Encouragement for the Struck-Out Christian
- Rushton Witt Contributing Writer
- 2003 20 Feb
Are you discouraged in your Christian walk? You push with all your strength, but the mountain just won't budge. You drain your brain, but the correct answer rarely seems to surface. You swing with all your might, but strike three is your greatest accomplishment. If this is you, chin up because you're not alone.
As believers, we experience less victory and more bruises than we would ever like to admit. As imperfect beings chasing an awesome God, we can't help but trip and stumble in our pursuit of Him. I mean, let's be honest. Let's face the facts. Most of us would like to wake up every morning to trumpets and serenading angels, but more often we drag out of bed licking the wounds of disappointment and nursing the scars of yesterday.
However, there is hope. In fact, the solution may be right under our noses. Run harder? No. Think faster? Not quite. Do more? How could we? All of these seem logical but afford us nothing but more scrapes, less joy, and added stress. So, let's dive right in and be encouraged.
I'd like to introduce you to someone. He's my hero and his name is Peter - Simon Peter to be exact. Most people would not place him in the same category as other great leaders, but I think he deserves a class all his own. You see - he was a misfit. An outcast. A screw-up. He was the strike out king. As a result, a great deal of his life and career was overcast with the very storm clouds of discouragement we find so often hanging in our skies. I guess that's why I look up to him. I relate so well because I, too, was a misfit.
Peter was the kind of person who wanted an answer for everything. Peter's mind, though it seemed mostly empty, was always in fifth gear, constantly conceiving new questions and desperately deducing the correct answer. If Peter didn't understand something Jesus taught, he was never afraid of looking foolish in front of the others. He simply blurted out exactly what was on his mind. Though this probably annoyed others, there is something very interesting hidden within Peter's probing personality.
With each of his questions, Peter almost always took an honest shot at the answer. He didn't just ask Jesus, "How many times should I forgive my brother when he sins against me?" He posted his best answer. "Seven?"1 As usual, it was terribly wrong, but a valiant effort. His questions and answers reveal to us just how deeply and fully Peter wanted to serve Christ. He never settled for a simple question and routine answer. He wanted to know completely what Christ was thinking, feeling, and sharing with the world. "What does the parable mean?"2 "What will be our reward for following you?"3 "Lord, where are you going?"4 "Why can't I come?"5 Like a five-year-old in a candy store, he refused to take anyone's word over a personal taste test. Peter may have been a bother, but he was at all times mentally engaged and consciously dedicated as he sought to please Christ.
From Head to Heart
However, following Christ is not just a matter of the mind. As for Peter and most of us, the difference between living a confident or discouraged Christian life is the 18 inches between our heads and our hearts. We know the basics. We may be trivia experts or have even memorized our favorite scripture passages. Our intelligence is not lacking, but we are often apathetic and discouraged because the knowledge in our minds does not have a passionate fire to fuel us toward Him. Not so for Peter.
Peter's passion was pure. His devotion was deep. His drive was strong. His determination was unyielding. His spirit was incredible. He was the first out of the boat, last in line, and always on the ball. The desire of Peter's heart was to eat, drink, and sleep Jesus. No matter where Jesus was, Peter was by His side. No matter what Jesus said, Peter listened. Whatever Jesus did, Peter lent a helping hand. Peter's life mission was to please the one who had transformed his life from coy to confident. Tiresome to thrilling. Sour to sweet.
But, even as his heart beat solely for Christ, Peter was still not free from the storm of discouragement. We applaud him for getting out of the boat but forget that he quickly sank.6 He tried so diligently to help, but was often in the way. He desired to promote Christ everywhere but, in the end, denied ever meeting Him.7 I often think of his disappointments and wonder how he was affected. I imagine the nights he slipped away embarrassed and defeated. The nights that he slumped onto his mat, buried his face in a pillow, and cried himself to sleep. However, in spite of his pain and frustration, Peter kept pushing. Peter kept thinking. Peter kept serving. Ahhhh, the hero within! A potential for greatness just waiting to be tapped! Yet, one question begs an answer.
"So, if Peter was so mentally focused and deeply devoted, why couldn't he hit the homerun even though he swung hard for the fences? Why couldn't he pull off the miracle? Why couldn't he get it right?" From the time Jesus called Peter, to the moment He returned to heaven, we realize there was someone missing from the equation. That someone was on His way. That someone was ready for Peter. That someone was the Holy Spirit. Oh, and when the Holy Spirit shows up, get ready, because amazing things are about to happen.
Once Peter became intimate with the Holy Spirit, at Pentecost, he was transformed. The man - who was always in the way - was now leading the way. The man - who dreamed of changing the world - was doing just that. For the first time in his life, there was fire behind his bat. I imagine that, with tears running down his beaming face, he watched amazed as the crippled were healed by his touch. With new boldness, he spoke to the masses. The misfit had become fit for greatness. The outcast was now drawing in others. Instead of down and out with his tear-streaked cheeks pressed in a pillow, Peter was empowered!8 Yet still I wonder. In the midst of his unusual success, did Peter replay in his mind the day his spiritual journey switched tracks - the waterside meeting with his risen King?
The scene reveals that, as always, Peter was the first out of the boat, splashing his way to Jesus. I'm curious what Peter was thinking as their eyes met. Was Peter's heart breaking under profound guilt as he remembered the night he disowned Jesus? Was he worried that their once tight relationship would be strained and awkward? Perhaps he embraced his greatest fear. The fear that Jesus was just as disappointed in Peter as Peter was in himself. But possibly to his surprise, he found his Leader still as much in love with His misfit follower as ever. In fact, in that moment, Jesus reassured him of their mutual love and respect for one another and Peter realized the freedom of Christ's call.9 Here lies the solution to our despair.
For some reason, like Peter, many Christians seem to be under the impression that God has called them to victory. Instead, God never has called for victory won by His children. Rather, he has called us to an intimate relationship with Him. He has called us to obedience. God does not call us to walk on the water but simply to get out of the boat. He does not call us to hit the homerun. He calls us to step up to the plate, get the bat off our shoulders, and swing for the fences. He doesn't call us to perform the miracle but simply to surrender our hands and activate our faith.
When we recognize God's plan and submit to His calling, He receives great glory because it is His strength within us that ultimately gains the victory. He is the fire behind the bat, the waves beneath our feet, and the power within the miracle.
So, the next time you awake and find two discouraged and bloodshot eyes staring back at you in the bathroom mirror, think of Peter and remember this: All He asks of you is to open your mind, offer your heart, and lay down your life for Him. The victory is His to achieve!10
1 Matthew 18:21
2 Matthew 15:15
3 Matthew 19:27
4 John 13:36
5 John 13:37
6 Matthew 14:29-30
7 Luke 22:57
8 Acts 2-3
9 John 21:4-19
10 1 Corinthians 15:57