By Donald P. Ames
Peter was a very impetuous young man, often acting first and thinking of the consequences later. In Luke 22, Jesus explained to Peter that his impetuous nature was about to get him into trouble. Satan had demanded permission to sift the disciples “as wheat” (v. 31). Despite Peter’s strong affirmation that he would be able to with- stand such an assault, Jesus noted that Peter would deny him three times that very evening. But, first he addressed the assault by Satan, and said, “But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.” Jesus knew Peter was about to stumble, but still he said, “I have prayed for thee.” Why?
It Would Make a Difference
First of all, I would suggest Jesus prayed for Peter be- cause he knew it would make a difference (see Jas. 5:16). Some claim that all of our actions are “predestinated” by God, that we have no choice or individual response of our own. If so, why did Jesus bother to pray for Peter? If all Peter’s actions were predestinated, of what value was a prayer by Jesus for Peter? Jesus knew Peter was headed for trouble, but he prayed anyway, because he knew that prayer could help! He knew Peter had some hard choices ahead, but they were choices! Luke 7:30 and Matthew 23:37 remind us we can reject God’s purpose for us (2 Pet. 3:9). Jesus knew prayer worked. He had prayed, and God had answered his prayers on many occasions. Now he sought the throne of God in behalf of Peter. Sometimes that may be the only way we can help someone, but let us not underestimate the importance of this avenue of help. If Jesus knew prayer could help, shouldn’t we seek it more often as a way of helping others?
Because He Cared
Secondly, Jesus prayed for Peter because he cared! So often we tend to think of God as uncaring, waiting for us to make a mistake so he can “zap us into hell.” My friends, it “jest ain’t so!” God is not willing that any should perish (2 Pet. 3:9), but that all people be saved. Obviously, if we reject his will, we can — and will — be lost, but it will be in spite of and not because of God. The Bible gives us a picture of a God who does care: he sent his Son as proof of that love (John 3:16). The Bible tells us he had “compassion” (Matt. 9:36), and on one occasion that he “wept” (John 11:35). Peter had already made mistakes, and being impetuous, more lay ahead. He was about to deny Jesus on three distinct opportunities. Yet Jesus did not write him off or cast him away. He prayed for him because he loved him. He loves us as well, and is on our side, serving as our advocate (a lawyer called on to defend us — 1 John 2:1). Is it any wonder the writer of Hebrews says that we are to “come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (4:15-16). We must never lose sight of the fact Jesus wants us to succeed and wants what is best for us. He prayed for the strength we could find in unity (John 17:20-21) knowing how vital that unity would be in the trying times of Christianity (as well as in reaching out to teach others). When we truly care, we will want to pray for others, knowing it is one way we can help them!
It Would Comfort Him
He also let Peter know that he was praying for him — it would be a source of comfort and strength later on. If you knew Jesus really cared that much, wouldn’t it help you in your time of grief and temptation? My friend, he does and he has let us know (cf. Luke 15:3-7, John 10:10-15). Jesus let Peter know so that later in his deep grief (Matt. 26:75), when he was telling himself how badly he had failed Jesus, and asking himself where he should go next, he would remember Jesus loved him still and had offered these words of comfort earlier. Peter could know Jesus still loved him, still cared, and still wanted him. Perhaps a small matter unless you were standing in Peter’s shoes at that point in time! When we let others know we care and are praying for them, it is comforting. Paul sought such prayers in 2 Thessalonians 3:1-2.
It Helped Challenge Peter
It also served as the challenge now set before Peter. “When thou turn again. . . .” Jesus had expressed confidence, and Peter could be reminded of that. He now had a sense of direction, a purpose: To make Jesus proud of him again! And his first task: Strengthen thy brethren! You’ve been there and back, now help them (cf. 2 Cor. 1:4) deal with the same problems you wrestled with.
From there we see Peter’s repentance and resolve grow, as he moves on to preach on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2), stand up firmly for Jesus (Acts 4:19, 5:29), become a leader in the church (Gal. 2:9), and eventually serves as an elder (1 Pet. 5:1).
Obviously Peter had many of these characteristics already, which was one reason Jesus selected him as an apostle in the first place. Yet they needed to be harnessed and put to the proper use. But the trust, comfort, love, concern, and confidence expressed as Jesus told Peter he was praying for him must have also helped him rise to the challenge before him in the days that followed. Let us never underestimate the power of prayer, but use it more often as we strive to help one another. And from this example, may we always be reminded of how much our Lord does care what befalls us.