that specific story?
- Desperation/Prodigal Son
- Affirmation/John Mark
Which of the stories would you most likely not want to experience, why?
Certain things happen in the heart of every person who has failed God.
First of all, there is a moment of recognition. Amazingly, people who are out of fellowship with God can live in a world of denial about their sin or failure. Sometimes they go for months, even years, before admitting they have failed. Before there can ever be a second chance, there has to be a moment of recognition. The day must come when a person says, “The picture of my life that I am presenting to the world is a false picture. There is something wrong.”
Have you lived through a time of denial or absence of God? What was your state of mind? Concerns? Worries? State of mind?
Usually when a person has sinned against God and walked away from His ultimate plan, and they finally recognize what they have done, there is remorse. When we read Psalm 32 and Psalm 51, we will witness the deep remorse of a king who knew he had sinned deeply. Whether the remorse comes through tears, through humble confession, through restitution, or through prayerful confession—or maybe through all—it will come. If remorse does not come, if there is no godly sorrow over sin, there will never be gratitude for a second chance.
Have you found a season of remorse? What turned your sadness into gratitude? What was the wisdom you received through the remorse stage?
Remorse is followed by repentance. Repentance is a Middle Eastern word that describes the act of turning around when one realizes he has been going in the wrong direction. Repentance says, “I will turn around and walk another way.” To repent is not just to say you are sorry something happened (that is remorse). To repent is to say, “I am sorry this has happened, and I realize this is wrong, and I accept that what God has said about it is true, and right now I turn from my sin to God to walk in a new and righteous way.” Repentance is a prerequisite for a second chance.
Can you share an instance when you acknowledged you were in the wrong, opposed with God, and turned from it. Not just momentarily, but for good…
Usually, after repentance there is a time of reflection. Meaning, a period when we sort through all the ramifications of what has happened. That is why in almost every one of these stories there is a bit of a parenthesis between what has happened, and being reinvolved in ministry. It takes a while for the soul to heal, for the souls of those who have been hurt to heal, for trust to be reestablished. This is a time of reflection.
Do you have a healing victory that you can share?
And then, praise God, there is a time of reassignment: “Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah the second time, saying,
‘Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and preach to it the message that I tell you’ – Jonah 3:1–2.
What did God do? He recommissioned him. In John 21, when Christ was standing in front of Peter and He said, “Peter, do you love Me?” Peter said, “Yes.” What did Jesus say? He said, “Feed My sheep.” He reassigned him. When we recognize what we have done, are remorseful over it, have repented, and have had time to reflect on the whole process, then God is ready to reassign us.
Have you been recommissioned? Did you ever foresee such an opportunity?
A second chance to serve God is evidence of His grace, that He is willing to set us apart again for His purposes. But not only can His grace restore us; it can keep us from falling in the first place.
This is the grace of God that comes to us when we have failed. It is the grace that paints a pathway to the doorway of the second chance. Not every sin in our life removes us from God’s service. But when we must be removed for a time, the same grace that restores us to moment-by-moment fellowship will restore us to a lifetime of service.
Restraining grace is what led David to pray, “Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins” (Psalm 19:13). Just because God does restore us, we should not presume upon his restoring grace. Rather, we should avail ourselves of His restraining grace that keeps us in His will from the start.
Do you need a second chance from God? He offers it to you, as He did to Jonah and the others. His grace—whether in restoring or restraining—is sufficient for you (2 Corinthians 12:9).
Did you know?
Jonah, the Old Testament prophet, seemed to have a spiritual descendant in Simon Bar-Jonah, Jesus’ chief disciple (Simon Peter, the son of Jonah; Matthew 16:17). Both men fled from their assigned posts, received forgiveness and restoration, and preached a great revival after their failure: Jonah at Nineveh (Jonah 3) and Simon Bar-Jonah at Jerusalem (Acts 2). Is there something about that name?
Jeremiah, D. (1998). The runaway prophet: jonah (Study guide). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.