Have you ever been having a conversation with someone about your future and how to fulfill your purpose, let’s say at work, at school, or church, when over your shoulder you see someone else who has a bright future? And you can’t help but wonder what they will do with their life and how it will compare to what you end up doing.
That’s exactly what happened to Peter on the shore of the Sea of Galilee when he was talking to Jesus about his future. To get the whole picture, you might like to reread chapter 21 of John. Several of Jesus’ disciples go fishing and catch nothing all night long. That morning, Jesus is on the shore and tells them to cast their net on the right side of the boat.
Surprise, surprise. When they do what Jesus said, they caught, literally, a boat load of fish. That’s probably where that expression comes from.
The disciples aren’t even sure if it’s Jesus at first, but when they get to shore and have breakfast with him, they are reassured it’s the Master.
After the meal, Jesus asks Peter three times if he, Peter, loves him, Jesus. Yes, yes, yes, is Peter’s response.
Then Jesus prophesies how Peter will die and thereby glorify God.
Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.”John 21:18 ESV
Tradition has it that Peter’s death fulfilled this prediction when he was crucified upside down.
But then Peter sees John and asks Jesus, “Hey what about this guy?” (See John 21:21)
I can totally relate to Peter’s curiosity. Have you ever wondered how your best friend did on a test at school in comparison to how you did, who was going to get a promotion at work before or after you did, or if the new guy at church was going to be appointed to the Missions Board before you were?
There’s nothing wrong with a genuine interest in the welfare of others, but all too often we cross over the boundary of appropriate behavior to the land of mind-your-own-business, nosiness, and making comparisons because of our own insecurities.
Jesus doesn’t usually give a direct answer when asked a question, and this is no exception. He does not tell Peter what John’s life will look like, but replies, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!” (John 21:22 ESV)
Not only was this a polite way of saying “Peter, mind your own business.” It was extremely good spiritual counsel: Follow Christ. Keep your eyes on the Shepherd instead of the sheep. Don’t compare your mission and purpose to others’.
Do not compare yourself to others
I’ve had to learn this lesson many times over the years.
There was the time I got passed over three or four times for a promotion by people who had been in the job half the time I had been. God gently reminded me that He was in charge of my career, and my supervisors were not.
When I was a stay-at-home dad for ten years, it was very hard not to compare myself to other guys who were already CEOs of companies they had founded, making gobs of money. At times I felt pretty worthless in the eyes of the world.
But once more, God tenderly showed me that staying home with my kids was actually quite a noble endeavor. It was my career of choice for the time and would prepare me for whatever else I needed to do in the future.
It was hard at times not to compare myself with others who seemed so successful. But God’s guidance was pretty clear. Don’t be so concerned with what others are doing. Keep your focus on obeying Christ.
Then several years later, as I was trying to figure out what to do after I wasn’t at home with the kids, once again I was frustrated about how things didn’t seem to be working out with much purpose in my life. Things just weren’t coming together, from my perspective.
I wrote about this experience in a blog post back in 2010: God Prepares Your Heart on His Timetable. In the midst of self-condemnation, God spoke forcefully and directly to my sobbing heart. He reassured me that, from His perspective, I was right on track with what He had planned for me. I ended up writing a poem about this experience, which you’ll find on the blog post. I hope you’ll read it and let me know if there are some helpful ideas there.
The funny thing is, so many times in my life I think I have finally learned an important life lesson, only to have to learn it all over again. Well, maybe it’s not so much learning it again but putting the lesson into practice again.
For example, just recently I met a few folks I’ve known for several years. They are doing very purposeful work for church. I would love to be doing something similar. But that’s not the path God has led me on. Once again, Jesus’ words, “What is that to thee, follow thou me,” rang in my heart.
Don’t compare yourself to yourself
But just recently, I got a whole new insight on a way to apply these words of Jesus to my life, that I had never thought of before.
I was getting a little bit too introspective perhaps, when I looked back at my life and wondered if some of the important life choices I’ve made could have been different or “better.” I was actually comparing my past self with my present self and my aspirations from long ago to how well I have fulfilled them.
That can be worse than comparing yourself to someone else because you know how you might not have lived up to your own expectations, hopes, and dreams.
Jesus’ words came to the rescue yet again: What is that to you? You follow me!
It had never occurred to me that this command could apply to the way I was comparing my current situation with the grand hopes and expectations I had for myself 10, 20, or 30 years ago – or even yesterday. Nor could I compare what I have done with what God wants me to do today.
Hey, don’t get me wrong. I think it’s important to set goals and strive to follow where God leads you at every point in your life. But if you are too focused on yourself, how and what you’re doing, instead of constantly seeking God’s guidance afresh each day, you just might be a little too absorbed in yourself instead of following Jesus. Well, that’s what I had been doing at times without even realizing it.
So, if I messed up, last week, last year, ten years ago or even half an hour ago, Jesus’ command to pay no attention to any of that and follow him gives me a freedom to start with a clean slate, right now.
This idea also applies to all the good I’ve done in the past. As important as it may be, I still need to keep my efforts aimed at following Christ today and not resting on the glory of past achievements, however big or small.
“What is that to thee? Follow thou me,” has become my mantra the last few months. It keeps me on track with what God has called me to do, regardless of what I have done poorly or well in the past, regardless of what others are doing that I might wish I were doing instead.
God has a plan for each of us
The trick is to listen for and obey His voice. He knows what He wants you to do. And it just might not be your preconception. Oh, well!
Don’t give yourself a hard time if you think you haven’t lived up to God’s purpose for you. Each hour, each moment, you have a fresh opportunity to leave your own and others’ past mistakes or accomplishments and simply follow Christ. And you may be more on track than you realize.
Is there a situation that Jesus’ command applies to in your life right now? If so, this would be the perfect time to refocus your attention on what’s most important. Please take a moment and hear the Christ gently saying, “Never mind all that stuff. Just follow me.”
I hope you’ve found this blog post helpful. As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below. And please share this with someone that might find it helpful.