Contributor: Pete Greig
Pete Greig is the bewildered founder of the 24-7 Prayer movement, a Director of Waverley Abbey and, along with his wife Sammy, is Senior Pastor of Emmaus Rd Church in England. Pete co-hosts the Lectio365 daily devotional, serves as an Ambassador for Tearfund, and is a member of The Order of the Mustard Seed. His best-selling books include Red Moon Rising, God on Mute and How to Pray.
Read: John 21:15-19
For me, the ultimate moment of restoration of calling is Jesus cooking breakfast on the beach with the apostle Peter. It's striking that, around a fire, Peter has denied Jesus three times. And then Jesus lights a fire and singles Peter out and asks: “Do you love me? Do you love me? Do you love me?”. It's such a beautiful moment. And he's naming Peter's shame. Imagine: you've denied Jesus three times, and he's been crucified – forget the resurrection for a second – just live with that shame and guilt for the rest of your life… Then, to make matters worse – or better, who can say – Jesus appears again alive and Peter has to look him in the eye. And I suspect Peter struggled to look him in the eye. I suspect Peter was trying – I bet he was good at jokes – I think he tried to keep it shallow. And Jesus, just with his intensity, pulls him in and says, “We are going one-on-one, we're going to go there”. It's such an intentional moment of Jesus modelling his compassion and his intentionality around the restoration of a single human being. And of course, out of that the fractals spiral down 2000 years and we’re living in the fruit of that restoration: “On this rock, I will build my church”.
...His love is greater than our brokenness. This is the offence of grace... He sees us with unconditional love and acceptance.
Before there's good news, there’s really bad news, which is: Jesus has seen our areas of shame. Peter might well have been thinking, “there’s hope he didn't see this… hope he never heard [the denials], it was just between me and the servant girl in the courtyard…” You can imagine this moment of realisation – and this is what in religious terms we talk about as conviction of sin – “Oh my goodness, God sees.” In that moment, it's our worst nightmares coming true. One of the primary drives in our lives is to keep “that” area hidden from people, and God. And God is walking the room naming it, so that's the first thing: daring to bring before the Lord and name before the Lord areas of shame that we want to just ignore, suppress in our subconscious, be too busy, avoid intimacy in prayer, honesty in prayer… naming it. The scriptures are so honest; the extraordinary thing about many of the scriptures is they were never redacted from the text – just honesty, the raw honesty, the lament before the Lord.
So that's the first thing, we bring our areas of brokenness and shame before the Lord, knowing that he's not surprised. He's just waiting for us to be willing to have as honest a conversation with him as he has always wanted to have with us. And then it's this discovery of: he has seen our shame, with love. And some people will find that harder to receive than the first thing, because part of the very core of their shame is the awareness: God has seen. So, they don't struggle with that bit of the bad news but it's almost even worse news to know that God – because they want God to condemn them, they want God to hate on them for the thing they hate themselves for – but to actually begin to name that thing in the presence of God and see that somehow his love is greater than our brokenness. This is the offence of grace. I don't think it’s just symmetry that Jesus asks the question three times, because Peter has denied him three times. I think there's a sense in which Peter just couldn't take it the first time. You see he tries to deflect the first time: “yeah, yeah, yeah, of course”. Eventually Peter goes, you know all things. You know I love you.
I would encourage people in the season of Lent, as we wrestle with our own areas of wilderness and shame, to name before the Lord those areas of brokenness and to allow ourselves to imagine that He sees us, in spite of all of that, with unconditional love and acceptance. That He wishes to accept us and the areas in which we reject ourselves. And then the conversation is, “How do I begin to accept the acceptance of God in the very areas where I want to reject myself?” That's the conversation that leads you inevitably to the cross. And then from the cross out, to “go and feed my sheep” and to name the shame of others with love. We tend to think it's unloving to name shame, but Jesus here has difficult conversations. One of the problems in our preaching of the gospel is we want to do it without ever making anyone feel awkward or offending anyone. But there's almost no biblical precedent for that, it doesn't work as a strategy. Ultimately, “speak the truth in love”. We're not called to be nice. We're called to be loving. That’s justice and mercy together.
In that moment on the beach, Peter’s own relationship with Jesus is being restored. That has to be where it begins – the ultimate restoration is relationship with God. But then, out of the restored relationship is his destiny, his calling. And the scriptures say that “we're knit together in our mother's womb”. There are “good works prepared in advance for each one of us to do that”, we're not an accident, we're on this planet with design and destiny. Sin and sickness and suffering can rob us – deviate us – from that destiny. Jesus here is restoring relationship, but he's also commissioning Peter, into reclaiming his destiny. That's why, in our passion for justice, we're not just seeking to, as it were, rescue people from oppression, we're seeking to restore people to walk in their divine purpose.
Pradeep’s father works as a manual labourer and often has to migrate to cities to find enough work to support his family. He did not believe poor, low-caste people like his family could get an education. He thought that the future trajectory for his family was set. But Tearfund’s partner helped a new story take shape.
In 2014, as a young boy, Pradeep joined a child parliament facilitated by Tearfund’s partner the Evangelical Fellowship of India Commission on Relief (EFICOR). Child parliaments bring children together for training on health, the environment and other topics. The children are encouraged to dream of and work towards a better future for themselves and their community. They take on various ministries, such as Sports Minister, Environment Minister and so on, and are responsible for organising events like tree planting, village clean-ups and sports events. Child parliaments also promote school attendance. Pradeep thrived as he engaged in these opportunities to learn and lead, and was made Prime Minister of his child parliament.
Over the years, as Pradeep’s father saw him become motivated and keen to pursue his studies, his attitude to education changed and he supported Pradeep’s studies as best he was able. Pradeep graduated from secondary school and is now at university studying a Bachelor of Science in Physics. He is the first person from his village to ever go to university.
Use these questions to guide your personal reflection or your discussion as a group.
Jesus, thank you that you look at us with love. Plant our feet firmly in your love as we walk with you through this season of Lent, fixing our eyes on the power of your death and resurrection that releases us from our shame. Thank you that by your grace you restore us, and call us to be restorers with you. Help us to live lives that celebrate and share your redemptive purposes for all people and all creation today. Amen.
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