Oh, Simon Peter. Peter, the impetuous one - the apparent spokesperson of the disciples who probably should have been fired from that position more than once; the first to verbalize Jesus' identity as Messiah and then immediately let it go to his head. He's the one who had enough faith to step out of the boat - and the one who had enough fear to deny the Christ.
His call began humbly, on his small fishing vessel in the middle of the Sea of Galilee one morning, exhausted and surrounded by dead fish. It was there that he caught his first glimpse of who Jesus really is, and thereby his first honest glimpse of himself. (See Luke 5)
"Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man!"
And yet this very same sinful man would go on to pioneer the spread of the Gospel to the Gentiles, to write two books of the Bible, and to suffer for his Master through perhaps the most brutal martyrdom of all the apostles.
That humble day on his fishing boat on the sea was only the beginning.
At the break of a second dawn on the sea of Galilee, some three years later, he would be called all over again.
When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?"
He said to Him, "Yes, Lord; You know that I love You."
He said to him, "Tend My lambs." He said to him again a second time, "Simon, son of John, do you love Me?"
He said to Him, "Yes, Lord; You know that I love You."
He said to him, "Shepherd My sheep." He said to him the third time, "Simon, son of John, do you love Me?"
Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, "Do you love Me?" And he said to Him, "Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You."
Jesus said to him, "Tend My sheep. Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to gird yourself and walk wherever you wished; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and someone else will gird you, and bring you where you do not wish to go." Now this He said, signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God. And when He had spoken this, He said to him, "Follow Me!"
The one who once denied Jesus three times is invited now to declare his devotion three times. The one who began as a "fisher of men" is promoted to shepherd of the flock. And along with that promotion, the young volunteer who left his life behind on the shore of Galilee is now commissioned to do so all over again - but this time, it'll be literally.
I've often been guilty of thinking of God's call as a single moment in time, a grand and life-changing word of commissioning, like it seemed to be for Isaiah or Jeremiah or Ezekiel. But in Peter, I see a picture of years or decades in which the Master's hand was held out in invitation, in which the call came every day anew, every day a little differently. Today, to set aside the nets and follow; tomorrow, to proclaim Him as Messiah to the rest of the disciples; then to be tested, to fail, and to taste firsthand of the grace Christ purchased that night on the cross. To then carry forward that precious experience of redemption into the shepherding of the flock; and, emerging from failure an even stronger follower, to be called "worthy to suffer shame for His name" (Acts 5:41), so that he might go on to empower others toward joy in their own suffering as sharers in the suffering of Christ.
The call was not one huge, life-altering moment for Peter. No, it was a way of life, a constant watching for the next step from the Master, listening carefully for the words: "Follow Me."
Follow Me. For some, these sound like words of enslavement or obligation, but to me they're the words of freedom - to know that it's okay not to have that single life-defining moment of clarity in which all the pressures of a gigantic mission fall on my shoulders at once, and to remember that God is gracious to reveal the way just one step at a time. He doesn't say to Peter all in that first instant of repentance on the fishing boat, "It's your life's mission to learn everything Jesus has to teach you, save the entire Gentile world with the Gospel, write two essays good enough to go in the Bible, and then die on an inverted cross for Me." No, instead He walks with Peter for three more years, slowly teaching him the high cost of this lifelong call, and repeatedly summoning him higher and deeper with the simple words, "Follow Me."
Follow Me - just Me. Just Jesus, and just now, in this moment, to be faithful in just this next step forward. I am free to dedicate absolute focus to just those words and their implications for my next move - looking ever and only forward toward the prize.
Peter, turning around, saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them; the one who also had leaned back on His bosom at the supper and said, “Lord, who is the one who betrays You?” So Peter seeing him said to Jesus, “Lord, and what about this man?” Jesus said to him, “If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow Me!”
You follow Me.
If someone else's call looks different, what is that to me? If theirs seems easier or grander or better received, what is that to me? If my next step is into teaching when theirs is into backstage service, or if my next step is to suffer when theirs is to be celebrated, or if my next step is to be silenced while theirs is to be heard, what is that to me?
It is nothing, because I follow Him - only Him, only where He goes, only into the next step He gives.