In recent days i’ve been thinking a lot about the power we have in forgiving ourselves. Unless we’re able to embrace God’s grace and mercy in wiping the slate clean for us and walk freely forward without looking back at our own failures, we’ll never be able to step fully into all that God has for us.
I keep going back to Peter’s story in the gospels. The ‘head boy’ of Jesus’ disciples who then falls so epically in denying Jesus just before His death… we all know the story. The bit of the story that i can’t get out of my head is the series of events after Jesus has risen from the dead.
We get a little hint that all’s not well in Peter’s heart when Jesus speaks to the ladies at the tomb to ‘Go and tell the disciples and Peter’ (Mark 16:7) about the resurrection. Why would Jesus feel the need to say ‘and Peter’ when Peter was one of the disciples – and arguably one of the most important at that? Had Peter been voted out of the discipleship group? – we get no indication from that in scripture. Maybe Jesus knew that Peter would need special encouragement after such a deep failure, to see himself again as the person he’d been called and created to be. Maybe Jesus wanted Peter to know that He still believed in him, that He still wanted him in his original role, even after the betrayal.
The next clue that we get that Peter’s heart is hurting is after Jesus has appeared to him and the disciples. Jesus turns up and shows the disciples that everything He ever said and claimed was true and that He really is God. WOAH!!! Time to throw a party! Jesus is alive and is GOD! But Peter does’t throw a party. In John 21 we see that knowing everything he now knows, Peter decides to go back to his old job – ‘I’m going out to fish’ (John 21:3). Now what on earth would make him do a thing like that? This is the same Peter who once said there’d be nowhere to go outside of Jesus because He ‘holds the words of life’ (John 6:68). Why’s he now walking away from Jesus who’s just had His most victorious moment? I wonder if it’s because Peter couldn’t shake off his sense of disappointment in himself. I wonder if it’s because He couldn’t look at Jesus without seeing his own worst and lowest moment and he couldn’t take the pain of that. I wonder if Peter walked away not so much because he was seeing Jesus differently, but because he was seeing himself differently – because he no longer felt worthy of his ‘head boy’ status but now was struggling with such a sense of unworthiness because of his failure that he decided to walk away.
But here’s the beautiful thing – Jesus was not disappointed with Peter. Disappointment requires for you to have had higher expectations of someone than what actually happens. But Jesus had accurate expectations of Peter right from the beginning. He knew that Peter was going to fail dramatically even when He called him. He knew on the night it happened and so warned Peter that ‘“Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. but I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” (Luke 22:31+32) We often read these verses thinking that when Jesus is praying for Simon’s faith not to fail, He’s praying that Peter won’t betray Him – but i don’t think that’s what Jesus is getting at at all because in the very next sentence, Jesus makes it clear that Peter will fail, but will then turn back. I think the ‘faith’ that Jesus is praying for is not the faith that stops the mistake, but the faith that helps us to continue believing in His words declared over us, in what He’s called us to be after the mistake is made so we’re able to turn back and strengthen others. Listen up: Jesus is not disappointed in you when you fail, because His expectations of you have always been 100% accurate, so He saw what was coming even when He called you. What He’s drawing you towards and strengthening you for is the ability to accept His grace over you, for the courageous faith to believe Him even when you no longer feel like a person worthy to carry His promises. The power to ‘turn back and strengthen the brothers’ is the power to forgive yourself and believe Jesus’ words over you again.
In one of the most tender moments of the gospels, the God of the universe cooks His disciples breakfast so that He can help one of His friends back to a place of faith again (John 21). Jesus calls Peter back from his sorry fishing expedition so that He can restore him to the fullness of his call and so that he can step freely into the destiny marked out for him. I wonder how many of us need to accept Jesus’ invitation to breakfast this morning? I wonder how many of us need to invite Holy Spirit to empower us to walk free from the shame of the past? Let Him in today – He cannot wait to break off the chains of your self-disappointment so you’re able to run again with full abandon the race marked out for you.