You remember Peter’s epic failure, right? He denied Christ not once, not twice, but three times after promising that he would never, ever deny Jesus. Luke 22:31-34 says that Jesus predicted it all: “And the Lord said, “Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren.” But he said to Him, “Lord, I am ready to go with You, both to prison and to death.” Then He said, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster shall not crow this day before you will deny three times that you know Me.” Not only does Jesus pray for Peter (an encouragement for all of us), he also gives Peter something to do, regard- less of the outcome. Whether Peter’s faith fails or not, Jesus calls him to run back into the arms of his Lord and to strengthen others.
I find it noteworthy that when Jesus came back from the dead and Peter met him face to face, Jesus did not accost him over his betrayal nor did he dismiss it by saying, “Don’t worry about it. Forget about it.” No. The first thing Jesus did for Peter was cook him breakfast because peace is the hallmark of communal eating; it is remark- ably difficult to be at war and still eat together. After eating together, Jesus simply asked Peter this profound question three times: “Do you love me?” Each time, Peter replied, “Yes, Lord! I love you.” And each time, Jesus said, “Then feed my sheep.” Christ neither dismissed the past nor dwelt upon it. He gave Peter a purpose that required Peter remember what he had done.
Are you burdened by the past? Run to Jesus and feed his sheep: pray, listen, serve, teach. Open your eyes to the deep needs of those whose paths cross your own. Remember your past and feed God’s sheep.
Because Christ holds all things together and gives meaning to your life, you can say, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered himself up for me” (Galatians 2:20). This is the invitation of a lifetime: to live a renewed life not imprisoned by the past, but enriched by the past.
Events like graduations or weddings highlight this redemptive perspective on the past. They celebration the past as it converges with the present in anticipation of the future, storied by the Alpha and Omega, the author and finisher of your faith, the one who can even turn regrets into something rich and beautiful.
Every Spring, I accumulate a massive pile of debris in my backyard composed of grass clip- pings, branches, and pine needles just waiting to be hauled away to the dump. Some years, the pile sits back there and stews in the heat for months. A few years ago, I did not start hauling it away until late July. The pile was removed almost to ground level when I felt a shiver beneath me like a small electrical current in the ground. That was a little strange since we had no buried electrical lines in that part of the yard. I scraped away more of the now decayed debris, which were wet and falling apart in my pitchfork, when I saw a bee crawl out of the ground and take flight. Then another one crawled out. After the third one crawled out, I realized that I was standing on an underground bee hive. I was not sure how big the hive was and I was not sure how to get it out, so in typical male fashion (or Palpant fashion, I’m not sure which),
I drummed up enough guts to jamb my pitchfork deep into the ground and yank the hive out… and then run like my pants were on fire. I safely made it to the house and watched a dark cloud of bees swarming above the pile. After they dissipated and I finally returned, I found a discolored, goopy, sticky substance in the remaining hole. Not knowing what it was and being a male (or just a Palpant, I’m not sure which), I decided to put it in my mouth. To my great surprise, I discovered it was honey. It was the best tasting honey I had ever eaten. Unprocessed. Fresh. Amazing! Much to their mother’s chagrin, I yelled for the kids to come outside and eat this goopy, sticky, mysterious stuff. They were as excited as me to find such sweet honey hiding beneath the pile of debris in our backyard.
I am reminded of a different honey story. Judges 14 recounts Samson’s surprise encounter with a lion in the vineyards of Timnah: “Samson went down to Timnah with his father and mother, and came to the vineyards of Timnah. Now to
his surprise, a young lion came roaring against him. And the Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon him, and he tore the lion apart as one would have torn apart a young goat, though he had nothing in his hand. But he did not tell his father or his mother what he had done. Then he went down and talked with the woman; and she pleased Samson well. After some time, when he returned to get her, he turned aside to see the carcass of the lion. And behold, a swarm of bees and honey were in the carcass of the lion. He took some of it in his hands and went along, eating. When he came to his father and mother, he gave some to them, and they also ate. But he did not tell them that he had taken the honey out of the carcass of the lion” (Judges 14:5b-9).
How strange for Samson to find honey in the very thing that just previously intended to destroy him. To many of us, the past is like a lion. We would rather run and hide from it, or cage it, but Jesus is our Samson, taking on our past and ransacking it. Who knew that a carcass could become a home for sweetness? Only Jesus can defeat the lion, only God can cause the rot of the beast to become something sweet, and only Jesus can reach into the mouth of that dead lion and pull out fistfuls of honey. To those who believe in him, “he gives the luscious food which he has prepared for us by the overthrow of our foes. He bids us come and eat that we may have our lives sweetened and our hearts filled with joy…Strength distributing sweetness” (“Hands Full of Honey,” Spurgeon). He can do that for you, dear friend. More than that, he can turn your past into so much honey that you have no choice but to offer it to others. Let the past develop in you a love for others, a deep empathy for their suffering, and the courage to serve them. Those traits become honey from the honeycomb, the fruit of your life story.
[read more in Honey from the Lion’s Mouth: available at a bookstore near you]