When passion and self-confidence are not enough!

Peter never thought he would deny Jesus. He never planned to. He assured Jesus he never would. He would be the exception when his weaker colleagues’ courage gave way. Supreme self-confidence.

‘Even though they all fall away, I will not.’

As if to show that he meant it, the gospels show him using his sword to stand up for Jesus. Confidence, determination and passion.

I remember hearing that wonderful Bible teacher, Stuart Briscoe talk about Peter’s removal of Malchus’ ear. We shouldn’t imagine that this was a careful piece of surgery – it was clumsy swordsmanship. The result was not meant to be the removal of an ear: it was meant to be the separation of Mal and Chus – one on either side!

That’s passion!

‘Even though they all fall away, I will not.’

Summer in this part of the world can be like a spiritual greenhouse. The conferences and festivals. Summer Madness for the young. A whole series of camps for the even younger. New Wine for the charismatics, Northfield for the Brethren, Keswick at Portstewart for the reformed and reformed-ish Baptists and Brethren. New Horizon somewhere in the middle.

Preaching and teaching. Challenge and encouragement. Seminars and worship. Prayer and coffee times with friends.

Not to mention the teams: maybe a couple of weeks in a far-flung city (at least an EasyJet flight away) with a zealous group of like-minded people involved in an exciting outreach programme. All those people who turned up to watch the Jesus film; the people who signed up for Bible study in the autumn; people who came to faith. You’re ready to take on the world.

And now today is the final Bank Holiday of the summer (why do banks need all these holidays and why do some people who don’t work in banks get them too?), and September is just around the corner. Back to school. ‘Traffic is slow on the M1 into Belfast.’ Evenings drawing in.

Will the spiritual passion of the summer greenhouse be enough?

Don’t get me wrong: most of us could do with a lot more spiritual passion than we have (if in doubt, compare your response to watching the winning goal/try in a final to your enthusiasm for the fact that Jesus has been raised again!). We really ought to be passionate about our faith. Read the Psalms – especially the ones that talk about noise and joyful shouting. Think about trees clapping their hands and stones crying out. Why is joy part of the fruit of the Spirit?

We could use a lot more spiritual passion.

It’s just that – as in the case of Peter – there can be a level of passion that makes us think we are stronger than we actually are.

‘Even though they all fall away, I will not.’

It’s so much easier to be ‘all for Jesus’ when you’re singing a great hymn or song in a crowd of hundreds or thousands than when you’re part of a shrinking rural church where almost everyone has their bus pass. It’s easier to be confident in your faith when you’re in a crowd of hundreds or thousands, listening to one of the most gifted Bible teachers in the country, than when when you’re the only Christian in an arts class at university.

Peter’s failure was bitter and painful. He wept. How could he let down his friend? Might he also have been aware of the way his failure had demonstrated that he was not as strong as he thought he was? That’s an insight that failure gives us.

Mercifully his story has further to run: much further. That’s why John appears to tag on an extra chapter when it looks as though he’s said all that needs to be said by the end of chapter 20. Peter finds grace by a charcoal fire.

Sometimes we sing, ‘Jesus, I will never let you go’: which is fine. It’s a good answer to Joshua’s ‘who will you serve’ question.

But sometimes it’s not enough.

Just as often we need to be asking him never to let go of us.

Welcome to autumn! Get your roots down deep!


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