Pits and pedestals.
Effective preaching to those who are broken comes from a heart that has been broken.
Peter remains, perhaps, the best-loved figure in all of Scripture. (This is most certainly true for me, anyway.) This is because Peter exists as the scriptural epitomization of “what you see is what you get.” The Peter we meet in the Gospels is short on nuance and long on self-confidence, which ultimately leads to a seismic fall from grace (Mark 14:66–72). But, I think, it is precisely because his undoing is so well known (as is his restoration, John 21:1–19) that we are drawn to admire the apostle Peter all the more. His belovedness is a direct byproduct of laying bare his blunders and blemishes.
Indeed, Peter is proof positive that Jesus can work flawlessly through incredibly flawed people. Through those who constantly get in their own way and can’t help but put their foot in their mouth. Which is to say that your present measure of spiritual success (or failure) has no bearing on whether or not God can use you. This is what St. Paul brings to mind when he refers to himself as nothing but a “clay jar” that’s been infused with the “extraordinary power” of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 4:7). The immense dichotomy between the message and messenger gives all power and glory to the One giving the message in the first place. Which reminds me of something author and speaker Jon Acuff wrote years ago in a short blog entitled, “The truth about callings”:
Most days, I don’t feel successful enough to be used by God. I don’t feel capable. I don’t feel smart. I don’t feel prepared. Surely there is a better Christian out there who can do what God has called me to do. But then I read the Bible and notice an interesting pattern when it comes to calling. God found Gideon in a hole. He found Joseph in a prison. He found Daniel in a lion’s den. He has a curious habit of showing up in the midst of trouble, not the absence. Where the world sees failure, God sees future. Next time you feel unqualified to be used by God remember this, he tends to recruit from the pit, not the pedestal.
I am so grateful that God doesn’t seek out “pedestal Christians” — those who are the most gifted, the most brilliant, those “most likely to succeed.” Actually, in keeping with God’s penchant for subversion, it is God’s prerogative to use the unlikeliest of people to be his messengers, his apostles, his sons and daughters. Case in point: Christ called Peter from the pit of denial to be an apostle of his resurrection and salvation (Acts 4:8–12). He understood experientially what it meant to be born again “into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 1:3; 2:2–3).
This, I would say, is what makes Peter’s writing so intuitive and insightful for the modern reader. Namely, he writes from personal experience, out of a deep-seated passion for the things of the gospel. Peter is not one to write about theoretical things. He does not seek to encourage the early church through vague spiritual truths. Rather, his primary objective remains to proclaim the faith through explicit, empirical accounts of the Lord Jesus Christ. His sermons are brimming with unmediated confirmation that God’s penchant remains to pull from the fringes of darkness his brightest lights (1 Pet. 2:9–10). Charles Spurgeon affirms the same:
None make such mighty Christians and such fervent preachers as those who are lifted up from the lowest depths of sin and washed and purified through the blood of Jesus Christ.
Effective preaching to those who are broken comes from a heart that has been broken. From a life that’s frequented pit and been pulled out by the gracious arm of our Brother Redeemer.
Charles Spurgeon, Seven Wonders of Grace (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1877), 122.