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Learning from Mistakes

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How do you know when you have made a mistake? Sometimes, you find out from your own experience. But sometimes, another person has to tell you that you were wrong. When we are young, most correction comes from our parents. How well did we—or do we—take it?


Scripture commands parents to: “Train up a child in the way he should go” because “when he is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6). Bringing up children to revere and obey God is the greatest God-ordained responsibility given to parents. As part of this process, parents are instructed to discipline their children. We read: “He who spares his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him promptly” (Proverbs 13:24). If parents are properly fulfilling their role, we should expect them to discipline and correct in a firm and loving manner.

It is very important for young people to understand that parents have more experience and wisdom than do children. Therefore, wise children are receptive to their parents’ instruction. “A wise son heeds his father’s instruction, but a scoffer does not listen to rebuke” (Proverbs 13:1). More pointedly, wise King Solomon wrote, “Whoever loves instruction loves knowledge, but he who hates correction is stupid” (Proverbs 12:1).

Correction, however, does not come only from parents. Correction comes from teachers, coaches and counselors at summer camp, ministers, our boss at work and many others. All of us will see God’s hand in correcting us throughout our lives. We read: “My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, nor detest His correction; for whom the Lord loves He corrects, just as a father the son in whom he delights” (Proverbs 3:11–12).

We All Make Mistakes

We all sin and err in judgment from time to time. As human beings, we are prone to stumble spiritually. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). So we all need to develop the habit of acknowledging our mistakes and correcting them. This willingness to admit our mistakes is not a sign of weakness; it is a sign of the strong character absolutely required of a true Christian. And it is what the process of conversion is all about.

Christian growth occurs when we confess our sins and faults before God and turn from them. We must constantly strive to overcome the pulls of human nature, the negative pulls of the society around us, and the temptations of Satan and the hosts of wicked spirits, and bring our lives into harmony with God and His way of life. This will not be easy, but it is the path that leads to eternal life!

When we sin, correction follows. Why? “Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11). Accepting correction and admitting our mistakes brings growth! This is what life is all about. We were created mortal flesh and blood human beings, yet our Maker is building within us His own character as we submit every aspect of our lives to Him. Overcoming and growing is what God desires of us, and this is what happens when we change as a result of correction.

Throughout our lives, correction will come in many forms, from many people—not just our parents. Sometimes it will come in a godly manner and we will recognize it as valid. But what should we do if we feel that we were corrected unjustly? Even in these circumstances, we can still benefit—and our character can be strengthened—if we handle the situation correctly. If the correction was valid, but delivered in an unkind or ungodly way, a wise person will nevertheless consider it and seek to grow.

Furthermore, even if the correction was not valid, the wise will not forget the Christian’s commitment—even in a potentially confrontational situation—to seek peace and pursue it (Psalm 34:14; 1 Peter 3:11). Even in a confrontational situation, we must not allow others to dictate our emotional state, and we ought to objectively consider the correction we received. Doing so reflects a truly teachable and humble attitude. That is why the psalmist was inspired to write: “Great peace have those who love Your law, and nothing causes them to stumble” (Psalm 119:165).

Do Not Be Oversensitive

However, while we must be receptive to correction—eager to repent and change and grow—we must not become fearful and constantly afraid of every potential criticism. We must remember the often-overlooked principle that God does not want us to be oversensitive to correction. Consider this priceless counsel: “Also do not take to heart everything people say, lest you hear your servant cursing you. For many times, also, your own heart has known that even you have cursed others” (Ecclesiastes 7:21–22).

Solomon is reminding us of a common fact of human nature—a fact that should help us be much more merciful toward others, if we understand it. If people say something hurtful about you, consider forgiving them—just as you would want their forgiveness if they heard every unkind word you might have said (or thought) about them! As Christians, we understand how much we need God’s mercy and lovingkindness. This should motivate us to avoid “getting offended” by someone else’s words.

Being “teachable” does not mean cowering at every unkind word you may hear from a parent or a peer. It means being honest with yourself, about yourself. It means desiring to become the person God wants you to be—even if it requires sometimes-painful change. God possesses perfect, holy and righteous character—no one and nothing even remotely compares to Him and His magnificence. And yet He wants to develop His very character in you!

But He can only develop His character in those who are humble and receptive to correction. “For thus says the High and Lofty One who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: ‘I dwell in the high and holy place, with him who has a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones’” (Isaiah 57:15). He confirms this when He states, “…But on this one will I look: on him who is poor and of a contrite spirit, and who trembles at My word” (Isaiah 66:2).

Ultimately, only those who remain teachable will enter the Kingdom of God. So, learn to value correction, and grow from it! The rewards are certainly worth it: “Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time” (1 Peter 5:6)!

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