The God of Second Chances
DECEMBER 31, 2014
“Dear God of second chances, it’s me…again.”
January 1 is traditionally the time when we get to start all over again. We wipe the slate clean, as it were, and get a new one. Mark Twain said, “Yesterday, everybody smoked his last cigar, took his last drink and swore his last oath. Today, we are a pious and exemplary community.”
Well, okay, but I’m cynical enough to believe that the cigars will be smoked in secret, the drinks consumed in private and the oaths uttered only under our breath…until it’s safe to assume that everybody has forgotten the resolutions we made.
New Year’s resolutions are dangerous not because it’s dangerous or wrong to have good intentions, to try to do better, or to try to remedy the failures and sins of the old year. Resolutions are, of course, dangerous not so much because we fail to keep them. Resolutions are dangerous because when we don’t keep them, we pretend we have.
Peter was the master of resolutions and we can learn a lot from him.
In Matthew 26, Jesus had his last meal with the disciples. Instead of the nice Passover dinner to which they all looked forward, Jesus started saying crazy things about blood and his body being broken. In this radical departure from the ancient Passover ritual, it began to dawn on Jesus’ followers that some really bad things were about to happen. Jesus was going to Jerusalem to die.
Jesus said to his disciples (and this is so filled with pathos I can hardly stand it), “You will all fall away because of me this night” (v. 31).
That’s when Peter (“the rock”) made his “New Year’s” resolution. “Jesus,” he said, “the others may fall away, but you can count on me. I will never leave!”
Then Jesus, not unkindly, said to Peter, “Oh, Peter, before the rooster wakes everybody up in the morning, you will have denied me three times.” Then, when it was time for Peter to shut up—just be quiet—he, not knowing what to say, said it: “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!” (v. 35).
When I think about New Year’s resolutions, I think about Peter and then I think of me and my resolutions.
I can’t even count all the times I’ve made them. My heart was right and I really meant well. You never met a man who wanted to please God more than me. I sang, “The world behind me, the Cross before me; No turning back, no turning back,” and, God knows, I meant it every time. I prayed countless times, “From now on, Jesus, you can count on me. There are so many who are unfaithful, who have turned away, who have slipped into the darkness…but not me. I pledge to you my life and all that I am!”
Sometimes the resolutions were made at church with inspiring music in the background. At other times I was alone and, in the silence, he came. I’ve made resolutions after coming down from a mountaintop experience; but, all too often, it was after I screwed it up. I prayed, “Lord, never again. Forgive me and I’ll be different, I promise.”
I just winced and I’m not that proud of my arrogance. Just so you know, though, even with the arrogance and self-righteousness, Jesus was pleased with my resolutions. In fact, he was really pleased, but not for the reasons you think.
When I think of New Year’s resolutions, I think of Peter and then I think of me.
I can hardly read the story of Peter’s denial in the courtyard without having nightmares. In Luke’s account of the incident, he wrote, “And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered…” (Luke 22:61). Can you imagine messing up that badly, realizing that Jesus heard it all, and then looking Jesus in the eye…just before they took him off to the cross? I would have run away and never come back. That’s what Peter did.
I’ve been there and done that. Michel Quoist’s book, Prayers, is a wonderful book. In one of the prayers, he was where Peter and I have been so often. I can identify with his words when he prays: “I’m so ashamed that I feel like crawling to avoid being seen. I’m ashamed of being seen by my friends. I’m ashamed of being seen by You, Lord, for You loved me, and I forgot You…Lord, don’t look at me like that. I am naked. I am dirty. I am down, shattered, with no strength left. I dare make no more promises.”
Yeah, but I do. Promise after promise. Peter and I hardly ever learn that there should be times when you bow your head and get silent, promising never to make another promise—a resolution not to make any more resolutions. But then I make more promises and resolutions, and the spiral gets darker and darker.
When I think of New Year’s resolutions, I think of Peter and then I think of me, and of Jesus and his pleasure in my resolutions, even if I don’t keep them.
Luke told us that Jesus said to Peter, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you…And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:31-32).
What’s with that? Jesus just said that Peter was going to prove to be a coward, turncoat and breaker of resolutions, but then Jesus told him that it would be okay…and he had prayed for him. Not only that, Jesus told Peter that he should use the broken resolutions and Jesus’ grace to strengthen his brothers and sisters. In addition, Mark wrote that after the angel told the women who discovered the empty tomb that Jesus had risen, he told them to go and tell the “disciples and Peter…” (Mark 16:7). In other words, “Don’t forget to tell Peter because he is devastated with his broken resolution.” John also added his witness in describing the risen Christ as he cooked breakfast for the disciples. Afterwards, Jesus gave Peter an opportunity to affirm his love for Jesus in reminding him to “feed my lambs” (John 21:15)…in other words, to minister to others with the grace, forgiveness and love that Peter himself had received.
Just because one believes in grace and admits to not living up to the standards (e.g. resolutions), it doesn’t mean that one lowers those standards (or quits making the resolutions). In fact, God’s grace and love make it possible to be honest about the failure and, at the same time, to continue to make the resolutions.
My New Year’s resolutions are pleasing to Jesus even when I fail to live up to them. Why? Because when Peter made his resolutions and when I make mine, they reflect a desire that we both got from Jesus…when we found out how much we were loved.
So when I think about New Year’s resolutions, I think about Peter and I think about me.
Then I think about you.
Go ahead and make some resolutions for the New Year…even if you fail to keep them. It is a good thing because it reflects the knowledge that you are loved and accepted in the making of those resolutions and, if you don’t keep them, you can run to Jesus.