I recently reread John 21 where Jesus is reinstating Peter by the lakeside. It is a terrific passage and I’m sure one that you are familiar with and have probably preached on a number of times. I’m always moved and challenged by the way Jesus deals with Peter, reminding him of his call, feeding him by the lakeside, addressing his denial, establishing relationship again and recommissioning for future service.
What struck me on reading it again was verse 20–21, when in the middle of this intimate dialogue with the Lord where Jesus has been talking about Peter’s death and calling him again to follow him, Peter looks at John and asks “Lord, what about him?” The issue here is that Peter is distracted from listening to Jesus himself and deflects the challenge of Jesus’ words directed to him onto someone else.
On a number of occasions people have enthusiastically told me after a service how appropriate the sermon was and how relevant to somebody else. It is easy to listen to God’s Word and to think that ‘what about them’ question. More than that, when I come into God’s presence and spend time in His Word in preparing what I am going to say there can be a strong temptation to focus on what this means for other people without really working through what it means for me.
I had a friend in Scotland who used to say that preachers were interested in preparing messages, but that God is interested in preparing messengers. So before I think about illustration and application I need to consider what is God saying to me? This ‘what is God saying to me’ question comes before ‘what is God saying through me?’ which comes before ‘what is God saying to them?’ Jesus is clear in His rebuke to Peter that he is to think less about John and more about his own call to follow Jesus. One of the things I like about the whole chapter is the honesty of the interaction. Peter has stuffed up and even as Jesus is dealing with his last stuff up he stuffs up again. As someone who stuffs up a lot I find this enormously encouraging!
Over the last few days I’ve been conducting annual reviews with our senior staff team. In some organisations or companies I guess an annual review might leave the person being reviewed with a list of things to improve and the person conducting the review feeling encouraged at the progress being made. I have found myself over the last few weeks, having plenty opportunity to encourage and affirm growth and progress in those being reviewed but seem to be accumulating an increasingly lengthy list of things that I could do better. To be honest I don’t relish the feelings of shortcomings, inadequacies and failures. I can make myself feel better by saying, ‘what about them?’ But God comes to me in His grace as I am and His is the voice that needs to be loudest in my ears if I am to grow and go on to minister the gospel. So, if I am to preach grace, mercy and forgiveness I need to believe and receive these things from God. If I ask, ‘what about him?’ I will preach religiosity, competition and perfectionism.
Peter has played the ‘what about him’ game before. In Matthew 18 he asked Jesus “Lord, how many times should I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Peter probably thought he was being reasonably generous in his estimate. But Jesus replies “not seven times, but seventy-seven times” and goes on to tell a parable which is essentially about treating others in the context of God’s forgiveness and mercy to us.
“Lord, we thank you for your love to us
King of Glory who we nailed upon the cross
Gentle Shepherd when you’re searching for the lost
It’s okay for those that I work with to know I make mistakes and am imperfect – I do and I am. I just ask them to please be patient with me; God hasn’t finished with me yet. And I try to listen to God and let Him deal with my stuff so that I can help them deal with theirs.
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Nigel Pollock has a passion for effective evangelism, whole-life discipleship and encouraging the next generation of people of influence. He is married to Ailsa and they have three boys; Luke (15), Jamie (13) and Craig (9). The family live in Wellington, where Nigel is National Director of TSCF (Tertiary Students Christian Fellowship). Nigel travels extensively around the Pacific Rim and beyond. Nigel is the author of “Unconditional” and the best-selling “Relationships