“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”
As I read the above passage this morning, I noticed something important within Jesus’ warning to Peter. Jesus didn’t pray that Simon Peter would not sin. He didn’t say, “Simon, I have prayed for you that you will make the right choice.” He didn’t say, “Simon, I have prayed for you that you will not deny me three times before the rooster crows.” No. Instead He said, “I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail.”
Jesus did not pray against Peter’s failure; He prayed for Peter’s faith.
What’s the difference? The focus. To pray against the failure would have placed the focus on Peter’s sin. It would have placed the onus on Peter to make the right choice. And of course, if you read further, you’ll see Peter did not choose wisely; he chose to deny Jesus. You will also see that at the realization of his denial, Peter wept bitterly. The guilt was excruciating for Peter; after all, he himself had just arrogantly proclaimed he would never deny Jesus.
Yet I believe it is the knowledge of the guilt Peter would endure which led Jesus to pray for Peter’s faith. Jesus knew Peter would fail. He knew Peter would mess up and deny him three times. Jesus wasn’t warning Peter not to sin (although I’m sure He hoped Peter wouldn’t); He was warning Peter not to give up. Jesus knew Peter would be crushed at the thought of betraying Jesus. He also knew to pray for Peter’s perfection was futile, but to pray for Peter’s faith was vital. For “without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Hebrews 11:6). Peter’s perfection was not the key to victory; Peter’s faith was.
Imagine if Peter had given up? Imagine if Peter had felt so guilty and ashamed he thought himself useless for God’s kingdom? Imagine if Peter had kept silent from shame instead of speaking up to strengthen his brothers? Imagine the Pentecost without Peter’s sermon–a sermon God used to draw about 3000 people to Himself? (see Acts 2) Imagine the early church without outspoken Peter? Jesus did. Therefore Jesus prayed. He prayed that when Peter failed, Peter’s faith wouldn’t.
And in doing so, Jesus effectively took the spotlight off of Peter’s inadequacy and placed it on His all-sufficiency.
Peter’s ability to make good choices didn’t save him; his faith did. Peter’s ability to strengthen his brothers didn’t come from his own righteousness; it came from his faith in Jesus’ righteousness.
We all mess up. We all fail. If people could be perfect, then we wouldn’t need Jesus. Yet how many times have we found ourselves with the wrong focus? We look at ourselves and think things like, “Boy, did I screw up this time”; or “If I really knew Jesus, I wouldn’t do what I just did.” Or more often than we care to admit, we look at someone else and think, “How could she do such a horrible thing and call herself a Christian?” Yet by thinking such things, we are focusing on the wrong thing. Yes, sin is wrong. Yes, Jesus calls us to seek Him and His righteousness. Yes, we will be held accountable. But by focusing on our failures, we are attaching guilt and shame to the already ugly truth of sin.
Jesus didn’t die on the cross so we could be perfect; He died on the cross because He was perfect. He came to seek and save the lost. His focus was on saving the sinner from the penalty of sin.
It’s not our failures and the failures of others we should focus on; it is faith–faith in Jesus. It is by grace we have been saved, not of works (Ephesians 2:8-9). Whether or not I make the right choices all the time does not affect my eternal destination. Being bad doesn’t send me to hell; being good doesn’t get me into heaven. My faith in Jesus–in His death, burial, and resurrection–is what affects my eternity.
It is what affects yours.
No one is perfect. No one (Romans 3:10). So we must stop expecting ourselves and others to be perfect. Instead, we should pray as Jesus did–pray that our faith will not fail–that when we turn back to God, God will in turn use us to strengthen other brothers and sisters in Christ.
Therefore, let me encourage you this evening in this: Have you messed up? Did you say something you shouldn’t have said? Did you do something you shouldn’t have done? Or maybe you were silent when you should have spoken?
Don’t lose faith!
Learn. Grow. Seek. Trust. Don’t turn away; turn to. Jesus’ death on the cross was more than enough to cover your sins. Jesus did not die to make you perfect; He died to cover your imperfections with His robe of righteousness.
Or maybe you are on the receiving end of sin tonight. Maybe someone hurt you in ways you never expected. I encourage you in the same way: don’t lose faith! Don’t lose faith in God’s ability to draw that person back to Himself. Instead of wondering why or how events took place, pray. Pray that you will not lose faith in God’s goodness; pray the one who hurt you will not lose faith in God’s sufficiency–that the one who hurt you will turn back to God so God can in turn use them to strengthen others.
Pray. Seek. Surrender. And don’t lose faith. The God who called you has also saved you. He will never let you go. So don’t let go of Him.
“…let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.