Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me” (Matthew 16:24).
When you decide to follow Jesus, everything changes. There are sorrows and joys, failures and triumphs, and unexpected surprises. A life spent following Jesus is a life like no other.
Just ask Peter.
Jesus invited Peter to follow Him. Peter accepted the invitation, and his life changed forever. As he followed Jesus, he witnessed miracle after miracle—blind eyes healed, hungry multitudes fed, storms calmed, demons cast out. He even walked on water! Peter followed Jesus day in and day out for three years.
But when Jesus was arrested, Peter did what he declared he would never do: He denied Jesus. And not once, not twice—but three times. While Jesus was being beaten and abused, Peter sat by the fire and, when questioned, swore that he did not know Him. It had to be one of the lowest points of Peter’s life.
How did Peter get to such a place? How did he move forward from there? How does Jesus respond when we mess up in our walk with Him? Peter’s experience shows us three things Christ-followers should avoid:
- Don’t follow Jesus from afar. “…But Peter followed at a distance” (Luke 22:54). So many of us start out eagerly when Jesus calls us to follow Him. We’re all in. We’re fired up. But as life goes on, we may find ourselves drifting away and following from a distance. Maybe we don’t go to church as often. We don’t read our Bible like we used to. We don’t have the spirit of worship in our hearts we once had. We don’t spend the time in prayer. We follow from afar.
If you’re following from a distance, you’re in a dangerous place. Now is the time to get back to your first love. Don’t wait until the trials come, or until things get easier. Don’t wait until you’re not so busy. Make the change now, so that you don’t stumble as you follow Jesus. “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor. 10:12). Push in to Jesus and follow Him closely.
- Don’t give up when you mess up. “Simon Peter said to them, ‘I am going fishing’” (John 21:3). When Peter said, “I’m going back to fishing,” he’s saying, “I’m going back to who I was before I met Christ. I’ve blown it. I’ve failed. I tried to follow Jesus and I messed up, so I’m giving up.”
Listen, messing up does NOT mean you should give up. When you mess up, it’s time to look up, not to give up. Ask for forgiveness, and ask, “Lord, what can I learn from this? How can I use this failure or mistake to bring you more glory in the future?” God can use our mistakes to teach us about His love and faithfulness, and He can use them to minister to others and bring glory to His name. “…For my strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9). When you mess up, don’t give up!
- Don’t forget that Jesus loves you no matter what. “…Then Jesus said to them, ‘Children, have you any food?’” (John 21:7). Peter tried to go back to his old life, but when he got there, he found Jesus waiting for him. While he was out fishing, he saw Jesus on the shore, and heard Him calling. It didn’t matter that Peter had messed up. Jesus still loved Peter, and pursued him no matter what he had done. No matter how good you may think you are, you can’t make Jesus love you more than He already does. And no matter how bad you may think you are, you can’t make Jesus love you any less. He will relentlessly pursue you because He loves you.
Wherever you are on your journey with Jesus, be assured that His love for you remains steady. Your calling remains sure. The work He has for you to do is still there. When you mess up, Jesus doesn’t turn His back on you; He opens up His arms to draw you to His heart. “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end” (Lam. 3:22). You may give up on Jesus, but He will NEVER give up on you!
Where are you today in your walk with Jesus? If you’ve never accepted His invitation to follow Him, do it today. If you’re following from a distance, make the decision to recommit your life to Jesus, and take action to follow through on your decision.
And, if you’ve messed up and think that Jesus can’t use you any more, think again. Peter denied Jesus, but after Jesus ascended back to heaven, it was Peter who preached on the day of Pentecost and 3,000 people were saved. It was Peter who told a lame man to walk, and the man stood up walking and leaping and praising God.
And if Jesus will do it for Peter, He will do it for you.