When Simon Peter realized what had happened, he fell to his knees before Jesus and said, “Oh, Lord, please leave me—I’m such a sinful man.”Luke 5:8 (NLT)
I once worked in an office full of the accumulated stuff of many former occupants. It was gathering dust, seemed neglected and useless, so one day I cleaned house and threw it all out. Some time later, a man in upper management came by looking for something he had left there, and I immediately knew that I had tossed it in the garbage. So I did the only thing I could do: I lied.
I pleaded ignorance, put on my best innocent and puzzled expression, and held my breath until he went away. The subject never came up again, so perhaps I was convincing. I never confessed, but I felt terrible, and still do, about both the lies I told and my failure to consider the possibility that the things that were rubbish to me might have some value to other people.
I could tell a lot more shameful stories from the past, so by no means was this a one-off failure to listen to the better angels of my nature, to quote Abraham Lincoln. It’s been a longstanding habit of mine to behave badly and yet know better.
I think most of us know ourselves well enough to feel ashamed or guilty over certain things we have done or said or thought, or failed to do, etc. Whatever our moral standards, wherever our inner code comes from, we very often find ourselves failing to live it out. And at such times, we may make excuses for our failings to lessen the sense of wrong we feel, but at some level we know we have fallen short. At some level we know we are not the people we want others to think we are.
Which is why, at least in part, approaching God is frightening. The shameful things we’ve done come back to life and point accusing fingers at us, shouting: “You don’t belong here. You aren’t good enough to be in the presence of this holy being.”
That was Peter’s experience. Jesus had been preaching by the shore of the Sea of Galilee while Peter and his brother fishermen stood by and listened. Then Jesus performed a miracle, a miracle meant to show Peter the blessings of God, but Peter, rather than feeling loved, recoiled in shame.
“Please leave me,” he said. “I’m unworthy of your kindness, for I’m a sinful man.”
And here I identify with Peter. Perhaps you do, too. Guilt and regret and shame bubble up to the surface when we come into God’s presence. Satan, who is call “the accuser,” encourages us to recoil from God in fear.
But what was Jesus’ response to Peter? He said nothing at all about Peter’s catalog of moral failures. Instead, he offered an invitation:
His partners, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, were also amazed. Jesus replied to Simon, “Don’t be afraid! From now on you’ll be fishing for people!” And as soon as they landed, they left everything and followed Jesus.Luke 5:10-11 (NLT)
As Peter and the others follow after Jesus and watch and listen and participate in his ministry, they discover that God is merciful, that God extends to us forgiveness and grace.
We approach God in fear and shame, and if we wait around long enough to discover his response to our approach we find him offering us unexpected grace.
God’s grace is freely offered to us, though we have much to regret. God’s grace is freely offered to us because it is the natural outpouring of his love for us. God’s grace is freely offered to us with the expectation that it will prompt us to extend that same love and forgiveness and grace to those who have wronged us. And, that, forgetting what is past, it will reshape the way we live going forward.
Draw near to God. Don’t be afraid.
God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.John 3:17 (NLT)
Photo credit: Marcus Macksad