Summary: God’s will for someone, no matter what other details there are, boils down to loving Him first and serving others, just the same as for Peter.
A pastor received a call from a church that offered him a salary four times what he was then receiving. Being a devout man, he spent much time in prayer trying to discern what God wanted him to do. One day a friend met the pastor’s young son on the street. “Do you know what your dad is going to do?” he asked. “Well,” replied the lad, “Dad’s praying, but Mom’s packing!”
To know the will of God in our lives is not as easy as we wish it were. If you have ever struggled with knowing what God wants you to do after school, knowing whom God wants you to marry, knowing if you should take that job or this one, knowing what direction to take in your life, knowing what you want to say but not how or when to say it, then you know how difficult it sometimes is to discern God’s will for your life. If He would just use a burning bush, a thunder-and-lightning storm or a talking donkey nowadays, then it would be easier to follow Him.
To be honest, I don’t know God’s will for everyone’s life, although I can see where some people miss it from time to time. I can sometimes know where this person or that one isn’t in God’s will. But in the context of a sermon, a pastor can only give general observations. And that’s what we find in today’s passage in John 21. Jesus was speaking to Peter, taking him for a walk and telling him what his walk with the Lord throughout his life would be like. He was specific about God’s call for Peter to be a pastor, even if all the other details of God’s will for him were left unsaid.
For us today, though, Jesus’ general principles about knowing God’s call for your life, whether it’s a certain school, a certain job, a certain spouse, a certain ministry or a certain choice you face, what He said to Peter applies to us as well. V15-25.
The first thing, and perhaps the most important, about God’s will for your life is that loving Him is most important. Three times Jesus asked Peter if he loved Him: v15, v16, v17. Three times Peter had sworn that he didn’t even know Jesus, at the same time the Lord was being falsely accused and tried; now Peter had to acknowledge Him 3 times.
Likely this was not mainly about forgiveness, although that’s in there. But Jesus had already met with Peter one-on-one on the day He rose from the grave, back a couple of weeks. Appearing to Peter, just the two of them together, was a sign of Jesus’ forgiveness towards the repentant fisherman. Likely Jesus’ asking the question 3 times was a call to what’s really important: loving Him first and foremost.
V15 asks: do you love me more than these? What’s “these”? Do you love me more than these men love me? Or, do you love me more than you love these guys? Or, do you love me more than you love these nets, these fish, these boats, this life? What is most important? Your comfort, your pleasure, getting what you want rather than seeking what I want?
Loving Jesus means putting Him first. Above all other things. You wonder what God wants for your life? He starts with your heart. He wants your affections, your gratitude, your servitude. To love Jesus means laying your life, your desires, your preferences, your whims, down at His feet, and letting Him handle them. It means saying “yes” to Him and “no” to your own self-centered ambitions. Not that what you want is necessarily wrong. I really don’t believe that God wants us not to have fun and enjoy ourselves. After all, David wrote these words in Psalm 37:4: “Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart.” God wants us to delight, enjoy what God has to offer us in life. The problem is, often God has a better plan for us than what we want and desire, what we crave and lust for. God’s plans are better, even if they don’t seem that way when we are on the outside looking in.
This is what Jesus told Peter about laying his life down: v18a. It’s as if Jesus is saying, when you were a young believer, you were still in control of your own life. You did what you felt. In fact, some people never grow up out of this. No matter how long they walk with God, they still want their own way. Their own way of singing, preaching, doing church. And if it’s not their way, they just leave or complain. But Jesus tells Peter, as well as those immature believers, to grow up and move on. He describes Peter’s future: v18b. Maturity for the Christian is not getting your own way. Maturity for the Christian is submitting yourself to what God wants for you. Because submitting yourself to God’s will leads to God’s glory: v19.