Kenneth Ulmer relates a story about a criminology course he took in college. He says that he "cut that class every which way but loose." But when he heard about an assignment to write a research paper, he poured himself into the project, hoping he could compensate for his frequent absences.

The professor returned Ulmer's paper with this evaluation: "Good paper, great content, great research." But on the paper was a giant F circled in red, accompanied by an explanation: "But this was not the assignment." Ulmer says that he learned a valuable lesson that day: "It does not matter how well you do what you do, if you do not do what you should do."

What a great principle to remember for completing any assignment, especially the one God has given to each of us.

If we don't understand the role God assigned us to perform in this life, how can we accurately evaluate our successes or failures?

The executive who finally receives the title of chairman, the worker who accumulates a million dollars in his 401(k) plan, and the pastor who builds a church of 10,000 may consider themselves successful...until the day they hear God say, "But that wasn't the assignment."

Similarly, some people who stumble in life through a broken marriage, bankruptcy, termination, or unrealized dreams still have the possibility of hearing God say, "Well done, good and faithful servant!"

How is that possible? When we connect our mistakes to the role God has assigned us, then what we term failure can actually become a success.

Knowing Your Assignment

So what part has God assigned to us for the years we are on earth's stage? What's our role? Simple. It's the same role that Jesus had during His 33 years here on earth.

"I glorified You (God the Father) on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do" (John 17:4).

Our role is to glorify God during the time we are on life's stage. The word glorify is one of those overused religious terms that few people really understand. To "glorify God" simply means to make God look good to other people. Glorifying God involves turning the spotlight away from us and shining it on the Divine Director of the eternal drama in which we each play a minor role. That's what Jesus did while here on earth. Jesus' words in John 17:4 could be paraphrased this way:

God, I played the part You assigned Me to play. I made You look good while I was here on earth.

In the Spotlight

What does all this have to do with our failures? Our mistakes provide some of the best opportunities for us to make God look good. A spotlight can shine in only one direction at a time. When we're successful, the spotlight is directed toward us ("Isn't she talented!" "Isn't he shrewd!" "Aren't they a model couple!"). But when we fail, our mistake gives us the opportunity to turn the spotlight away from us and onto God, who is willing to forgive and restore. That reality led to Paul's observation: "Power is perfected in weakness."

"Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.... For when I am weak, then I am strong" (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).

Ronnie and Jill sat in my office unable to speak. Ronnie eventually erupted with uncontrollable sobs, confessing to an extramarital affair with a co-worker. Jill was devastated, not only because of her husband's betrayal, but because of her perceived failure as a wife. They were both certain that life as they knew it was over.

Since they were both Christians, I asked, "Have you ever considered the potential benefits of this experience?" They looked bewildered. Benefits? What possible good could come from a failure like this?

"God says that He strengthens us in our problems so that we can offer the same strength and encouragement to those who experience similar problems," I suggested. "If our whole reason for living on earth is to turn people to God, just think of all the people you will be able to help discover God's forgiveness! You can be Exhibit A of God's love and power to heal any relationship."

Ronnie and Jill left my office that afternoon convinced they had the possibility for a second act in their marriage. Although far different than what they would have chosen, they believed their second act could be as fulfilling as any they'd imagined.

(Adapted from Second Chance, Second Act by Robert Jeffress, Waterbrook Press, 2007)