When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord–what about him?” (John 21:21, HCSB)
We often think of Peter as the disciple who blurted out whatever he thought before really thinking. We might even criticize him for his impetuous words. But quite honestly, Peter just voiced the sorts of things we all think.
“What about her?” Those are very common words on the soundtrack of my mind. I don’t know that I’ve ever said them out loud, other than in prayer, but I’ve certainly thought them.
Ministry, in fact, is one of the most common arenas for such thoughts to occur in my head. I tend to compare my calling to the callings of others. I am prone to compare methods, ministry styles, and opportunities. But most critically, I compare results. Bad idea.
As my friend Kim often tells me, if you get caught up in the comparison game you’ll always find someone who’s not doing “as well” as you are, but you also find someone who’s doing “better” than you. You never win the comparison game; it’s as never-ending and cyclical as a childish game of Candyland in which you move forward 12 spaces only to be sent back to lollipop land. But as frustrating as comparisons inevitably are, we continue to make them.
In John 21, Jesus has appeared to a group of the disciples post resurrection. They’ve been out fishing and caught nothing, but He comes along and, in His usual style, enables them to catch a boat load. Recognizing the fishing miracle as one Jesus had performed before, the disciples realize Jesus is in their midst and Peter hurriedly swims to shore only to find that Jesus has already prepared them a delicious breakfast of bread and fish.
It’s immediately after this breakfast that Jesus begins talking with Peter about his ministry. We have to remember that Peter has denied even knowing Jesus three times in recent days and is probably feeling a little disqualified from walking in His footsteps at this point. But Jesus engages him in a familiar discussion of Peter’s love for Jesus and Jesus’ call for him to feed His sheep. Peter pledges his love to his Savior, but we never hear him actually agree to feed Jesus’ sheep. Whether he feels inadequate for the task or he’s just having a hard time understanding Jesus’ command, he never says, “You betcha! I’m your man!”
And before Peter even has a chance to think things over and sign on the dotted line in response to his Master’s calling, Jesus goes on to tell him that he will die on a cross not unlike the one He recently hung from Himself. Then, as though He had just delivered good news instead of a death sentence, Jesus says to Peter, “Follow Me!”
Now what kind of calling is that? Peter, I have a ministry for you. I want you to quit this fishing business and feed my sheep instead. If you really love me, you’ll stop fishing and start tending sheep. Of course if you agree to this calling, it will require your life of you and you’ll eventually die a martyr’s death. But, hey, follow me!
Peter looks over his shoulder – always a dangerous thing to do when you’re supposed to be moving forward – and notices the disciple “whom Jesus loved,” thought to be John, the author of the book. Like I’ve often done in the privacy of my conversations with Jesus, he says, “What about him?”
What do you think Jesus said? What does He say when I ask Him a similar question? What does He say when you begin to compare yourself to others?
Of course, Jesus wasn’t actually saying that John would live forever. He was just letting Peter know that comparisons have no part in honest, committed, sold-out ministry. Ministry, whether it’s teaching a Sunday school class, writing Bible studies, visiting shut-ins, loving on new mamas, building churches or working with troubled teens, is a matter of sacrifice, laying it all down and following hard after Jesus. It’s not a place for pride or competition or jealousy or … comparisons.
To follow Jesus implies that our eyes on are Him and we’re watching where He is leading so that we can trail right behind Him. If we’re doing that then we aren’t as prone to look over our shoulder at what others are doing, how they’re doing it, or where He’s taking them. We’re not as likely to get side-tracked with comparisons, self-pity, jealousy, or criticism either.
Today, I’m going to try a little harder to keep my eyes on the One I’m following. I’m going to leave the destination up to Him. And I’m going to trust that He knows the trail He wants to take me on. It will undoubtedly be different from your trail or anyone else’s, but, as Jesus said, “What does that matter?” The most important thing is that He, the God of the universe, the great I AM, my Redeemer and Lord, has somewhere He wants to take me, little ol’ me. And that makes it all worth it!