“I tell you the truth, when you were young, you were able to do as you liked; you dressed yourself and went wherever you wanted to go. But when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and others will dress you and take you where you don’t want to go.” Jesus said this to let him know by what kind of death he would glorify God. Then Jesus told him, “Follow me.”
– John 21: 18 – 19 [NLT]
The life cycle of a Christian can sometimes be a complicated one, and is described by John 21:18-19. Before truly giving our lives to God we did whatever we wanted, how we wanted, and when we wanted — usually as long as it was not in disagreement with the rules and laws of our community. Our faith was young and many times disobedient. Depending on where we were in our walk of life we might deliberately told God NO… for the simple fact that we “knew” our plans were in perfect alignment with what we wanted to do with our lives.
But many times God’s plans are different from our own. It can be scary and disappointing to find out that God is pulling us in a different direction. However, we should remember that God knows everything and is king of all creation. So when his vision for us is in misalignment with that of our own, it means that he wants us to do something much greater than we could initially imagine. He changes our plans because he has specifically chosen us for a purpose in advancing his kingdom. If it makes you feel better, think of it as an Emergency Special Ops because your skills on a particular subject is exactly what is needed to save a life.
When I read John 21 I had the biggest “OH MY GOODNESS” moment. Verses 18 and 19 were so simple yet brought such a huge revelation. The first half of verse 18 describes how life was before becoming a Christian as well as being young in the faith. That was the time period we did what we pleased because there were no restrictions governing our actions. But when we are maturing in our faith that is when God is stretching out his hand with a big smile on his face saying “follow me.”
You know that your faith has matured when you can give God your hand, whether or not you are in agreement with where he wants to take you. That is because your love for Jesus will cause you to go to the places you never wanted to go.
Take Peter for example. Although he was a follower of our Lord Jesus, out of fear he denied to be three times (chapter 18 verses 17, 25, and 27).
After Jesus died and was resurrected the disciples went back to doing what was familiar to them, fishing but they were not having any success. And then along came Jesus telling them to do something different and the moment they obeyed they were catching far more fish than they possibly needed.
When Peter realized that the man on the shore was Jesus, he immediately put on his tunic and jumped out of the boat. The love he felt for Jesus made him do something the other disciples could have categorized as ridiculous or irrational. Not even “the disciple Jesus loved” was moved to exit the boat as Peter did, but remained with the other disciples to pull the net to shore. Getting to Jesus wasn’t an urgent matter because they were only about 100 yards from him and knew they could get to him pretty quickly without the burden of getting completely soaking wet like Peter.
I personally feel that the other six disciples didn’t follow Peter’s actions, not because they didn’t love Jesus. It wasn’t their time yet for God to do something great in their lives and remove boulders that were in their path to Jesus. God gave Peter a burning desire to meet Jesus at that specific moment because there were some things Peter HAD to deal with.
In the paraphrased words of one of my pastors, Jesus was taking Peter to his “greatest place of pain.” Jesus was bringing Peter back to the moment where he denied to even be associated with the man he just jumped out of a boat for. All three times Peter denied Jesus he was standing by a charcoal fire (chapter 18 verses 18 and 25) watching as Jesus was being taken away and mocked. So this time Jesus took Peter to a charcoal fire (chapter 21 verse 9) to redeem him. Jesus will lead us back to the very places that causes us the most pain and where we denied him. He brings us back to these places to show us that he is much greater than our past and certainly greater than anything that is blocking us from him.
God has brought me back to my dark places so many times, and being the stubborn person that I am I fought him every single time (which is probably the reason why I had to keep going back). I know how much it sucks to have to remember specific events that you tried so hard to bury in the back of your mind. God knows how difficult it is for us to follow him wholeheartedly when all we can think about is how we hurt him.
Just like Jesus did to Peter, God is asking us each and every day if we love him, and for every single time our actions seem to question that. Every time we tell God yes he will then tell us to care for his people. For us to care for others and show God we truly love him then we must allow him to bring us to the end of ourselves. We must go the point where the most important thing is God and what he desires because that is what stretching our hands back and following God looks like.
Allow God to bring you back to your dark places. Not as a way to wallow in your sorrow and pain, but as a way to let Jesus illuminate the darkest corners of your heart. Even the smallest amount of light has enough energy to break what we preserve as the deepest darkness. It may take some time but with each encounter with your living God your dark places will become brighter and brighter. You’ll notice as time goes on that you will be less emotionally drained and not as hurt as you once were. Remember God’s grace, love, and favor is sufficient and in our weakness God can show his power even greater (2 Corinthians 12:9).