The secret key to life I found in a Mexican restaurant.
Have you ever heard of Sir Ernest Shackleton? He’s the British explorer that led a team of men to Antarctica in 1914. The story of his expedition is inspiring, but one of the things I find really interesting is the advertisement he wrote to recruit people for this adventure. Here is all he said:
"MEN WANTED: FOR HAZARDOUS JOURNEY. SMALL WAGES, BITTER COLD, LONG MONTHS OF COMPLETE DARKNESS, CONSTANT DANGER, SAFE RETURN DOUBTFUL. HONOUR AND RECOGNITION IN CASE OF SUCCESS. SIR ERNEST SHACKLETON"
That short, little burst of copy is heralded as the greatest advertisement ever written. Praised for brevity and forcefulness, this simple note was incredibly successful. Although history books differ in the total amount of people that responded, some say a “score of men” while others say 5,000, it was able to garner Shackleton all the men he needed to make the voyage.
But as amazing as it may be, I found something last night at dinner that put Shackleton’s 26 words of dynamite to shame.
I can almost promise that you’ve read these words before. They’re not some obscure verse I found in an obscure book that no one ever cracks in the bible. They’re in Luke, but they get a little lost because they’re so close to when Christ gets crucified. They kind of hide at the edges of the story, overwhelmed by the largeness of Christ’s death, but I think they’re important.
I’m talking about verses from Luke 22. In them, we see Christ tell Simon Peter that he is going to deny him three times. Here is what we find in 31-32:
"Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers."
Maybe that doesn’t feel that big, but for me, that last sentence defines Christianity and hopefully how I am going to spend the rest of my days on this planet. Why? For a few reasons:
1. Big Moments Require Big Words
I once heard a preacher say that the first three rules of bible reading are “context, context, context.” If that’s true, then we have to spend at least a few seconds on the context of this verse. Christ was about to be executed. He knew he was going to die, these words were one of the last things he would be able to say to Peter. This was not a throwaway sentence on a Tuesday. This was a practically death bed, if you only remember one thing, remember this, kind of sentence. This was the punctuation on Christ’s pre-death relationship with Peter. So we can’t just brush them away.
2. This is the perfect picture of forgiveness.
I know it’s not a mushy sentence, but there is something so beautiful and loving about these nine words. Christ knew Peter was going to fail. That was obvious, but he saw past that. He essentially says, “After you’ve messed up and blown it, you’ll come back and I’ve got something special for you to do.” He wasn’t disqualified by the failure. He wasn’t broken beyond belief. He was coming back. He was turning back from utter failure, but Christ loved him just the same. He focuses on compassion, not consequences. This verse reeks of grace and forgiveness and love.
3. We are called to do one thing.
Christ could have ended this verse a million different ways. He could have said, “And when you have turned back, repent and earn your way back into my kingdom. Or “be holier and stop messing up.” Or “pray more and learn more and give more.” He had one sentence to drive home to Peter what he wanted him to do. What, above all else, he expected Peter to do when he turned back. And what did he ask of him? That he strengthen his brothers. Not something complicated or overly spiritual or soaked in religious fervor. He asked him to strengthen his brothers.
4. Strength is a by product of turning back.
I love how closely related those two ideas are, the returning and the ability to strengthen others. You get the sense that having failed, and returned, Peter is uniquely qualified to help people. Have you ever felt that way? That the person that’s walked the same paths, got the same scars as you, might have a unique way to shed light on a particular situation? I’m paraphrasing, but Mark Batterson once wrote “You can only heal people in the places you yourself have been wounded.” For me, I also realized a long time ago that inevitably my heroes are people that blew it and rose again. People that failed and still got up. Reading a book on how to make money by Trump is a little silly, his father is rich. He was born into money. But not so with Peter. He was on the eve of one of his greatest failures and when he came back, Christ knew he’d be ready for a new challenge.
I don’t know what that verse says to you. For me, it’s a mission statement. For me it’s a measuring stick against which I should test everything.
At the end of January a friend in PR is submitting my information to a publisher, but unless I am strengthening my brothers, it doesn’t matter.
Thousands of people, from more than 35 countries have read this site, but unless I am strengthening my brothers, it doesn’t matter.
On Saturday night, dozens of people are coming to my house for a night of worship, but unless I strengthen my brothers, it doesn’t matter.
I have turned back. I have returned from failure. I have come back from the dark nights of selfishness. I have denied Christ a hundred times for each time Peter denied him. But, Christ has given me a new mission.
And that is all I can really do now.