My life was falling apart. I even considered quitting ministry. Peter after failing Jesus was ready to quit being a disciple and go back to fishing. At least he could do that right. Yet after fishing all night, hour after long tedious hour, he caught nothing. (from The Gospel of John chapter 21)
But at dawn, a mysterious voice calls out, “Have you caught any fish?”
After being out all night and catching nothing, Peter was in no mood, but he calmly says, “No. Nothing.”
Then the same voice says: “Throw your net on the other side of the boat.”
(Pause) Excuse me? Fishing boats were only so wide. Same water, fish swim. What an idiotic thing to say, “Throw the net on the other side of the boat?”
Yet, Peter listens. Perhaps, he recognizes the voice as Jesus. He throws the net and, “Voila!” Miracle of miracles! More fish than can be imagined! More fish than can fill the net or be pulled into the boat by several strong fishermen! It is a miracle! Peter realizes the “Voice” is none other than Jesus.
Then Peter does something strange. He puts on his tunic before jumping in the water. Let me repeat that: He puts on his tunic. Why? Modesty? That’s like putting on a shirt and pants and an overcoat then jumping in. Any way you cut it, that’s weird. These guys had been around each other for years. Modesty?
Unless it wasn’t modesty. What if it was more about vulnerability? Peter was deeply ashamed. How do you approach someone when you feel that way? You cover up. But give Peter credit: Ashamed, vulnerable, Peter went.
- First comes the mysterious voice: “Throw your net on the other side of the boat.”
- Second comes the miracle when Peter realizes: “It’s the Lord!”
- Third, Peter feels vulnerable and ashamed. It’s time to stop running.
But first… breakfast.
“Bring some of the fish,” Jesus said. “Now come and have breakfast!” Picture this: a beautiful beach, a roaring fire with smoke drifting lazily up into the sky and the aroma of freshly cooked fish.
Now comes the moment of truth. It’s one thing to forgive, even to forget. The breakfast and kindness are proof. Up to this point we would have an interesting story of two friends who quarreled and made up: Interesting, but hardly life changing.
But what happens next is the lesson: everything else is simply preparation. Jesus looks at Peter as only Jesus can do. “Peter, do you love me more than these?” (John 21:15)
What does he mean by these? The disciples? The fire? Maybe Jesus is pointing at the boats. To Peter’s past life. Peter, I know what you are thinking. Do you love me more than your past life?
“Yes Lord, you know I love you.”
Then feed my sheep. Three times. “Do you love me?” Three times Peter denied him, so three times Jesus offers forgiveness and restoration. “Feed my sheep. You are not a fisherman anymore.” You failed but you are restored. “Feed my sheep.”
Then to drive the point home as only Jesus can do. He looked at Peter and softly said, “Peter. Follow Me!” Peter would never be the same. What changed?
During my own troubles, I was reading this passage. For the first time, I understood what Peter was going through. I also began to rethink who I was as a pastor and as a Christian. I realized, if Peter can be forgiven and restored and later become a church leader, so could I.
God didn’t mean for me to quit, but I also realized God was providing critical lessons.
- I needed to lose my cockiness and climb down from my pastor pedestal if I wanted to be effective and relate to those I serve. People are not looking for a perfect, untouchable, unapproachable pastor. They need someone who is called by God to serve with humility, despite their flaws.
- I need to pay closer attention to the people around me and be willing to offer God’s comfort to those experiencing painful grief whether through death, divorce, job loss or illness.
- And the most important lesson of all? We make mistakes, commit sins, and occasionally fall flat on our face in failure. But when we least expect it, God provides a reassuring presence to fish on the other side of the boat. Don’t give up. Trust God.
Over the next few years, a lot of changes occurred in my ministry and personal life. God introduced me to Mell, who also experienced tragedy and upheaval. In the process of helping each other through those difficulties, we fell in love. Together, we started and led divorce recovery groups. Sharing our experiences in those groups enabled others to overcome their tragedies.
Talent, enthusiasm and skills are important assets when it comes to serving God but, it’s your tragedies and shortcomings that have the greatest potential to be used by God to shape your ministry to others. We make mistakes, but we are forgiven, and restored. May we hear, believe and count on it.