We all come to God with different, but considerable, amounts which need to
be done within us. Everyone has to learn to submit one's inner being to the
Spirit so that he can train us and turn us into people who are useful for
doing his work, whatever that might be.
Peter, the first of Jesus'
disciples was no different. We can learn much by considering him as a an
example of someone Jesus had to train for his service. There are six major
points attached to this. It would be useful to have a Bible to hand.
1. LITTLE BY LITTLE
The first stage was that Peter's own natural strength had to be broken.
Many would agree that he was born a leader, but like many such people he had
to learn through his own failures.
In Matthew 16. 21 - 25, Peter takes Jesus aside to protest that he must go
to the cross. It is difficult to think of a stronger worded rebuke that
Jesus could give to Peter. The latter must have been shocked, especially
since he though he was looking after Jesus' best interests.
But this is a problem for most of us: we insist on deciding what is best for
God and for ourselves instead of being obedient to what God is asking of us.
Peter had to begin learning not to place any confidence in himself. This was
a process through which Peter had to go -- and a real turning point came in
Luke 22. 54 - 64 when peter denied Jesus -- not once, but three times, and
each more vehemently than the proceeding one.
This was the making of Peter. At this point he was totally devastated, his
own sense of self worth annihilated. There is a rather silly series of tv
ads running currently in Britain for women’s cosmetics which end in saying
"...because you're worth it". At this point Peter knew he was totally
unworthy of anything God might give him. This self knowledge is the point of
no return for everyone of us -- and if we never come to it, we shall never
reach the turning point in our lives.
Peter was made through his brokenness. He had done exactly what he said he
would not do! What Peter had to learn, and what we have to learn is that
WHAT WE CONSIDER TO BE OUR STRONGEST POINTS ARE, IN FACT, OUR WEAKEST POINTS
where god is concerned. We need to learn and to know that our own strength
is nothing, and that without God's grace we can do nothing of lasting worth.
This is THE lesson in humility. Anyone who fails to learn it will never be
of much use in building God's kingdom on earth. In fact, that person will
actually be a liability, especially to other disciples working in the field.
2. BUILDING UP PETER'S FAITH
Jesus was only too well aware of what needed to be done in Peter and the
other disciples -- and that task is no different today. But how many of us
are actually moving forward as disciples?
However, for those of us who WILL learn, God works in us at several
different levels at once. Unlike us, he does not necessarily have to
complete one stage before working on the next. He can work at different
levels or at different stages at the same time, knowing that he can bring
all the threads together at the right time. If we love him then, as John
says at 15. 9 - 13, that means obedience, and if God has that from us, he
has something to build on.
Now Peter's faith had to be built up, even while Jesus was still on earth,
and before God had broken him. The building up of his faith took place over
a period. Throughout that period of discipleship, Peter was looking at
Jesus, and slowly but surely his faith was being built up, even though there
were still impediments to it.
Jesus even took advantage of Peter's impetuosity, which led Peter, albeit
only briefly, to walk on the water -- until his own intellect took over and
he began to sink. He could not really understand HOW he could walk on water.
But how many Christians have rejected the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in
times of refreshing because they could not understand what God was doing?
Yet Peter's experience in getting out of the boat was something which no
other disciple could later look back on and learn from! Peter was able to
learn from it and subsequently to progress as a consequence.
3. LISTENING TO GOD
We have written a whole book on this ("The Keys To Hearing God Speak"
available from our web site) so this can only be a comment. Peter, like most
of us, had to learn to listen. He usually heard, but hearing is not the same
as listening! But he did learn. Recall the cloth lowered down to him in Acts
10, especially 10. 9f. Though Peter initially considered all those creatures
unclean, he learned a very difficult lesson for any Jew -- and it had a
great payoff when he went to the house of Cornelius (see Acts 10. 27 through
to Acts 11.18). Not only was all food equal for God, but so were all people.
A mighty lesson for a Jew.
But there are also other factors to be considered before we can fully
appreciate the training of Peter as a disciple.
If the Holy Spirit is to teach and train us we need to learn to be still
before God. When we hear, we need to be able to accept what he tells us. It
may not always be as difficult for us as for Peter as a lifelong Jew, but
there will be difficulties. This will not be attained without:
4. TOTAL COMMITMENT
"Commitment" does not sound too bad, but "total"?
Peter was shown that he must be totally committed, not just to Jesus as the
Christ, but also to his fellow Christians. We have few details of how that
very first Christian community came into being in Jerusalem, but Luke was
"gob smacked" by it (for the uninitiated, a memorable Yorkshire phrase). So
much so that he tells us about it twice (Acts 2. 44 - 47 and 4. 32 - 35).
Peter must have been important in its development (although its leader was
James, known as "the brother of the Lord"). They worshipped together (making
full use of the Temple), they shared all their goods and the better off
supplied the needs of the poorer members. Through his commitment to it,
Peter came to know the importance of what he later referred to as "living
stones" (1 Peter 2. 4, 5). We know we have to be that if we are to live and
work together for the kingdom.
Peter was to be a rock in its foundation. He really was already a rock --
but a rock in his own nature, and that was an obstacle to God's work. He had
to be, as it were, melted down and then reformed. Yes, a very painful
But it was mitigated for Peter, as it will be for us, through the growing
realization of how beautiful Jesus really is. He experience something of
that at the Transfiguration (Mark 9. 2 - 13 but also ask yourself about
verse 15). It was what allowed him to take the rebuke from Jesus that he was
an ally of Satan (Matthew 16. 23). Yet, once we realize something of that
beauty, we cannot wait for God to change us into something nearer himself.
5. DISCIPLINE OF THE TONGUE
In the earlier days God was always having to interrupt Peter. As example:
a. On the Mount of Transfiguration after Moses and Elijah had appeared with
Jesus (Luke 9. 33, 34). Note that it says " While he (Peter) was still
speaking). When we do not know what we are saying, the best thing is to shut
up. But Peter was overawed.
b. In Capernaum over the payment of the temple tax (Matthew 17. 24f). (This
tax derived from Exodus 30. 11 - 16 and was a special voluntary tax but,
before the time of Jesus, it had obeyed the first law of taxes and had
become compulsory!). Peter committed Jesus to paying it, but Jesus would
have claimed exemption because of who he really was.
c. At Cornelius' house in Caesarea, while Peter was still speaking the
Spirit descended on the whole family and household. Peter and his companions
Father, Son and Holy Spirit all intervened at various times to interrupt
Peter in full flow. We must be ready to accept God's interruption to our
words or actions. This is part of our being pure in heart.
6. THE PURE IN HEART
The sixth beatitude at Matthew 5. 8 promises the vision of God to the
pure in heart, and Peter was brought to this state. It is a heart condition
which God requires for the fulfillment of his purposes of grace. Purity of
heart simply means a state where there is no hindrance to seeing and
accepting God and his plan for all and for each of us.
It is a requirement for living in the kingdom while we are here on earth. It
is a present reality for those who can believe that Jesus brought the
kingdom and established it here. It exists wherever the pure in heart exist,
and there is no reason for our not seeing it -- except the barriers we erect
ourselves, in our own thinking and attitudes.
For example, how often do we hear and read other Christians denigrating
their brethren who belong to churches other than their own? Often this is
expressed contemptuously and with less than a modicum of insight but with
pretension. Watchman Nee once said that, to stop us seeing an object, it is
not necessary to put a dirty cloth over it; a clean one will do just as
well. Our attitudes can appear sanitised but if they denigrate other
Christians there is something there which is unclean.
In his first letter (1 Peter 1.13, 14) Peter warns us against conforming to
evil desires and bringing into our present lives the kind of ignorance we
once exhibited. He was molded by experience and God's grace to truly be the
first among Jesus' disciples. He still made mistakes -- anyone who is human
will. But he could stand to be corrected for that and to accept the
correction. (e.g. Acts 10. 9 - 16 and 17 - 48; 15. 5 - 11; Galatians 2. 11 -
21). It was part of his training, a training that continued all way the Rome
and an inverted cross.
Discipleship - Following Jesus
Jesus made it very clear that discipleship is not an easy life. It is a
life of constant change. To follow, we will have to count our relationship
to Jesus as more important than our family and friends.
St Thomas at
the Octave of Resurrection
When we can exclaim from our innermost soul, "My Lord and my God," then
we have liberation from all lesser things. It seems that last things to
overcome in the Christian life are periods of doubt that arise.
Be a Bold
Remember that you are immortal till your work is done. If the Lord has
more witness for you to bear, you will live to bear it.