“For your grace is sufficient for me, and your power made perfect in my weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)
As I was writing my version of Peter’s betrayal and reinstatement, God brought my attention to the statement that Jesus made to him in their conversation during breakfast – the prophecy of Peter’s death.
“Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my sheep. Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.’ (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, ‘Follow me.'” (John 21:18-19)
This was reflective of the exact promise that Peter had made to him at The Last Supper. Peter had said, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.” (Luke 22:33)
It suddenly occurred to me that when Jesus heard that declaration, it might have been like a kid telling his mother “I will finish the whole pizza by myself!”, and the mother telling him “I don’t think you can even finish two thirds, my dear!”.
When Jesus replied, “I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me”, I believe it was not out of spite or disbelief, but helping Peter manage his expectations of himself. In some way, it would have helped manage Peter’s future disappointment and heartbreak over his betrayal of Jesus in the courtyard.
There have been many times where I, as a child of God, have promised God the moon.
“God, I’m going to spend 20 minutes a day reading the Bible because I love your Word so much!”
“God, I am going to love and accept every single person you put in my life!”
“God, I am ready to take your Gospel to the ends of the earth and learn a foreign language to do so!”
I have failed on the above promises and many more.
And I believe that when Peter failed to deliver on his promise, God was, firstly, not surprised and secondly, not angry. God knows us, He knows our desire to please Him and serve Him – but He also knows our limitations, fears and unfaithfulness – and He accepts both sides.
He does not discard or dismiss us because we are lacking. But as a Father, He responsibly brings our flaws to our own attention so that we can change.
And so, I believe that sometimes God brings us through full dress rehearsals before the real deal.
I believe that God’s intention of letting Peter go through that experience was so that Peter could be aware of his own shortcomings and not make the same mistakes when Jesus finally handed him His divine ministry.
We remember the three times Jesus asked “Do you love me more than the rest?” and the three respective commands He gave: Feed my lambs, tend my sheep, feed my sheep.
Peter’s “real deal” was delivered to him when he answered Jesus’ questions that day. Though he was at first grieved by Jesus’ strange drill, it was his chance to see with open eyes that answering Jesus’ call would entail him facing the situation at the courtyard again; it would entail him being ready to say “Yes, I know Jesus” – instead of “I do not know this man”.
And I’d like to think that Peter’s profession of love that morning finally went beyond lip service.
“Yes, Lord, you know that I love you” was his commitment and renewed promise that he was ready – for real this time – to go with his Lord “to prison and death”. And that he did. Peter went on to be a fearless evangelist and was eventually crucified as well.
Sometimes I wonder: If Peter hadn’t gone through that entire episode, would he have instead run away, crumbling under pressure after Jesus went back to Heaven?
A few years ago, I promised God that I was going to do great things for Him. I was going to start a cell group and build God-fearing disciples. And I think I failed quite badly. I was judgmental, impatient and distracted.
I wasn’t a good evangelist or pastor to the lives God had given to me, and after a few years, I had failed to be that selfless, loving and patient leader I had promised God I would be.
I thank God that He managed the damage through very selfless, loving and patient co-leaders who respected and covered me through my immaturity. And I thank God that He turned my mistakes into a full dress rehearsal.
This year, I got baptised and asked God to give me a new beginning. I boldly asked that just like Jesus who started His ministry after He was baptised, God would start mine. I stepped down from that previous cell group and started from zero again. And it’s been an amazing journey ever since.
He does not dismiss us because we are lacking, but as a Father, responsibly brings our flaws to our own attention so that we can change.
In these three months, God has miraculously provided me with capable and passionate comrades that I would never have expected to build a ministry together. He has somehow been bringing us to many open hearts whom we can serve. A friend of mine whom I’ve been reaching out to for years had a supernatural encounter with Jesus.
I am filled with thankfulness that God did not disqualify me for my first-time failure. I’m sure Peter had that same relief and gratitude – his first denial did not deny him from inheriting the ministry. God allows us to grow from our mistakes, and start again and again and again.
Jesus knows us. He knows our imperfections; He knows where we will slip up even if we stubbornly insist we will never do so. But take heart, God is more committed to your success than you are. Don’t let your mistakes deny you of the chance that God wants to give you to try again and fulfil whatever promises we’ve made to him, just as He did for Peter, and just as He did for me.