Posted on Friday, Sep 20, 2019 by Tauren Wells
If you know me at all, you know that I am an avid Detroit Lions fan. Yeah, yeah, save your comments. I’ve heard them all, but my heart still bleeds Lion-blue! I’ve been rooting for them as long as I can remember.
We’ve had some major ups and downs together. In fact, one night a few years ago, I was watching a game against our biggest rival, the Green Bay (fill in the blank because I don’t say that team’s name). It’s the fourth quarter, the score 23 DET, 21 GB. There is 0:00 on the clock, and somehow the Lions are flagged for a penalty. This gives Green Bay one more untimed play. So, with what seems to be virtually no time left, Aaron Rodgers gets the snap, dances out of the pocket, throws a bomb down field into the end zone, and his receivers leap over several Detroit defenders to snag a game-ending touchdown.
As painful as this was as a Lions fan, I must say that the inspiration I gained from experiencing it was worth it. And here’s why: so many of you that have just begun this journey with me through this devo feel like the game is as good as over in your life. There is no time left on the clock for your hopes, dreams, and desires. You thought life would look different by now. You’ve been knocked down, and there’s no way it could all turn around. Well, they called Green Bay’s crazy play “The Miracle in Motown,” but far beyond a quarterback’s ability to change the outcome of a game is the power of God to change a life! Even when it looks like there’s 0:00 on the clock, God has one more miracle in store that can change everything!
God is not done with your dreams.
God is not done with your ministry.
God is not done with your kids.
God is not done with your career.
God is not done with your marriage.
God is not done with you!
As my friend Perry Noble says, “If you’re not dead, God is not done!”
Have you ever just really blown it? Well, I’ve got some good news and some really good news. The good news is that you’re not the only one. And the really good news is that God’s not done with you. The truth is, in the middle of our failures, our weaknesses, and our struggles, we feel the true weight of God's grace, mercy, and love.
If you're struggling and you’ve been dealing with personal issues, heart trauma, and difficult situations, you’re in good company because everyone in human history has done the same. Let's take off the veneer of Christianity—all the plastic, shiny, social trappings that imply things like, “I’m so good. I never do anything wrong. I never struggle because I follow Jesus, and Jesus’s followers don't struggle!”
Ha! Yeah right! As a matter of fact, there’s a long list of people who demonstrate that if you haven't failed yet, you will.
Abraham, the father of faith, lied. Elijah, one of the Bible’s greatest prophets, was suicidal. Moses murdered someone. Gideon was consistency fearful. Samson broke his covenant with God. Rahab was a prostitute. The Samaritan woman was divorced. Noah got drunk. Jacob lied, over and over. Jonah rebelled against God’s call and was extremely prejudiced. Martha worried—a lot! Zacchaeus stole tons of money from people. Paul killed Christians. And let’s not even get started on the original disciples; they were all different flavors of dysfunctional. We all struggle. We all fall. We all fail. We are all merely human.
I wanted to take a day in this study just to let you know that you are not the only one grappling with feelings of deficiency and the reality of sin. Nothing can separate you from the love of Christ. No matter how low you may feel, Jesus can forgive you, restore you, and even use you for His glory.
In this devotion, I want to zoom in on the disciple Peter. Specifically, I want us to walk together through Peter’s big (yet seemingly small) mistakes that culminated in the worst moment of his life.
Spoiler alert: Peter denies Jesus. He doesn't just do it once. He denies him three times.
Now, you’ve got to look at Peter’s highlight reel. I mean, this guy was selected as one of the twelve original disciples—a true OG. That’s a pretty big deal. He journeyed with Jesus—Mr. God on Earth himself—for three years. He had seen and been a part of tons of miracles. One of the writers of the Bible said that if he wrote down all of the things that Jesus did, he wouldn't be able to capture it all, and yet Peter had a front row seat to all of it! He was at the Last Supper, the very last time Jesus ever broke bread with people before being crucified. Peter was in the room with Jesus. Jesus himself told Peter that God was going to use him to build his church. As a matter of fact, Peter is renamed by Jesus. Simon was his given name, and Jesus renamed him Peter. If that’s not a highlight reel, I don’t know what is! But even after all of that pedigree, all of that time with Jesus, all of the moments that he encountered the glory of God, Peter messed … it … up.
We should never think that exposure to God equals immunity to sin.
We can attend conferences, camps, retreats, services, and all kinds of religious gatherings; we can even be in dedicated service to the causes of Christ and still be susceptible to sabotage in our soul. Sometimes we are so entrenched in church stuff that we skip the basic stuff that our life with Jesus is built upon.
I think I’ve been guilty of moving too quickly through the sequence of events that preceded Peter’s downfall. I often jump from Peter’s bold declaration that he would die for Jesus and never deny him to the rooster crow that signaled his first denial; however, our mistakes don’t just happen all at once. Let’s look closer at the events that led up to this moment in Peter’s life. What if it wasn’t Peter’s weakness that led him to failure but rather his strengths?
“I will never deny you.” - Peter
Many of us are well acquainted with our weaknesses. We know the things that we lean into when we are not healthy, but we don’t really consider our strengths as places where we can fall short and miss the mark. One of Peter’s strengths was his bold personality. I think that’s part of the reason why Jesus called Peter in the first place—because he could take charge, move quickly, act with passion, and do the things Jesus called him to do without reservation. Jesus wanted this kind of personality on his team. The problem was that Peter never learned how to put a governor on his gift. He never learned how to guard his strength, and an unguarded strength is a double weakness. Nothing can get you into more trouble than your strengths.
Are you a people person? Do you thrive off of the energy of other people? If this strength goes unguarded, you could find yourself thriving not only on the energy of others but also on the acceptance of others, perhaps compromising values and beliefs to fit in with whomever is “in” at the moment.
Maybe you have a leadership gift and a mind for strategy and vision. What a gift! But if that strength goes unguarded, you may find yourself manipulating people and situations to execute your own agenda rather than championing others’ skills, contributions, and gifts. Then you become a leader with blurry ethical lines, and your unguarded strength becomes a double weakness.
Perhaps you’re good with money. You could be so good with money that soon all you think about is money—how you can get more, how you can save more. If this goes unchecked, you begin to hoard it instead of giving it, and now you are greedy and not generous. In this instance an unguarded strength becomes a double weakness. Any strength we have that is not surrendered to Jesus can be used as a weapon against ourselves and against others.
We have to guard our strengths. Because Peter was unwilling to accept the possibility of falling down, he was unprepared for his opportunity to stand up. When we admit that we are prone to failure, that our strengths aren’t strong enough to save us, we find the power to live righteously through Christ.
Scripture says, “Take heed when ye stand, lest ye fall.”
When sin affects our opportunities to use our strengths, a perfect situation can become a perfectly wrong situation.
Have you assessed your strengths and your weaknesses lately?
Yesterday we noted that the first mistake that we are prone to make is not guarding and assessing our strengths. This can be avoided by embracing our human frailty and leaning on the strength of Christ.
The next thing Peter does seems insignificant in the grand scheme of things. He skips the prayer meeting. After declaring his whole-hearted loyalty to Jesus and telling him that he would die by his side if he had to, Jesus asks something so simple of Peter. He asks him to pray with him. But when Jesus comes back, Peter is asleep. Jesus asks him to pray again, and again Peter decides that his time would be better spent catching some zzz’s. How could Peter have the fortitude to die for Jesus if he couldn’t even pray with Jesus? It makes me wonder:
How many times do we make big declarations of faith but then fail to take the small steps of obedience that lead us to the fulfillment of those declarations?
“Stay awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Jesus says, “Pray that you’re not led into temptation, Peter.” This was the warning. This was the moment that would have prepared Peter’s lips with a resounding ‘yes!’ when, in just a few hours, he would find himself sitting around a campfire and being asked the question, “Are you with Jesus?” This was the moment—the moment that would have prepared him for the greatest battle he’d ever fight within his soul. It was a moment that no one would celebrate. It was a moment that no one would like on Instagram. It was a moment that he’d get no credit for. It was a moment that no one would ever see. I wonder if it even would’ve been written in the Bible at all if Peter had just prayed with Jesus; surely they had all prayed together before, but we don’t see it in Scripture. Peter decided to sleep rather than to pray, and he left his spirit unguarded.
Prayer is the protective force around our lives. It positions us in a place of power. We should never underestimate the power of prayer in our own lives.
Yes, we pray for the needs of others. Yes, we pray for the needs of the world, but this was the moment for Peter not to pray for the world but to pray for himself and to take inventory in his own heart—to follow the example of Jesus, who was in a garden praying so hard that his body was producing blood out of his sweat glands—and yet all the while, Peter is asleep with his spirit unguarded. We have to get into that place of prayer. We’ve got to fight for that place of prayer and connection with Jesus.
I’m not saying this in a religious way. I’m not saying this legalistically. Prayer is a relational imperative in the life of the believer. Sometimes we view prayer as a test for our discipline, but prayer is more than that. It is an indicator of the health of our relationship with God. Any relationship that exists without communication is unhealthy. Prayer guards our spirit. Prayer is a secret place, an uncelebrated place, at times a painful place, but it is a crucial place.
Ask yourself this question: What does my prayer life look like right now and what does that say about the condition of my relationship with Jesus? Am I putting myself in a place of power through prayer or am I, through my lack of connection to God, putting myself in a place of vulnerability to the attack and the weapons of the enemy?
In verse 58, Jesus has been captured. Judas has just betrayed him. The officials are walking Jesus back to the house of the high priest and the Bible says, “But Peter was following him at a distance.”
We are all prone to follow Jesus at a distance.
I’m not convinced that Peter did this intentionally. Indeed, there are some that choose to follow Jesus at a distance because of what getting close may cost them, but most of us fall away from Christ one gradual step at a time. We think things like, “I don’t need to go to church every Sunday. It’s more of a tradition than a necessity.” “I don’t need to get too caught up in worship. Singing and lifting my hands doesn’t really jive with my personality.” “I know I haven’t read my Bible in a while but isn’t having to read it just going through the motions anyway?”
There are thousands of reasons we could give to explain away the gap between our hearts and God’s presence. We fall away casually and gradually, never instantly. Scripture says, “Your word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.” We must watch our steps. We have to make an intentional decision to pursue Jesus more and more every day. Christianity is lived on an incline, and if you're not moving forward, you’re slipping backwards. What’s creating space between you and Jesus? Is it a friend group? Is it a relationship? Is it the strain and stress of your job? Is it your goals in education? I’ve realized that the more noble the cause, the more we justify the distance from the cross.
We, on our own, are no match for the devil. We need Jesus. We do have power, but we access his power through proximity. We access his power by intentionally moving our hearts closer to him.
When someone is severely injured, it’s often the case that they need to be stabilized before being moved. Moving the person could cause more damage. In our spiritual lives, the principle is the same. There are times when we fall that we need to stay down before we get back up.
In today’s passage we find Peter around a charcoal fire with people asking him, “Hey, do you associate yourself with Jesus?” He’s like, “Nah…Wait, did you say Jesús? ‘Cause I did know a Jesús back in 4th grade, but JESUS of, like, Nazareth? No, I’ve never really heard that name before actually.” After denying Jesus three times, the frame freezes as he hears the rooster crow. He must’ve thought to himself, “Nooooooo!!! I just did exactly what I said I would never do.”
The next verse really says it all. The text says,
“And then Peter wept bitterly.”
When you fall down, stay down—down in a place of repentance, down in a place, on your knees, where you are contrite, broken, and sorrowful over the mistakes and the sin that have existed for too long in your life. Find an altar. It can be in your bedroom, at your kitchen table, behind the steering wheel of your car. Get yourself into a place where you are sorrowful about the wrong that has been done in your life. Weep bitterly. The only way to overcome a failure is to walk straight through it. When we fall down and when we mess up, we cannot just push all the broken pieces into the corner of the room and step out and pretend to be fine, acclimating ourselves to our dysfunction. We have to have a Psalm 51 moment that echoes the cry of David: “Create in me a clean heart, oh God, and renew a right spirit within me.”
Repentance cannot be overlooked. It is a crucial recurring theme in the life of the believer.
This is actually what Jesus told Peter to do prior to his denials. He said, “I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” Repentance means “to turn around.”
When we fail, we confess it, for we have the power to conquer only what we confess.
Pastor Nick Nilson says this so often: “Following Jesus for the long-haul isn’t about not falling down; it’s about getting good at getting back up!” This is profoundly true. Failure is written in pencil. When we fall, we repent and then we get right back up! Get up today! You can’t wallow in your shame forever. You can’t walk around feeling guilty forever. Get up. Get back up.
In our text today, a few ladies go to the tomb after the crucifixion and burial of Jesus, and they see that he is no longer there.
An angel says to the women, “Go tell the disciples that Jesus is going to meet them in Galilee. Tell the disciples and Peter.”
He singled Peter out.
Why? Because he wanted the message to be clear that Peter was still a part of his plan. I can feel the essence of what God was speaking in those two simple words—"and Peter.” It’s as if he was shouting, “Peter, I know you blew it. I know you messed up, but I’m not done with you. I want you to meet me somewhere, and if you’re going to get there, you can’t stay here. So get up on your feet in the grace and the power and the love that I just died for you to have and get moving. Get back up.”
Somebody reading this needs to hear that today. Get back up. So you fell down. “The righteous fall seven times, and they get back up.” The righteous fall? The righteous fall. The righteous? That’s the best of us, the cream of the crop, those on the top shelf. We fall, but we get back up. Get up standing in the righteousness of Jesus. Then get back to what you were called to do because who you have been called to be hasn’t changed. If you’ve made a mistake but repented, I’ve got good news: You’re forgiven! So get up. Scripture says that when the ladies came to tell the disciples that the tomb was empty, all of the disciples stayed seated, but Peter got up and ran to the tomb to see it for himself. If Peter could get back up, so can you.
When we flip forward to the book of Acts, we see Peter in Acts 1 “constantly praying” and “constantly devoting himself to prayer.” (It seems like he learned the crucial need for a guarded prayer life.) He’s leading the troupe, choosing more disciples, etc. He didn’t just get back up. He got busy doing what he was created to do. Peter checked himself back into the game. I have a question to those reading this who may feel disqualified: Who disqualified you? Who took you out of the game and put you on the bench? Jesus? I don’t think so.
The voices of guilt and shame will whisper in your mind and make you feel like your calling has been sidelined. Your negative thoughts will say, “They’ll never listen to you again. You have no real authority. No one will trust you.” Every one of those thoughts is dead wrong. Jesus has got your back. He’s fighting for you. David said, “Surely, goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.” Not just the good days, the days that I get it all right and make no mistakes. No, every single day goodness and mercy are following me. So get busy! Get back to what God has called you to do. God’s mercy is new every morning.
Have you ever had one of those meals where it's a little awkward because you and your friends or family are sitting there with an elephant in the room? Everyone knows there’s a ‘thing’ but no one is really talking about ‘the thing.’ This is the vibe of the Scripture reading today where we find Jesus, Peter, and some of the other disciples eating breakfast a short time after Peter’s denial. The Scripture seems to imply that they ate the whole breakfast without talking about ‘the thing.’ The tension is palpable.
When they finish eating, Jesus breaks the silence and asks Peter three consecutive times if he loves him. The text says that by the third time, Peter ‘felt hurt’ by Jesus asking him the same question three times. But how many times was Peter asked if he knew Jesus? Three. How many times did Peter deny Jesus? Three.
So could it be that Jesus, full of grace and mercy, wasn’t trying to hurt Peter with his three questions, but that he was trying to heal him?
It leads us to ask ourselves: Who do we have in our lives asking us the hard questions—not questions that hurt us but questions that heal?
There are all types of fires in the Bible, but there were only two that were distinctly called “charcoal fires.” One was the fire around which Peter denied Jesus. The other fire was the fire that Jesus made on the shore that morning, where Jesus redeems Peter. Jesus resets the scene of Peter’s denial, and it is in this place that he restores him. What could have been a reminder of Peter’s greatest failure was reclaimed by the grace of God, and from then on, every time Peter would stand around a fire, it wouldn’t have triggered the shame of his past but rather the activation of God's grace in his life. If we are willing to meet Jesus in the places that we were wounded the deepest, we can see God perform his greatest miracles. If we are willing to go back to the scene of the wound, the mistake, the failure, the sin, and allow Jesus to reclaim that space, he can turn our mess into our miracle.
Note that Jesus never mentions Peter denying him. He never even brings it up. Jesus doesn’t point in condemnation to our past. He points with compassion to our future. For he came not into the world to condemn it, but that the world might be saved through him.
Meet with Jesus around that wound again today, around that weakness again. Perhaps that space can be reclaimed by the glory of God. Let grace reset the scene, and what was once the place where you were most ashamed can now become the place where God performs his greatest miracles in your life.
In Acts 2, Peter is in an upper room praying with about 120 people, and the Bible says that there came a sound like a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the house where they were sitting, and there appeared unto them cloven tongues, like as of fire, and it sat upon each one of them, and they all began to speak in another tongue as the Spirit of God gave them utterance.”
When they started speaking in this heavenly unknown language, they started spilling out into the streets, looking absolutely crazy, so crazy that people were saying things like, “Bro, look at these people. It's like they're drunk. It's like they've been sipping on a little somethin’. What did they have in that upper room? An open bar?” Then the Bible tells us that Peter “stands up among the eleven and says, ‘They're not drunk as ye suppose. It's only the third hour of the day, but what you are hearing is from God.’” He goes on to preach the message upon which the New Testament church was built.
Here we see the culmination of God’s grace in the life of Peter.
The man that was scared to confess his association with Jesus in front of a few strangers is now standing up in front of potentially thousands of people from all over the known world, declaring the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The place of Peter’s greatest weakness became the place where God revealed his own glory. You don't have to hide your broken pieces because it is with the broken pieces of our lives that God constructs his biggest platforms from which he displays his glory.
God is not done with you. Regardless of what you've walked through, how many mistakes you've made, or who has counted you out, God is not done with you!
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