Enjoy this classic article from Equipping The Saints, Winter 1989
By John Wimber
They may not be the swiftest but they always finish that which they’ve been called to and they’re rarely disqualified for taking shortcuts.
A while back I lamented to a respected colleague about my problems. “I’ve had some real difficulties and setbacks in my life,” I said, “and I deal with younger pastors all the time who are having serious problems with profound effects on their lives.” He responded with a chagrined laugh and said, “Well, I don’t know if that’s too bad. I don’t trust any leader that doesn’t walk with a limp.”
This brought to mind the imagery of Jacob’s wrestling with the Lord- who appeared in the form of an angel-at Peniel (see Gen. 32:2232). Toward the end of their all night struggle God touched the socket of Jacob’s hip and damaged it. Thereafter Jacob limped-a reminder of his fateful encounter with God.
At this time Jacob also received a new name-Israel-which probably means “God rules.” His name change was significant, because the old name Jacob, meaning “supplanter,” was itself supplanted by God’s rule. Jacob moved into a new phase of his life in which he was blessed yet humbled by a permanent limp. He was now fit to serve God.
“Do you love me?”
The testing of leaders is one of the most vital aspects of their preparation. By that I do not mean that untested leaders can’t have good character, be well disciplined in their understanding of Christian truth, and be effective.
But I do believe a remarkable quality comes into the lives of leaders after they have wrestled with God and life. And the resulting limp is a reminder to themselves and a sign to others that God has humbled them. “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial,” James says, “because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him” (1:12; also see 1 Cor. 9:25; 2 Tim.4:8).
Peter is an excellent illustration of a leader that walks with a limp. Toward the end of Jesus’ public ministry the Lord concentrated on preparing the disciples for his coming suffering and death. When Peter first heard of this he took Jesus aside to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!” (Matt. 16:22). But Jesus was not pleased with Peter. He said, “Get behind me, Satan! …you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men” (Matt.16:23).
Why did Jesus rebuke Peter so harshly? Peter couldn’t comprehend Jesus’ words, for his idea of what a Messiah should be and do had no room for death on a Roman cross. And I believe Peter wasn’t to understand the significance of Jesus’ rebuke until after the resurrection.
Later, shortly after the Last Supper, Jesus and Peter had a similar exchange. Jesus prophesied that he would be taken away that night by religious authorities and Roman soldiers, and that all the disciples would fall away. Peter protested, “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will” (Matt. 26:33). Jesus said to Peter that “very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times” (Matt. 26:34). However, Peter (along with all the disciples), said, “I will never disown you” (Matt.26:35).
That evening in the garden Peter drew his sword and cut off the ear of a servant of the high priest who had come to arrest Jesus. I am confident that at that moment Peter would have gladly died to protect the Lord. Yet only a few minutes later he turned on Jesus. How did his zeal change to cowardliness so quickly?
I believe that, up to the arrest, Peter thought Jesus was going to march triumphantly into Jerusalem and establish himself as King, run out the Herodians, turn back the Romans, and reestablish the line of David. Peter probably envisioned himself as holding a prominent position in Jesus’ reign. Whenever Jesus spoke of his arrest and crucifixion, Peter became agitated and lost his sense of direction and identity. Roman arrest and crucifixion didn’t fit with the kingly reign Peter had in mind for Jesus.
So, when Jesus was arrested, Peter’s world crashed in around him. He was so dismayed by the arrest that when a servant girl asked him if he were a disciple, Peter said, “I don’t know what you’re talking about” (Matt.26:70). After two more denials, the rooster crowed and “the Lord turned and looked straight at Peter” (Luke 22:61). Of course, Peter remembered Jesus’ prophecy; he went outside and wept bitterly.
Peter’s failure to maintain faith under fire reveals several important truths for untested Christian leaders. First, we must understand that the true test of Peter’s identity with the Lord Jesus Christ came at the point of relationship and identity with the true Christ.
When Peter denied Jesus, it wasn’t primarily over a doctrinal issue- though he did fail to understand the necessity of the Cross. Nor did he yield to sexual immorality. Peter’s failure was more fundamental: he was disloyal to the Lord himself. Peter lost heart and trust when Jesus failed to fulfill his expectations of what a Messiah should be.
Peter had accepted a Messiah of his own making. He had assumed the Lord was coming to establish an earthly kingdom, so when Jesus yielded himself to his enemies Peter was demoralized and lost all sense of identity and value. He failed to see the difference between a temporal and eternal King.
All too often in my counseling with young pastors I have found that they become so wrapped up in their quest for success, advancement, and visibility that they have little understanding how to serve God in a hidden, humble way. Like Peter, they serve a God of their own making-the triumphant god of Success, not the Suffering Servant of the Cross. They don’t understand that at its most fundamental point ministry involves faithfulness and humility of heart and mind.
The second lesson to learn from Peter is that, in spite of failure, restoration is possible. But it will be restoration with a limp. After testing, we never again have confidence in our own insights, opinions, abilities. Our self confidence is replaced by humility, a sense of being under God’s grace and dependent on his Word.
After the resurrection Jesus appeared before the disciples and three times asked Peter, “Do you truly love me?” The first two times Jesus used the Greek word for love, agape, meaning a love in which our entire personality, including the will, is involved. Peter answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Only Peter used a different Greek word-phileo-for love, meaning a spontaneous natural affection or fondness in which emotion plays a more prominent role than will. Peter couldn’t say with confidence that he loved Jesus with agape love, for he was painfully aware that he had denied him.
When Jesus asked Peter a third time if he loved him, he substituted phileo for agape, and in so doing communicated to Peter on a level that he could respond. Jesus knew that Peter’s confession was based on the realizations of personal failure and inability to love God fully in his own strength. The underlying idea was that Peter knew that he was a failure without Jesus. All Peter could promise was a limited human love of Jesus.
After each of Peter’s three responses, Jesus commanded, “Feed my lambs.” Jesus was being generous and kind, affirming Peter three times, so as to forgive his three denials and restore him to ministry. From that point forward Peter had confidence only in God’s grace (John 21:1519).
The third lesson to be learned from Peter’s trial is that when testing comes our character and destiny are revealed. Each of the Twelve was tested. Judas, the son of perdition, went on to an eternity separated from God. The remaining Eleven, while tested severely and failing at many points, came through and were restored. And they had a new quality of a reverence for and dependence on Jesus.
All children of God go through testing. That’s a promise (see Heb. 12:113). However, if we don’t anticipate and expect it, we’ll be surprised and confused when it comes; our limp will be an occasion for bitterness rather than a reminder of God’s presence and lordship.
Scripture also refers to our trials as siftings, instances in which God allows Satan to attempt to break men and women’s faith. In the book of Job we read of Satan approaching God and claiming that Job is righteous only because he is blessed. “But stretch out your hand and strike everything he has,” Satan says, “and he will surely curse you to your face” (Job 1:11). Remarkably, God grants permission to Satan to sift Job; the remainder of the book is the story of how Job responded to his trial.
One of the most important lessons we learn from Job is that sifting is part of the purging process that God uses for cleansing and reorienting our priorities. “In this you greatly rejoice,” Peter wrote, “though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith-of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire-may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed” (1 Pet. 1:67).
If anything characterizes seasoned leaders it is enduring qualities like humility and faithfulness, characteristics that make them look like Jesus. So, pastors that walk with a limp usually run the best race. They may not be the swiftest, but they finish that which they’ve been called to. And they are rarely disqualified for taking shortcuts. In the end, they are the ones holding the gold.