**This study is an invitation to talk about those hard questions our hearts have trouble asking. Is God good? Is He really in control of everything? Is He here? Is He really my priority? Through this study, I hope you gain some wisdom, but even more, gain the courage to ask God the hard questions and listen to what He has to say.**
It had been a long day…a long week, and Peter was still trying to wrap his head around all that had happened. The Passover meal, Jesus’ arrest in the garden, Peter’s own denial of ever knowing the Man, the three days of agonizing grief following the crucifixion, and the news that Jesus had risen from the dead.
Though Peter himself had seen the empty tomb and Jesus had appeared to the disciples twice, it still felt impossible. Unbelievable.
But it was real, he reminded himself.
As real as the regret and shame that still clung to him over the way he had responded in Jesus’ moment of greatest need. Peter ran his hands through his hair, hoping to chase away the guilt. He who had spoken with confidence that he would die right beside Jesus had fled like a frightened lamb.
Sick of the endless spinning of his thoughts, Peter finally stood and declared, “I’m going fishing!” A handful of the others joined him, and he was grateful. The last thing he wanted was another moment alone with his thoughts. They spent the night on the water, but the fish seemed to be keeping their distance. Until the next morning when a stranger from the shore told them to toss the net over the other side of the boat. When they did, the fish all but jumped into the net! Peter squinted toward shore, the event all to familiar. Images of the first time he met Jesus danced in his mind: memories of an empty catch and a weary night and a Man telling him that He would make Peter a fisher of men.
“It is the Lord!”
John’s declaration brought Peter back from the present and confirmed his own suspicions. Without hesitation Peter leaped into the water and swam to shore.
Rising from the water, Peter met Jesus with a dripping hug. Jesus greeted him with a smile and a hearty pat on the back, then motioned to the vessel the other disciples were pulling to shore. “Bring some of the fish you have caught.”
For the next hour they shared a meal together, the feeling so familiar. For three years now Peter had followed Jesus, sharing meals, listening to his laughter as stories passed around the cook fire. But as the fish bones were laid aside, Peter felt Jesus lean in a little. When Peter looked up, he saw Jesus’ eyes on him.
“Peter, do you love me?”
The question caught him off guard and he answered quickly, his eyes shifting back to the sandy beach. “Lord, you know I love you.”
“Then feed my lambs.”
Silence passed among the group until Jesus spoke again. “Peter, do you love me?”
Again Peter answered, “Lord, you know I love you.”
“Take care of my sheep.”
A third time, Jesus asked, “Peter, do you love me?” Only this time as He asked, there was a depth in His eyes, like an ocean of acceptance and grace inviting Peter to dive in.
Salty tears filled his eyes as Peter answered a final time, “Lord, you know everything. You know I love you.”
Jesus nodded, a smile lifting the corner of his mouth, yet his eyes looked suddenly sorrowful. “Feed my sheep. Very truly I tell you, when you were younger, you dressed yourself and went where you wanted, but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” Peter wasn’t entirely sure what all that meant, but it didn’t sound pleasant.
Jesus stood and motioned for Peter to do the same. “Follow me.”
They walked a distance together before Peter turned at the sound of shuffling sand. John was following. A tiny bit of jealousy rose in his chest. John, the favorite one, a beloved disciple. John who had been there the entire time, who never left Jesus’ side.
“What about him, Lord?” Peter pointed behind, but Jesus kept his gaze focused ahead. John had done everything right. Would his fate end differently than Peter’s because of his faithfulness?
“If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.”
As I read this passage, I was reminded of God’s infinite grace. Despite the fact that Peter messed up; that he ran and sought to protect his own skin over aligning himself with Jesus, the Lord still reached out to him.
In the midst of the company of disciples, Jesus reinstated Peter, He welcomed Peter back into the fold and lifted him up as a leader, a shepherd sent to tend to the lambs.
Yet despite the miracle, Peter still turns around and asks about John’s future. Whether from a place of brotherly love, straight curiosity, or the avenue of jealousy I chose to take with the story, Peter averted his gaze once more.
“What about this man, Lord?”
I’m equally guilty of turning my gaze and questioning the plans God has for someone else–the impact or ministry or healing He might have for them–when He’s focused on our relationship. Him and me. It’s in those moments too we find amazing grace.
“Do you love me?” He questions, drawing our gaze back to Him. “Are you willing to sacrifice everything to follow me, even if where I am leading you means going only with the assurance that I alone will be with you?”
I read a powerful statement once that has once again surfaced as this new season takes my people and me in different directions: “Only Jesus stay.” It’s both a saddening and enlightening truth. Because the reality is, I want my people with me. Always. I want to make sure God’s plans still put us in proximity to each other.
But the only person who is with me always is Jesus. He stays. Even when everyone else leaves.
Or when I have to leave everyone else.
Because of this Jesus has to be priority. Before any other relationship, your relationship with him has to matter more. He takes priority, and when He asks you to go somewhere, do something, reach out to someone, you need to go. You need to follow. Because no matter what, I believe He has the best in mind for us. It may not always be easy or pain-free, but it is good. Because He is good.
Live in His love!
I hope you’ve enjoyed this series as much as I have. It’s always fascinating to me to look at familiar passages in a new light, with a new focus. I love a good Bible study and I love learning from people’s stories. Do you have an idea for a future Bible study series? Scroll up and click on that contact button and shoot me a message or comment below. I’d love to hear from you!
Also, next month I’m going to be sharing some of the challenges and lessons I’ve been wrestling with in chasing after this dream of writing. I hope it serves as an encouragement to you and a reminder that God’s ways are not our own. Stay tuned!
Related: Q&A: The Goodness of God