Have you ever thought these things about a struggling child or student? “He’s lazy!” “She’s awfully impulsive and impatient!” “He’s hopelessly impossible!” I hate to admit it, but I have.
When I catch myself thinking these thoughts, I have learned to refocus on the ultimate model of flexible structuring: throughout His ministry, Jesus consistently showed us how to stand on our principles and yet be flexible enough to forgive those seen as unforgivable by many. Jesus showed extreme “flexible structure” to so many including the ultra-structured (a.k.a. rigid) Pharisees.
What about Peter? I’m certain Jesus was tempted to say all of the above things (and more) about him, but the Lord looked beyond Peter’s difficulties, saw his strengths, and recognized his potential.
There is no denying that Peter, “The Rock,” showed signs of laziness, impatience, impulsivity, and numerous other impossibilities. Just about anytime Peter had a thought on his mind, it quickly surfaced with little contemplation. Sometimes, it came out as an inquisitive (but misguided) question and other times, it came out as a foolish statement. All the while, Jesus met Peter’s needs with flexible structure: He patiently, flexibly answered Peter’s unending questions with the same absolute truths He taught over and over again.
In one night – the night Jesus was arrested and tried – we see many aspects of Peter’s struggles and Jesus’ amazingly flexibly structured grace. Peter’s poor sustained attention to boring and monotonous tasks reduced his mental energy and caused him to sleep instead of pray, as his Lord had asked. Later that night, he impulsively cut off Malchus’ ear despite Jesus asking him not to, and the servant of one of Christ’s accusers experienced the miracle of the Savior firsthand.
Even later that same night, impulsive fear caused Peter to deny his Lord three times before thinking through the consequences to his own psyche. Once again, Jesus extended His saving grace when He forgave Peter and restored him by asking three times, “How do you love me?”
Although he was one of Jesus’ most trusted disciples, acting before thinking often got Peter in trouble. However, that same impulsivity also allowed him to teach us about the importance of blind faith like when he jumped out of the boat and walked on the water: he did well until he took his eyes off Christ, and then he sank. Don’t we do the same? Just as with Peter, He is always there waiting to take our hand and escort us back into the boat when we stumble on the waves of life.
Because Christ saw beyond his weaknesses and helped him discover his strengths, Peter went on to lead many to Him using the same grace he was extended. Peter was a primary character in establishing the first church and he ultimately impacted numerous generations of Christ followers of every nation, tribe, and tongue (including you and me.) I hate to think where we might be if Jesus had thought, “He’s lazy, impatient, impulsive, and impossible” of Peter.
As with Peter, the structure of Jesus’ absolutes and the flexibility we desire is demonstrated in His saving grace to each of us. In turn, those of us who know a similar struggler are called to show grace to this young one who is asking us to teach them the Truth over and over again with the flexibility and grace modeled by our Savior.
Whose impossibilities do you need to reconsider today?
(c) 2009-2012, flexiture, monte w. davenport, ph.d.
First posted August 29, 2009 // Revised May 30, 2012.