“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” Peter said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death.” Jesus said, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day, until you deny three times that you know me.” Luke 22:31ff
Not all that long ago I suffered a setback so intense it knocked me into a crisis of faith lasting three years. I ran from God, even shaking my fist in His face a time or two, swearing never to serve Him again. It was that bad. But He slowly brought me back, even restoring me to ministry. After returning, I struggled with guilt for losing it when life turned on me, for taking off when things went south instead of turning to God. But one day I came across Luke’s account of Jesus and Peter’s interaction just before the crucifixion, and it changed my perspective.
Jesus knew Peter was about to suffer a crisis of faith, one brought on by the devil himself. So He prayed Peter’s faith would hold and he’d strengthen his brothers after coming back. But what Jesus prayed for seems contradictory. How can you pray for unfailing faith and for a turning back after failing at the same time? Wouldn’t the answer to not failing mean in the crisis he’d hold strong? And yet Peter lost it. The one who gallantly told Jesus, “I am ready to follow you to the bitter end,” ended up cursing and denying Him. His guilt was so great, Luke tells, he went away “weeping bitterly.”
Having been a pastor for almost twenty years, I’d read this text, probably even preached it, more than once. But this time I saw something new. Peter’s denial of Jesus had to have been a given because He said “when you have turned again,” not “if.” It was his coming back and ultimately leading the church one day that Christ prayed for, which was answered. Jesus actually factored failure into His plans for Peter, and that means you can fail miserably and still be in the middle of God’s will.
I can’t help but think Jesus prayed something similar for me when He knew a faith crisis loomed on my horizon. He didn’t stop it, letting me fall face first into defeat. But He did ask the Father that my faith hold, making sure I turned back in the end. I wouldn’t want to go through it again, yet I’m comforted knowing my experience may encourage and strengthen others.