18 As Jesus walked alongside the Galilee Sea, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew, throwing fishing nets into the sea, because they were fishermen. 19 “Come, follow me,” he said, “and I’ll show you how to fish for people.” 20 Right away, they left their nets and followed him.
15 When they finished eating, Jesus asked Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”
Simon replied, “Yes, Lord, you know I love you.”
Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16 Jesus asked a second time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
Simon replied, “Yes, Lord, you know I love you.”
Jesus said to him, “Take care of my sheep.” 17 He asked a third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was sad that Jesus asked him a third time, “Do you love me?” He replied, “Lord, you know everything; you know I love you.”
Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. 18 I assure you that when you were younger you tied your own belt and walked around wherever you wanted. When you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and another will tie your belt and lead you where you don’t want to go.” 19 He said this to show the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. After saying this, Jesus said to Peter, “Follow me.”
When Peter first met Jesus, he answered the call, “Come, follow me.” Yet after following for three years, when the crisis came, Peter three times denied knowing Jesus (cf. John 18:16-17, 25-27). The resurrected Jesus, a master psychologist, didn’t want that failure to haunt Peter forever. Three times, he asked Peter to affirm his love, deeper and more solid because Jesus forgave his denial. Then Jesus told him that he would yet have the chance to live out his words in John 13:37 (“I’ll give up my life for you”). With the cost of following clear, Jesus again made the same call to Peter: “Follow me.”
Lord Jesus, “Put me to doing, put me to suffering. Let me be employed by thee or laid aside for thee, exalted for thee or brought low for thee.” I recite John Wesley’s prayer at church. Please help me to mean it. Amen.
* N. T. Wright, John for Everyone, part 2. (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2004, p. 164-165.)
I knew a guy once, we’ll call him Bob. Bob knew that I played bass guitar and decided that this was a skill he would like too. He approached me and asked if I could give him bass lessons. I agreed and prepared materials for his first bass lesson, giving him a chart of the fretboard, basic scales, and a quick overview of rhythm. In his first lesson, he nodded and acknowledged every bit of information I gave him. He seemed to be grasping what I was telling him.
We scheduled the second lesson. Second lesson comes, and I find out that Bob had not touched his bass since the last lesson, nor had he looked over any of the materials. I started going over some more stuff, but quickly realized that I was just rehashing what I’d gone over the week before. I told him to practice and we scheduled another lesson for the week after that. Guess what? Next lesson, still no practice. So we canceled that lesson and scheduled another. Come the fourth lesson, Bob still had not picked up his bass. At that point, I didn’t schedule another lesson and told him to get in touch when he had practiced. He never talked to me about bass again.
Bob had a problem that’s much more common than most of us think: he wanted to be good at something, but he didn’t want to put in any work to get there. The story I related above is somewhat ridiculous, but I see it play out frequently: people buying into miracle diets that claim results without introducing lifestyle or diet changes, seminars that claim to teach secret creativity techniques that will make you creative without putting in the effort to train your brain over time to think creatively, and many other similar products. It seems we’re always looking for shortcuts. We all want to be good at things, but very few of us want to pay the price to actually get good at things.
Closeness to God is often perceived internally as an emotion. We feel we’re in love with God, we feel grateful, we feel a desire to be close to God. That’s why today’s passage is so important. Three times, Jesus asks Peter if he loves him. Peter responds, without a hint of doubt, that yes, he loves Jesus. And Jesus immediately responds by giving him a task: take care of his people. This conversation reminds me of my exchange with Bob so many years ago. “Bob, do you want to play bass?” “Yes, you know I want to play bass.” “Great, Bob. For the love of God, please practice.”
The emotion of closeness to God isn’t a bad thing, but it’s not much different than Bob’s desire to play bass: it requires practice and discipline that may not be as much fun as the initial emotions prepared us for. If we’re walking out of church, feeling like we’re in love with God, and then failing to love and take care of other people in practical ways, we’re not only failing to make progress—we’re devaluing the emotions that made us feel close to God in the first place. Closeness to God, like dedication to a craft, requires much more than emotion—it requires action, even when it ceases to be fun. Dedication and action are what can really bring a love for God from emotion to a real transformation.
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