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Failure to Strength

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One of the most memorable failures in the Bible is recorded in Mark 14:27-31 and 66-72.

Just after the Last Supper, Jesus told the disciples that they would all be scattered and desert Him. The apostle Peter assured Him that if everyone else were to deny Him, he would not, and was prepared to die. I can see Peter gesture to the others while putting his arm around the Master in a protective gesture. “You and me against the world, Lord. You can count on me!”

The latter verses above give us the rest of the story, including Peter’s horrifying denial in the courtyard of the high priest: “I do not know the man!” Although Peter failed spectacularly, his restoration is a case study in the right way back. It is not so important to wonder whether we will fail the Lord or others, because we certainly will. It would be better to determine if we have spiritual resources in the bank when we do.

Judas also failed spectacularly. I have found it helpful to contrast the failures of Judas and Peter in these dramatic days before the Crucifixion and Resurrection. Judas went on to total destruction, while Peter found grace. What was the difference?

Comparing and contrasting

Judas is cynical; Peter is on adventure. The Bible portrays Judas Iscariot in a negative light and otherwise says little about him, possibly because he never ventured an opinion, asked a question out of curiosity, or participated with others in a positive way. He occupied the shadows of the narrative. When he did speak, he was critical and selfish.

In contrast, the reason we know so much about Peter is that he took risks. We see Peter close to Jesus, asking questions, offering suggestions, sometimes tripping on his good intentions. He was engaged and adventurous.

Judas is arrogant; Peter is hungry for guidance. Cynicism concerning the Savior is bad, but arrogance is worse. The one time we remember Judas taking part in the discussion is when he chose to rebuke the Master. In John 12:1-8, Jesus blesses the woman who bathes His feet with the expensive perfume, and Judas questions the wisdom of such an act, ostensibly because he cared for the poor. But the Bible indicates that Judas was just a thief!

Peter, on the other hand, was brash, overconfident, impetuous, and unaware of his own weakness, but not arrogant. On the frequent occasions when Jesus corrected Peter, he listened silently, never resisting, and in my mind’s eye, ticked off on his fingers ways he could make corrections in the future.

Judas stumbles downstairs; Peter crawls upstairs. In his book David: After God’s Own Heart, author H. Edwin Young points out perhaps the most important difference between these two disciples. Peter, like King David many years before him, looked for the Lord’s strength to climb out of the basement once he found himself there. Judas, like King Saul, continued to stumble down into the darkness. Peter’s example shows the Lord is compassionate toward people who fail, and then reach out for help.

Of course, it would be better not to stumble at all! We can limit our wandering by proper preparation. An abiding relationship with God is both the prevention and the cure.

Spiritual preparation

From the first moment we see him, Peter was on mission with Christ. For all of his failures, Peter happily identified with Him. Nevertheless, whenever he failed, even after the Lord had left the earth (Galatians 2:11-14), he apparently was thinking first for Peter, and only then for Jesus and His will. In other words, Peter was not in full fellowship with the Savior.

For our spiritual condition to remain fresh, God gave us spiritual disciplines. A discipline, or a habit, is something we do regularly. Let’s highlight two familiar disciplines that will keep us from being blindsided by temptation as Peter was.

Prayer

The opposite of the discipline of prayer is spiritual insensitivity, for prayer is simply an open line of communication with heaven. When we are thus open to the Holy Spirit’s influence, we will not stumble into sin as Peter did, but rather will be forewarned. We can start each day with a time of prayer, a quiet time. We should give as much time as we reasonably can to this, and it should be serious and disciplined. This will order our mind, open us to the Lord’s influence, and set our path for the rest of the day.

We should follow this set prayer time without intermission (Luke 18:1-8; 1 Thessalonians 5:17; Ephesians 6:18), a practical and constant state of attentiveness to the urgings of God. This prayer does not require mumbling all day or any particular posture, like folded hands or kneeling. Additionally, some of the day will not be in conscious prayer, as other things will take our attention. However, we can order our minds so that we are multitasking, attending to the needs of the day while always being in touch with heaven.

Bible study

Prayer keeps us centered, but Bible study gives us stability. In fact, without careful attention to the Word of God, our prayer lacks power. Prayer needs balance. I find the richness of the Word of God reaches the deepest recesses of my personality and restores order. I heard somewhere that the ancient rabbis said, “An hour in study of the Torah is to the Holy One, as an hour in prayer.” During my quiet time in the morning, I make sure not to miss my Bible reading. I can pray all day wherever I am, but I cannot always open the Bible.

We should also respond to what we read. We should make every effort to do what the Word says and make changes when we seem unwilling to respond to its commands.

Other disciplines like worship, service, and fasting all have a place in maintaining a strong relationship with God and should not be neglected. Our hope in being spiritually on task is to tap into the power He has to keep us.

Best defense

Peter was a good man. We all wish we were as ready as he always seemed to be. However, just like us, Peter tended to overestimate his readiness in spiritual matters.

We can learn that our best defense is to realize that without the strong arm of the Lord, we are vulnerable and insufficient. Furthermore, when we fail, we can come back, being sure of the compassion of the Lord. Tears and heartbreak over our sin, as Peter showed, are indications that we are truly His. We can then dust ourselves off, take His hand again, and remember to stay close.

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Dr. David Downey is a freelance writer who has published work in Creation Illustrated, Seek, Precepts for Living, Light and Life, War Cry, and The Lookout. He has also published curriculum in QuickSource (Explore the Bible Series) and has published a book, His Burden is Light: Cultivating Personal Holiness, on Amazon. Dr. Downey lives in Burleson, TX.