A few weeks ago I was challenged by Pastor Craig’s exhortation to “Follow Christ.” His sermon was such a beautiful reminder that we are following Christ in His work of redemption and the restoration of His glory among His creation. (You can listen to the sermon here.) As I ponder the ramifications of following Jesus, I am wonderfully encouraged and horribly terrified. Like Peter, I am zealous for the Lord and eager to go to the ends of the earth with Him. Yet, I am often timid and tempted to do something else (e.g., go fishing) at times because of my failing track record. Following Jesus isn’t easy!
This got me to ask the question, “How can I follow Christ when I have a failing track record?” My natural inclination to combat failure is to “try harder” or just quit. However, John 21:15-22 teaches a different solution to those of us who fail when following Jesus: LOVE. Rather than asking Peter if he needed to try harder or if he wanted to do something else–something he was more successful at doing, Jesus simply asked if Peter loved him. Clearly Peter’s actions from the past three years showed that he loved Jesus. He had left his fishing business, his family, and all his belongings to sacrificially follow Jesus from town to town. He endured unpleasant confrontations with the religious leaders and rejection from others, proclaiming that he would die for Jesus. And, in the realization that he had denied Jesus three times, Peter was grieved and wept bitterly. It’s intriguing to me that Jesus not only asked if Peter loved him, but asked, “Do you love me more than these?” Jesus’ insightful question reveals something deeper about Peter’s love for Jesus. Yes, Peter loved Jesus, but he also had other loves that were competing for his heart’s affections. His failure was rooted in having a greater love for something/someone other than Jesus. It’s amazing to me that Jesus didn’t respond to Peter in anger, but with a gentle exhortation to denounce these counterfeit loves and continue in the work of following Jesus.
I am comforted by the fact that God is not surprised by our failures and uses them to help us grow in our love for Him. Instead of preventing our failures, God allows them to take place in order to reveal what’s in our hearts and show us the things we are loving more than Him. These revelations aren’t for the purpose of making us failures, but to show us our need to denounce other loves and grow more in our love for God. Thus, the next time I fail in my spiritual walk with the Lord there is no need for me to “try harder” or quit following Jesus. I just need to take inventory of what is competing for my heart’s affections and ask myself, “Do I love Jesus more than these?” Denying myself of these other loves and cultivating a greater love for Jesus is not only where the hard work of following Jesus begins, but also how it continues!