In a book titled A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, Eugene Peterson talks about the difference between being a tourist and a pilgrim as you follow Jesus. Tourists like highlights and quick inspiration. Pilgrims, on the other hand, “spend [their] lives going some place.”* As followers of Jesus, we are going to God, and Jesus is the way (see John 14:6). But it’s not a quick flight. It’s “a long obedience in the same direction.”
As we walk with him, we may stumble over failure or jump into sin, but as pilgrims, we don’t stay long in one place. Our failures are not residences or monuments. To quote William Faulkner, “A monument only says, ‘At least I got this far,” while a footprint says, ‘this is where I was when I moved again.'”
Where do we move from here? Where are we headed, and how do we get there?
You won’t be surprised to hear that Jesus knows how to get there. He is THE WAY, after all, and he’s got travel plans for you—things for you to see and do along the way as you follow him.
Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
In John 21, Jesus commissions Peter for the work he’d prepared for him. And Jesus had all this in mind BEFORE the crucifixion, before the denial.
In Luke 22:32, Jesus said to Peter, “I have pleaded in prayer for you, Simon, that your faith should not fail. So when you have repented and turned to me again, strengthen your brothers.” (NLT)
Peter would strengthen his brothers by following Jesus into the Kingdom job God had prepared. He would go on to be a kind of earthly shepherd for Christ’s sheep—He would lead Christ’s followers toward Christ’s Kingdom just as Jesus had planned.
He keeps you because you belong to him, but he loves you too much to settle for a static, sterile friendship with you. And he desires to develop a deep friendship by inviting you to follow him into the next chapter–the purposes for which he saved you and kept you.
That was Christ’s plan for Peter. He chose Peter and kept him for a purpose in Christ’s Kingdom: to “Feed my sheep, and take care of my lambs.” And in that Kingdom job, Jesus would continue to show Peter, and everyone around him, his love, mercy, grace, forgiveness, restoration. That in-the-flesh demonstration of God’s character would cause people to flock to Peter, who would then point them toward Jesus.
Jesus called Peter on purpose to be a follower, and he kept him as a follower for a purpose.
God Transforms Our Failures into Preparation
Often, the works God has prepared for us grow out of our most crushing failures and devastating circumstances. After repentance and restoration, it’s as if God redeems even the failure and uses it to show his love and grace to others.
Peter would be able to strengthen his brothers because he had been strengthened by Christ.
He would be a compassionate shepherd like Jesus because he’d experienced the compassionate shepherding of Christ.
In my own life, I’ve seen how Jesus has delivered me from transactional faith. I don’t have to work to fill a non-existent spiritual bank account in order to ask God for his help. After a devastating season of crushing shame and failure, he restored me with the assurance that his grace cannot be earned by anything I do, and it can’t be lost by anything I don’t do.
During those rugged times, God mended my heart through some of the most familiar Bible stories I knew. I’d heard them told hundreds of times throughout my life, and yet as I read them again, it was as if I was seeing them for the first time.
When our foster girls left our home and my three boys went back to school, I hardly knew what to do with myself. For a decade, I’d given my days to a mission on the front lines of motherhood. A daily battle against snotty noses, sticky floors, and insatiable cravings for apple juice; for teaching, correcting, and scheduling one activity to the next.
But with the children at school, I found myself reading books besides Hop on Pop.
One day, as I was reading the story of Peter’s first great catch, the truths of the gospel came alive to me in a fresh way. The scene played in my mind with incredible detail, and the gospel parallels astonished me. I thought, “I’ve got to type this out simply to unload everything in my brain!” So, I sat down at my computer, and I retold that familiar Bible story to myself in writing.
When I was done, I thought, “Wow. That felt like worship.” And I wanted to do it again.
Have you ever had that feeling of worship outside of a church building?
Have you marveled that God makes a baby’s toenails so tiny and sharp? Have you stared at the swishing tail of the beta fish that lives on your kitchen counter, and thanked God for thinking to create it? When you bury your hands in the garden do you marvel that God makes color and fragrance and food come out of the ground?
Every good and perfect gift comes from God, and when we recognize that, we worship.
My computer desk suddenly felt like a little sanctuary. Writing felt like worship.
But with such an intense season of mothering in the not-so-distant past, sitting to write felt like a ridiculous indulgence. Other women in our agricultural community were working hard delivering calves in the middle of the freezing night! My dear friend was running a demanding and rewarding business. Other women I knew were in the throes of mothering medically fragile newborns or homeschooling multiple children.
It felt wrong to sit and think and type. And I wondered if this private means of worship was just a royal waste of time. Maybe I was just lazy.
Worship Behind the Lines
Around that time, I was given an article by one of my favorite authors, Ken Gire. In it, he shared insight from the beautiful last scene of the old movie Camelot, and it completely reoriented my perspective about the good works God prepared for me.
I read his piece and learned that King Arthur of Camelot was a legendary gentleman and hero who inspired his Knights of the Round Table to acts of bravery and kindness. But in the final scene of the movie, King Arthur has been betrayed by his queen and a trusted knight. King Arthur’s legacy, and the brave work of his Knights of the Round Table, seem doomed.
As he ponders the fate of all he loves, King Arthur hears rustling in a nearby tent and discovers a zealous young boy in hiding. Thinking he might be an assassin, King Arthur questions the boy.
His name is Tom, and he adores the Knights of the Round Table. He knows every story of their feats of bravery, and he himself intends to become a knight. He’s very good with a bow, he explains.
Young Tom is the medieval version of a superfan who believes his dream of joining the knights on the front lines is about to be realized.
King Arthur knows the impending fate of his legacy, and suddenly he sees a way to keep it alive.
King Arthur knights the boy on the spot and gives him his first mission: Ken Gire recounts the scene:
“…listen to me, Tom of Warwick. You will not fight in the battle, do you hear?”
Suddenly disappointed, the boy replies: “Yes, Milord.”
“You will run behind the lines and hide in a tent till it is over. Then you will return to your home in England. Alive. To grow up and grow old. Do you understand?”
“Yes, Milord,” says Tom.
“And for as long as you live you will remember what I, the King, tell you; and you will do as I command.”
Tom’s eyes come alive: “Yes, Milord.”Reflections on the Movies, Ken Gire
Then the King commissions Tom to tell every story he knows to everyone he sees about the chivalrous brave knights and their good King.
And so the boy obeys his King. He runs behind the front lines and lives. And he sends the stories of Camelot and the Knights of the Round Table to future generations.
The scene resonated with me because I was no longer required in a “front lines” position of foster care or constant motherhood demands. But to simply run behind the lines and write stories felt cowardly. Unproductive.
In Ken Gire’s reflection on this scene, he writes:
“Whether running behind the lines is an act of cowardice or heroism depends, I think, on several things. Whose command sent us running. What stories we write once we stop. And why we write them.” (Reflections on the Movies, Ken Gire).
God Commissions Whom He Chooses
Ken’s wise and beautiful words showed me that the King of Kings can commission whomever and whatever He pleases. If it pleased Him, He could even commission me to retell the stories of how he had comforted and rescued me. Sharing them with others would bring him glory, and incredibly, He allowed me to worship Him through it.
Has there been some front-line battle in your life that God has delivered you from?
Perhaps you’ve come through a front-line battle with grief and loss? Maybe you’ve survived a season of dark depression? Do you have a testimony of being found by Jesus when you were so very lost? How has God grown hope and beauty from what appeared to be an ash heap?
Who can you tell? What has the King of Kings commissioned you to do? Does it feel…unexpected? If so, remember that God often chooses to glorify himself in unexpected ways.