I remember many moons ago when I was a youth minister in small-town Texas, there was a man with a lovely family who somehow got himself on the church “visitation list.” He was a nice man who understood the value in gathering together as a church for worship and hearing from the Lord. But every time he was invited to join us, his response was the same: “I have to get some things straightened up in my life first, and then I will be ready to come to church.” Throughout my years of ministry, I have noticed that this ailment seems to afflict too many people. Let’s call this affliction the “I’m not worthy’s.”
The “I’m not worthy’s” is devastating and manifests itself in different ways. To some it has an FTP effect (failure to participate). But another might feel like a hypocrite for participating. I remember a deacon in a former church of mine who had the constant nagging idea that he wasn’t doing enough. He was a godly man who served regularly and diligently, but when asked to pray would often include the sentiments “help us to feel worthy.” Do you ever feel like you are not worthy to serve, that you are not good enough? Have you ever removed a Bible from public view at your house because you felt it was hypocritical for you to display one? Do you find yourself withdrawing from ministry, church, or even prayer and scripture reading because you need to get some things straight in your life first? Do you feel like you are following the Lord at a distance?
I want to introduce you to a man who also followed the Lord at a distance. Perhaps this is somebody you already know, but I think it might benefit you to get to know him just a little bit better. Let’s go to the book of Luke, chapter 22, where Jesus is addressing Peter at the Last Supper:
“Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” But he replied, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.” Jesus answered, “I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me.” (Verses 31-34 NIV)
Jesus informs Peter (aka Simon) that the Devil is wanting to shake up him and the other disciples, to separate the good from the bad, and Peter responds with what he thinks is the ideal, what any good follower of Jesus ought to be willing to do. He says that he will go to prison or die if that is what it takes to stay with Jesus. That is Peter’s expectation of himself. Now let’s skip down in same chapter, to the Garden of Gethsemane a little later that night:
Then seizing him [Jesus], they led him away and took him into the house of the high priest. Peter followed at a distance. (Verse 54)
Peter did put up a bit of a fight, but when it came right down to it and the other disciples fled, Peter followed at a distance. Peter is falling short of even his own ideal as a response to this situation. Finally, let’s go to the courtyard where Jesus was held all night:
And when some there had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and had sat down together, Peter sat down with them. A servant girl saw him seated there in the firelight. She looked closely at him (stared at him) and said, “This man was with him.” But he denied it. “Woman, I don’t know him,” he said. A little later someone else saw him and said, “You also are one of them.” “Man, I am not!” Peter replied. About an hour later another asserted, “Certainly this fellow was with him, for he is a Galilean.” Peter replied, “Man, I don’t know what you’re talking about!” Just as he was speaking, the rooster crowed. The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter… (Verses 55-61)
Imagine the intensity of that scene. Jesus is being held—this is where the guards mocked him, hit him, and insulted him. They’ve been awake all night. Peter vehemently denies again that he knows Jesus. He turns to look at Jesus, and their eyes meet. As Jesus looks at Peter, what does He see? He sees into Peter’s soul—all the fear and selfishness, failure and longing…he sees the reason why He must go to the cross. In that moment, Peter was at his absolute worst, and it did nothing but confirm the Lord’s determination to redeem him from sin.
…Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times.” And he went outside and wept bitterly. (Verse 61-62)
Peter was pierced by Jesus’ stare to the point of breaking down. Why does the story of Peter’s denial strikes such a chord in us? Why can we relate so easily to Peter? Because we’ve all messed up. We’ve all been at our worst. But the good news is that—as He did with Peter—the Lord’s response to our every failure is an unwavering resolve to win us back. To restore us. And that’s certainly what He did with Peter, who later became a leading elder of the church in Rome, and is considered by many to be one of history’s greatest Christians.
With this story of Peter fresh in our minds, below are four keys to overcome the “I’m not worthy’s:”
- Know this truth, that Jesus died for you at your worst. Take a look at how Romans 5:8 states this truth: But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Notice it says, “while we were still sinners” Christ died for us. It does not say, “after we cleaned ourselves up” or “after we achieved God’s standard” or “after we learned to live according to God’s law” but “while we were still sinners.” Jesus died for you at your worst.
- After a fall, when you have failed to live up to God’s standard or even your own standard, stay around a group of Christians who will love you where you are. The worst thing is to withdraw and condemn yourself to not being around people who are called to encourage you, build you up, and hold you accountable. Peter was with John when Mary ran to him and informed him that Jesus Body was not in the tomb.
- Keep living your life, but be ready to see God make a move. Notice that Peter (unlike Judas) kept living his life. He was out fishing when Jesus returned and boy did he respond! Peter jumped into the water and began swimming toward Jesus. Peter went from rock bottom (weeping bitterly) to being a personal witness to the resurrection of Jesus Christ! The other side of the coin is Judas, who isolated himself and gave up.
- For encouragement, read more about the life of Peter. This was a guy who along with the “I’m not worthy’s” seemed to have foot-in-mouth disease. Always seemed to be spewing words without his mouth filter in place. He was reckless and argumentative (even with Jesus). But Peter overcame these things and was preaching at Pentecost. Peter was one of twelve who the Lord used to turn the world upside down. The same man who earlier Scripture described with these words: Peter followed at a distance.
- If you know someone who suffers from the “I’m not worthy’s”, pray for them. And if you have the opportunity, hit them with the simple truth “God’s not done with you!” Share with them the things that I’ve shared with you here, about the example we have from Peter’s life, and about the unconditional love of God.