Several years ago i participated in a wilderness safety, survival and security training in the mountains of Idaho with about thirty other people. Though i didn’t know most of the folks going into the training, a shared experience like that creates a bond that sticks with you for the rest of your lives. Two of those folks – a husband and wife – and i were teamed together for several of the exercises. They – like the rest – will forever hold a special place in my heart. Over the years since then, i have seen God use this couple – Steve and Laura – in phenomenal ways in the advancement of the message of the Good News across the globe. He has ordered their steps and worked through them to have eternal impact for the Kingdom. In the midst of that activity, Steve was diagnosed with liver cancer. In recent months, he has been in and out of the hospital – more in than out. The physical battle is intense – and while we pray for healing, we pray for grace and strength, and restorative rest in the midst of the battle. i am mindful that one of their prayer requests is that God would grant Steve the time on this side of glory to finish the work that He has placed before him. (i would ask you to join with many throughout the world who are interceding on behalf of this dear couple and their family.)
In times like these we tend to want to ask God, why them? Why are they having to walk through this difficult journey? And, if we were to be totally honest – and if we are walking through a difficult journey ourselves – we may sometimes want to ask God, why are we walking through this, while others are not seemingly needing to carry such a heavy burden? If you ask the latter question, you are in good company. You’re asking the same question Peter asked Jesus.
You will recall that toward the end of the last chapter of John’s Gospel, Jesus told Peter the manner in which he would die. It would be a painful and brutal death. Peter’s immediate response was to direct the Lord’s attention to John and ask, “Lord, what about him?” (John 21:21 CEV). This wasn’t the first time, or the last, that followers of Jesus endeavored to compare themselves to other believers to determine whether they or the other person got the better deal. Peter wanted to know if his death was going to be in a manner that was more or less brutal than John’s. Prior to this, the disciples often speculated as to which one of them would have the greatest position in the Kingdom. As the new church emerged, the widows were squabbling over who was receiving more attention or care from the apostles.
This idea of comparing ourselves to others didn’t start with them. It started with Cain comparing the way God accepted Abel’s offering to the way He accepted his. It continued with the competition that developed between Rachel and Leah for greater favor from God. And it didn’t stop with them. How often do we compare ourselves to other followers of Jesus and ask:
· Why did Jesus heal him/her and not me?
· Why am i needing to walk through this betrayal and loneliness, and others are not?
· Why am i walking through such great financial difficulty when everything that others are doing seems to be so successful?
· And so on.
Or allow me to frame the question in a slightly different way. In Acts 12, King Herod Agrippa arrested the apostles James and Peter for doing exactly what Jesus had told them to do. They were both making disciples. The church prayed for the release and safety of both men with equal fervency. But James was killed, while Peter was miraculously delivered from prison by an angel. Now where is the fairness or the equity in that? Does it mean that God loved Peter more than He loved James?
And what about us? One is miraculously healed of a terminal illness, and yet another suffers and dies? One seems to prosper in all that he/she does, and yet another who is working equally as hard can’t seem to get ahead? Or why are they able to have children and we can’t? The list of comparisons can be unending. And as we make those comparisons, it can often appear that God is very unfair.
In the case of Peter, John and James, the Father ordained for them to walk in very different paths, but you and i – and every follower since them – have been enriched by all three of their lives, their ministry and their testimony. God was at work – and continues to be – through each one of their lives and through their very different paths.
It is imperative that we remember how Jesus responded to Peter, when he asked that question. Jesus replied, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? As for you, follow Me” (John 21:22 NLT). Jesus was acknowledging that all of our paths will be different. Even John’s path would not be easy. But regardless of our path, we are to follow Him. And if we follow Him, we will end up right where He wants us to be. Paul encouraged the believers in Corinth when he wrote, “…our Lord Jesus Christ … will sustain you to the end…” (1 Corinthians 1:7-8 ESV). Take heart and strength in that promise! Our Lord Jesus Christ will sustain us. He will comfort us. He will enable us. He will encourage us. He will strengthen us. He will carry us. He will hearten us. To the end! And it will end. And it will end in His glory! Trust His word. Trust His promise. Trust Him!
No matter what you are walking through today – good times or hardship – remember Jesus’ words – “As for you, follow Me!”