Peter denied he knew Christ. To some folks, that’s no big deal. Compared to murder, rape, etc., giving in to fear seems like small potatoes. But to Peter, his denial of Jesus ranked right up there with Judas’ betrayal. Personal failure always feels more poignant and painful than seeing it in someone else’s life.
Proverbs says no one knows the grief of the heart like one’s self (Prov. 14:10). To Peter, his denial of Jesus struck to the core of his heart, because only hours earlier Peter had promised he would never deny Him. NEVER. Peter’s words were emphatic.
The bitter pill? Peter really believed he would never deny Jesus. The emotion gushed out of his mouth in a full-on promise—a vow—that Peter would stay faithful to the Master even when all others would not. His words went beyond a promise to a boast. To bolster Peter’s position and promise, he compared himself to the other apostles, whose reactions never made it into print (probably a good thing).
I doubt the other eleven would have agreed: “Yeah, Peter, you’re right. The rest of us are nowhere near as strong as you. I have to admit, when we all have turned tail and run, you’ll still be standing there with Jesus. Way to go.”
Weakness begins, ironically, by thinking we’re strong.
Peter’s boast was rooted in the same argument the apostles had that same evening: who was the greatest. The Twelve had argued among themselves about it, but Peter brought his position out into the open: “Me, I’m the greatest. I will stand strong when all the others have failed.” Ironically, they “all said the same thing.” There was a collective blind spot in the group.
Going Beyond a Firm Resolve
Hours later, Peter failed. But of course, they all failed in some way. Jesus’ words to them in Gethsemane offered a potential solution to their problem:
Keep watching and praying that you may not come into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. —Mark 14:38
We need more than a firm resolve in order to stand strong. We need prayer—that is, we need to rely on God—not on our commitments to faithfulness.
They didn’t see the need for prayer. After all, didn’t they affirm their commitment to faithfulness? Didn’t they really, really mean it? I believe they did. But they failed to account for the fact that a strong resolve isn’t enough to keep us strong in the face of the reality of temptation.
We need God. We need to walk humbly before Him.
We need to offer Him our lives by confessing our weakness—not by boasting in our strength. The twelve boasted over who was the greatest, when in reality, a humble spirit should have pulled from each of them what Paul later discovered: “I am the chief of sinners.” The greatest sinner. Why? Because only we know the depth of our own sin.
Finding a Strength not Our Own
Peter’s spirit was willing, but he failed to account for the weakness of his flesh– in spite of Jesus’ warning. Our commitment, our willing spirit, often finds its thin roots in our emotions. We feel them fiercely, as Peter did, but emotions change. Those roots easily snap.
We need more than a willing spirit. Oh, that’s a good place to start. After all, it’s better than an unwilling spirit! But with our willingness to follow Christ, we must put with it a humble spirit of dependence on Him.
Prayer gives us that spirit. Prayer gives us moments of clarity in our thinking, because prayer forces us to realize and reminds us that God is the strong one. He offers what we need to stand strong.
Peter would later write for us the solution:
Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God…. Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. But resist him, firm in your faith. —1 Peter 5:6, 8-9
Jesus’ words in Gethsemane had a similar urging: “Watch and pray.”
How to Rely on God’s Strength
It’s not enough just to humble ourselves, but we place ourselves under the “mighty hand of God.” His mighty hand. His strength makes us strong. Humility opens the door for God’s strength to enter. Prayer is both the confession that we need God’s strength and the invitation for His power to enter.
Today, you want to be faithful to Jesus. You have a passion for it—as I do. But we also have a weakness that is stronger than our personal resolve. To fail to account for that weakness is the first step toward failure in much bigger terms. We need to pray for God’s help, humbling ourselves under His mighty hand.
The strength we have available to walk faithfully with God is His strength, not our own.
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