Peter (and me!)
Robin Weidner, April 2010
(This is part three of a three part series, see part two — Living Without Reservation.)
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come.”
2 Corinthians 5:17
I wrote on the top line of my journal… “When has Jesus called me to let go?” Immediately, my heart went back to a time twenty years earlier.
My husband and I were serving a large church in a ministry position. In our work there, we saw many come to God and others overcome through their faith. Then suddenly the church began to struggle… with many losses and defeats that left us reeling.
Perhaps I had been in denial, but how I remember it, the hard times almost instantly swallowed up the good, like the lean cows ate the fat ones in Pharaoh’s dream (Genesis 41:18-20).
As long months passed, my faith was fraying. Mentors were trying to figure out what we needed to change. In my performance-oriented self, I interpreted this as indicating that I was the problem…I wasn’t spiritual enough. Self-doubt began to overpower me.
Little did I know that I was tapping into the unhealed pain and shame of my father’s alcoholism. Fearing for my mental health, our church leaders finally relieved us of our ministry position, encouraging us to move back near our home church in another state.
After moving, the first worship service we attended concluded with a couple being lifted up to a new leadership role. I watched, trying not to give way to sorrow. It seemed our dream had died.
I was taken by surprise when just a few weeks later we were asked to take a large, unpaid leadership role in our new congregation. I remember asking, “Do you realize how broken I am?” The response was, “We need you. Would you be willing to try?”
And as I brushed myself off and began feeding Jesus’ sheep, this time simply because I was needed, I gained a treasure—worth every bit of suffering getting out of the ministry. I learned that I loved God, not just in seasons of blessing. I loved him for who He is.
Now I see how God, in his goodness, was literally cutting the stem of one dream so that he could begin to grow another. Jesus wanted me to learn a lesson he also taught the apostle Peter…
The best way to move forward after a hurtful fall is to feed Jesus’ sheep… recommitting yourself to following Him.
From the cross to the resurrection—Peter (Read John 21)
It had been a long week since Jesus last appeared to them. And Peter was struggling with some nagging questions. Is Jesus still hurt over my betrayal? Can I still be used after falling so far? And how can I say I love Jesus after what I did?
The other apostles had reassured him, even following him to his home. On one hand, Peter felt hope that Jesus had resurrected from the dead. Yet, he secretly wondered where there would be a place for him in this kingdom Jesus said would be arriving soon.
One afternoon, he’d had enough waiting. Getting up and wrapping his cloak around his shoulders, he announced, “I’m going fishing.” The other disciples looked at each other, and then stood up. John, known for his love, declared, “We’ll come with you. All of us.”
On one hand, going back to fishing was an expression of Peter’s deepest fear…that this was all he was good for. On the other, he hoped, against all hope, Jesus might once again come to him, as he had previous times (Mark 1, Luke 5).
After fishing all night with not even a bite, Peter fought dark thoughts. No fish and no Jesus. Peter was hungry, tired, afraid, and even in the midst of his closest friends, alone.
Then as the dawn broke red, just as Peter was tempted to give way to despair, a voice came booming from the fog-shrouded shoreline… “Friends, haven’t you any fish?”
After they yelled back, “No… no fish,” he told them to throw their nets on the right side of the boat. Heaving the heavy nets over, it only took moments to get results. Suddenly the water above the nets began to boil with an entire school of fish.
Peter leaned over the side of the boat, stunned, unable to think, until John exclaimed, “It’s the Lord!” Tying his cloak around his waist, Peter jumped into the water, eager to swim straight to the only one who’d ever loved him with a pure love.
We know the story from there. The boat followed, bringing 153 large fish. Jesus grilled some fish and bread for them. Then three times Jesus asked Peter, “Do you love me?”
And when Peter assured him that he did, Jesus replied three times, “Feed my sheep.”
Two lessons in letting go
There is so much we could talk about here. How Jesus actually said three different things when you look at the original language… “Feed my little lambs, tend my sheep, feed my sheep.” We could talk about Peter's responses to these questions.
Instead, I’d like to share a few simple lessons that ring deeply with my soul and teach me so much about what it means to follow Jesus.
1) When we let go, we learn how much we love Jesus.
I’m convinced that Jesus knew Peter loved him. It was Peter who had doubts about how much he loved Jesus. How could he say he loved him after denying he’d ever known Jesus three times, all while calling down curses?
Jesus now wanted to impart a beautiful gift to Peter. He wanted to remind Peter that fishing wasn’t his first love. But even more, he wanted Peter to know that his love for Jesus was true. Lovingly, he had Peter reaffirm his love as many times as he had denied him.
You see, Jesus had chosen Peter to walk in his steps. And Peter’s losses and sins would help him minister to a suffering and persecuted church.
But to live out his destiny, Peter had to first jump out of the boat. He had to let go of his remorse, his old life, and move forward into the new.
Like Peter, we only learn how much we love Jesus when we let go…entrusting our past defeats to him.
2) Feeding His sheep enables us to overcome.
Before Jesus appeared again in John 21, Peter was suffering from an inward focus. Knowing his fears, Jesus graciously offered a way out. Just as Peter had once taken a few faltering steps on the water, he now needed to walk by faith once again.
Through laying down his life for others, Peter came to a place of courageous peace (1 Peter 4:10-11). Now an overcomer, he could help others overcome the most difficult of circumstances.
Just like Peter, after we mess up or suffer bone-numbing losses, we’re tempted to retreat into our comfort zone. It’s easy to get frozen in our losses and either go back to our old life or try to live with one foot in the old and one in the new. Jesus says, “Let me bring glory out of your losses. Feed my sheep.”
And perhaps that's also why the Armor of God in Ephesians 5, includes fitting our feet with gospel of peace. In helping others overcome, we are quicker on our feet...making it easier to flee the attacks of the evil one.
If I’m not reaching out to others, I’m at risk of being overcome by the evil one.
The power of the resurrection—through letting go!
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade…” 1 Peter 3:3-4
Just this past weekend, this was all so beautifully reaffirmed to me as eight couples (all, who like us, had suffered some large losses) came together at our home, to learn how to build a pure marriage in an impure world.
What God did is simply amazing. As Dave and I shared what we’ve learned through twenty-some years of sexual addiction and seven years of recovery, Jesus brought fresh hope to those attending...and to us!
In each couple’s gift bag, there were two special gifts. The men received a small leather journal where they could express and process their feelings—encouraging vulnerability. For the women, there was a vintage pin, each a different symbol of hope.
These pins were given out randomly with a prayer that God would lead each to its rightful owner. Mine turned out to be a chrysalis, a butterfly with glory bursting out of its bosom…a symbol of the power of new creation.
All weekend I saw the truth of the chrysalis, as God ignited fresh dreams and new vision for our marriages.
And ultimately, isn’t the message of the resurrection the same for each of us? The resurrection calls us to let go of our past, and then join the life-transforming ministry of Jesus.
“I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds…Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My father will honor the one who serves me.” John 12:24-26
Read: 1 Peter 1:7, 4:9, 1 John 4:4, Philemon 1:6, Psalm 116:2-6
“I do not mean that I am already as God wants me to be. I have not yet reached that goal, but I continue trying to reach it and to make it mine. Christ wants me to do that, which is the reason he made me his. Brothers and sisters, I know that I have not yet reached that goal, but there is one thing I always do. Forgetting the past and straining toward what is ahead, I keep trying to reach the goal and get the prize for which God called me through Christ to the life above.” Philippians 3:12-14 (New Century Version)
For further study: Read the book of 1 Peter. As you read, make a list of each conviction of Peter’s that has roots in his encounter with Jesus in John 21. Divide them into these categories: Loving Jesus More Than the World; Feeding his Sheep; Being Led Where You Don’t Want to Go; Following Jesus.
Which of these convictions does Jesus want you to embrace through the challenges in your life?
For more articles, check out the Cup of Security Archives.