A Lesson from Peter on Making It Through Dark Valleys
The apostle Peter followed Jesus but experienced his share of dark valleys. From his life, we see what carried him through these seasons.
Sometimes you’re on top of the world and sometimes you’re in a valley. David experienced a valley when he was hunted by Saul, and later when he fled Jerusalem after being betrayed by his own son. Joseph experienced a valley when he experienced betrayal and was thrown into a pit, and later when he was falsely accused and thrown in prison. There’s no question that time spent in the valley can be tough, but rarely do people talk about the actual fall.
Somewhere between the peak and the valley, there tends to be a period where you move downhill. It can be the slow and steady decline of your business, or a painful period in which you grow apart from your spouse. Other times, it’s a quick fall from a precipice. Maybe you sinned and feel like you lost everything. Maybe you were betrayed like David and Joseph.
“A valley is rough, but the fall that gets you there can be one of the most stressful things someone can experience.”
A valley is rough, but the fall that gets you there can be one of the most stressful things someone can experience. Have you ever dreamed you were falling and suddenly woke up with your heart pounding? Even though you didn’t actually fall in your dream, your body still feels the stressful, gut-wrenching terror of it, and that is exactly what real-life falls are like. It could be a job loss, divorce, or something else. I’m sure you can fill in the blank with other situations.
I write all of this to point your attention to one critical step in a fall: the point where the fall ends and the valley begins. It isn’t the fall that kills you, it’s the sudden stop at the end!
“As if the gut-wrenching stress of the fall was not enough, there is also the crushing, sudden stop at the end.”
As if the gut-wrenching stress of the fall was not enough, there is also the crushing, sudden stop at the end. We are possibly never more spiritually and emotionally vulnerable as when we are crushed by a recent failure. It’s the moment when we know things can’t be repaired. It’s also the knowledge that our former mountain-top, as good as it was, is gone. It’s in these moments that Satan will viciously attack our faith, confidence, and hope. For those who are crushed, it’s critical to cry out to God and to receive encouragement and hope from him and his people.
The Lord hears his people when they call to him for help. He rescues them from all their troubles. The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed. (Ps. 34:17-18, NLT)
Simon Peter experienced a crushing, sudden stop. The fall for Peter began at the last supper when Jesus told him Peter would deny him three times. With predictable bravado, Peter claimed that he would be the only one who didn’t fall away. Hours later, he attempted to prove himself by valiantly defending Jesus when the soldiers came to get him in the Garden of Gethsemane.
“Simon Peter experienced a crushing, sudden stop.”
When the soldiers came, Peter swiftly acted, but he didn’t even manage to take out a soldier, instead attacking the high priest’s servant and getting only an ear. My guess is he wasn’t aiming for the ear but that’s what he managed to slice off of the man’s head. Jesus immediately rebuked Peter, whereupon he and the other disciples fled. However, Peter and John managed to return and follow the mob at a distance to the house of the high priest, Caiphas.
It was there that Peter denied knowing Jesus and being his disciple. After the third denial, the rooster crowed and Peter remembered what Jesus had said. He went outside and wept bitterly (John 26:69-70). Hours later, Jesus was crucified, along with Peter’s hopes and dreams—not only for his plans for the future of the Messiah, but also for his chance of reconciling with a beloved friend.
“Jesus was crucified, along with Peter’s hopes and dreams—not only for his plans for the future of the Messiah, but also for his chance of reconciling with a beloved friend.”
This was the sudden stop at the end of his fall. It was the worst thing that could have happened and there was no chance for him to repair the relationship. He wasn’t going to be able to tell Jesus he was sorry. There had also been those words Jesus said about denying people before God that had denied him before men (Matt. 10:32-33). Did Peter remember these words and run them through his tortured mind?
“Everyone who acknowledges me here on earth, I will also acknowledge before my father in heaven. But everyone who denies me here on earth, I will also deny before my Father in heaven.” (Matt 10:32-33 NLT)
We can only imagine what Peter experienced and how hard it must have been for him. We know now that the sudden stop did not end in Peter’s spiritual or physical death. In his heart, Peter was still a faithful follower of Jesus even though he had allowed fear to drive his denials. By contrast, Judas betrayed Jesus to his death, but Peter possessed something that Judas did not, even in Judas’s remorse: fidelity.
“Peter possessed something that Judas did not, even in Judas’s remorse: fidelity.”
It was this fidelity that defined Peter in his core, these failures notwithstanding. After all, it was Peter who had said to Jesus after a massive crowd had just rejected him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:68-69). Despite his flaws, Peter was still a beloved son of God. We know that Peter was broken-hearted, and although Jesus was in the grave Peter found comfort from his friends. We know this because he wasn’t kicked out of the holy huddle. When he hit his sudden stop, he had a support system to sustain him (Luke 24:10-12). The believers were already modeling the body of Christ described by Paul in 1 Corinthians 12.
If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it, and if one part is honored, all the parts are glad.” (1 Cor. 12:26, NLT)
Even when Jesus rose, there was still the matter of reconciliation to address. This event, further along in Peter’s valley, happens in the last chapter of the Gospel of John (John 21). In the story, John writes about how Jesus invited Peter to talk and they reconciled. Jesus asked Peter three times if he loved him. Peter responded that he did and the exchange ended with Jesus giving Peter a glimpse of his future and a command to follow him. The greatest leader in history provided an opportunity for Peter to be restored to fellowship. In addition, he gave him new purpose—a new mountain-top. It’s reassuring that Jesus modeled giving people a chance at restoration and continued purpose, even after a betrayal.
“It’s reassuring that Jesus modeled giving people a chance at restoration and continued purpose, even after a betrayal.”
Two things carried Peter through his lowest valley. The first was the support of a family of believers, and the second was restoration by Jesus. Peter’s story, as we know, did not end with his denials. How would Peter’s story have been written if he had never received the encouragement of believers and the restoration and purpose provided by Jesus? In turn, this tells us today that we need to be present and encourage people in their valleys and, if we recognize it, during their falls. After all, there are mountains to be climbed and fields to be harvested, and it takes a body of believers to do it.
“The eye can never say to the hand, “I don’t need you.” The head can’t say to the feet, “I don’t need you.” (1 Cor. 12:21)