Lessons from John 21 – #1. Encouragement by Proximity.

Peter was the leader of the Apostles – one of the first three called by Jesus, and definitely the one with the loudest/fastest mouth. The others looked to him for direction. But he blew it big time. After declaring his undying devotion to Jesus, claiming his readiness to follow Jesus both to prison and to death (Luke 22:33), Peter, this great leader and devoted disciple, denied Jesus three times on the night of Jesus’ arrest (John 18:15-17, 25-27). The rooster crowed. His heart sank. The pain Peter must have felt. The embarrassment. The shame. Over the next 24 hours, Peter would watch as his beloved Lord would be falsely accused, beaten, spit upon, tortured, hung on a cross, and left to die. I wonder what went through his head as he watched those events unfold… every second of the day, if every thought which passed through his mind was clouded by the dominance of his recent failure. I’ve been there. It is very easy to get depressed when we focus on our spiritual failures.

The news of Jesus’ supposed abduction from the tomb took Peter by surprise. He and John took off – running to the tomb (John 20:1-10). When they arrived, it was empty. Could it be? Was Jesus alive? Or had his body been stolen as Mary suggested? Mix in that uncertainty and wonder with severe depression and a perceived loss of influence over those who once trusted you as a leader. What if Jesus was alive indeed? Would He confront Peter on his shameful three-fold denial in front of the rest of the Eleven? What would Jesus say? I’m sure Peter believed he would rightfully be demoted, or at least reprimanded openly. Depression + Anxiety + Confusion = uncontrollable nervousness, racing thoughts, and decreased focus.

The Eleven, afraid of the Jews, were gathered together behind locked doors, praying. Jesus suddenly appeared among them and said, “Peace to you.” … … The substance of that meeting was almost exclusively Jesus “proving” that He was indeed the One whom the disciples knew, loved, and followed for three years. It was irrefutable. Jesus had risen from the dead. Imagine, now, Peter’s internal war. Thinking that any minute, Jesus could lash out against his hypocrisy. Peter’s stomach must have been in knots. He needed some time to think…

Peter decided to go fishing. I often use this same coping mechanism. It gives me time to get away from it all, and just think. Or not think, if I so choose. He wanted some time alone. But that’s not always the best thing for you. Peter was walking with five other disciples and said, “I’m going fishing,” (John 21:3). He didn’t say, “Let’s go fishing.” And he didn’t ask if anyone wanted to come along. Peter was hoping to go away by himself. But his friends didn’t let him. They said, “We’re coming with you.” Not, “can we come along?” or, “would you like us to come with you?” No. They straight up told Peter, “We’re coming.” Why do you think they did this?

The other disciples knew that Peter was struggling. It was all over his face. They knew he felt worthless. They knew he saw himself as a failure. By accompanying Peter, they were showing him that they still supported him, and that they still loved him. Like it or not, the other five disciples with Peter were going to show their support of him. They were not about to leave him alone in his time of despair. He needed affirmation. He needed support. And that’s what his friends were going to give him.

I have some friends like that. Friends who know me well enough to “read me” even when I won’t come out and say that something’s wrong. They walk with me on my life’s journey, and I walk with them on theirs. They know everything about me, good and bad. And they love me anyway. I can think of many times when one or more of these friends of mine absolutely would not let me face a trial on my own. If they became aware that I was anxious or depressed, they were going to see me through it. Many times it was inconvenient for them. Many times, it was inconvenient for their beautiful wives and precious children. Long nights, and tiresome days. But they walked with me anyway. They didn’t have answers to my problems. They couldn’t change my circumstances by walking with me. But the thing I needed most was the thing they were adamant to give – Encouragement by Proximity. 

What friend of yours is walking through something difficult? You can see it all over their face. You may have an idea what’s on his mind, but you don’t know for sure. You may know every detail, but just don’t have a solution. Don’t let him go out in the boat alone. Walk with him. Even if it takes all night long, and you don’t catch a single fish. Encouragement by Proximity. 

Grace and Peace,

Tony