The Things We Fear Day 3 – Failure
When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you”’ Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.” (John 21:15-17, ESV)
I was in therapy for three years, and in that time one of our biggest topics of conversation was the fear of failure. I remember telling my therapist that I was constantly anxious about my relationships because I wanted to ensure that no one was disappointed. I believed that when I met a person, I started at a score of 100, and every mistake brought me down a notch until I was invaluable. I believed there was no possibility of forgiveness for me. Trust me, I know how ridiculous that sounds, but it was my core truth for far too many years. When I discussed it with my therapist, she gave me a little homework. She asked me to study the life of Peter and to specifically take note of what happened after he denied Christ. I’m not sure I thanked her quite as much as I should have for that homework.
If you are familiar with the crucifixion of Christ, you will know the story of Peter’s denial. After years of devoting himself to Jesus and telling Him often how he would go with Him even unto death, Peter failed. In the face of punishment and the fear of Christ’s persecutors, Peter denied three times that he even knew Him. In one moment of fear, everything that Peter had promised Christ came crashing down. He immediately knew the gravity of what he had done, and it broke him. He was devastated by his failure. I can only imagine what those days were like for him. He had failed Jesus, and he knew that Jesus knew it too.
I can imagine that the guilt of his failure ate him alive over the next few days as Christ’s body lay buried in a tomb and all hope for the coming kingdom was dashed. Even when Christ returned and the hope of His salvation was understood, I think Peter probably still felt the pangs of guilt over his denial of Christ. While he was joyous over Jesus’ resurrection, he likely thought often of the last words he said about Him. He probably felt like there was no way he could recover from this mistake. That’s probably why we find him in John 21 returning to the one thing he knew he could do: fish.
In the face of uncertainty, Peter hopped on a boat and returned to the very place where Jesus first called him. This time, when Peter cast his net to the other side of the boat and it filled with fish, he didn’t need to be called but jumped and swam right to Christ. Sitting on the shore with Jesus, Peter was told something that would lift his burden and push him to move forward. Jesus asked Peter three times if he loved Him. Each time Peter confirmed that yes, he did love Him. This subtle nod to his three-part denial was Christ’s only acknowledgement of Peter’s failure. There was no “I told you so” moment and no scorn or punishment. Instead, Christ reassured Peter’s greatly troubled heart. Through this repeated question, Christ confirmed to Peter that he was forgiven and that He knew Peter loved Him and was devoted completely to His mission.
Along with this reassurance, Christ gave Him a purpose, and a great one at that. He told Peter to tend to His sheep, His people who would believe and become part of Christ’s body, the Church. Yes, the same man who just days prior had vehemently denied Christ was going to be a leader in the Church age and would be instrumental in the spread of the gospel and laying the foundation for the church. Why? There is no mistake that is bigger than God’s forgiveness. There is no failure too big that can keep us from being used by God.
My challenge for you today is to open yourself up to the possibility of failure. Try new things even if you don’t know how to do them correctly. Listen to the call of God even if you don’t feel adequate. Trust that any mistakes you have made can and will be forgiven by God. Know that you are not defined by your failures. You may have failed, but you are not a failure.