I have seen people, dressed to the hilt, stumble and fall flat on their faces as they were walking to church. I have witnessed serious and gifted soloists, stepping up to the pulpit with music in hand, stumble and fall as the sheets of music sailed like maple leaves in an October breeze. I've watched a sure and winning touchdown by a fleet split-end—nobody within fifteen yards—foiled by a stumble. I've looked on as brides and grooms stumbled in unison . . . as bandsmen stumbled in formation . . . as shoppers stumbled in stores . . . as rigid Marine officers stumbled while inspecting the troops . . . as elite, elegant ladies stumbled on stage . . . as emcees got tangled in mike wires and stumbled off stage . . . as cap and gown grads stumbled to their knees receiving their diplomas . . . and as an experienced, well-respected, eloquent speaker stumbled and fell just before he began to speak. I could never forget that one because in the fall he cut his lip and delivered his entire address while wiping the blood off his face!
And can't you remember when you have stumbled? Nothing is more humiliating or embarrassing than spilling our dignity as we fall flat on our pride. The first thing we do is take a quick look around to see who might have noticed. We long to become invisible. Some of my stumbling experiences make me shudder just to call them to mind.
But do you know something? Almost without exception the response of onlookers is sympathy . . . identification with the embarrassment . . . mutual ache . . . a deep sense of inner support. In fact, the immediate response is to help the stumbler back to his feet. I cannot remember a single occasion when anyone who stumbled was held down or stepped on by those nearby. I recall that there was instant concern for their hurt feelings and their physical welfare. I also recall that everyone who tripped got right back on his feet, shrugged off the momentary humiliation, and forged ahead. There's something to be learned, my friend, in all this business of stumbling.
In the penetrating letter of James, every verse is like a scalpel—cutting deep incisions in our conscience. Hidden within James 3:2 is something we often forget:
For we all stumble in many ways.
What's he saying? Nobody's perfect . . . to stumble is normal . . . a fact of life . . . an act that guarantees our humanness. He goes on to mention that we often stumble in what we say. When it comes to the tongue, we blow it! He says (in 2:10) that stumbling brings guilt . . . even if it is in one small area. Isn't that the truth!
Perhaps you have just stumbled as you read this today. You feel guilty, you feel like a failure. You wish like crazy you had never opened your mouth . . . or done what you did . . . or responded like that. You're miserable, discouraged, and you'd like to hide, or better still—crawl off and die. Ridiculous! Get up out of that pool of self-pity, brush off the dirt with the promise of God's forgiveness—and move on!
Now I must add a word of realism. Instead of receiving the normal reaction of concern and support, you may find that some who saw you fall will want to hold you down or bad-mouth you because you slipped. Ignore them completely! They have forgotten that James 3:2 includes them. They only difference is that you didn't get to see them stumble. But they have; believe me, they have.
What all this adds up to is not difficult to discover:
GOD WANTS TO USE YOU—
STUMBLING AND ALL—BUT HE
WON'T DO SO IF YOU REFUSE
TO GET UP.
Stumblers who give up are a dime a dozen. In fact, they're useless. Stumblers who get up are rare. In fact, they're priceless.