Quitters. Nobody wants to be one; yet all of us have been disappointed by them. Are you a quitter? I suspect that most of you would answer “Absolutely not!” But one of the most discouraging realities in the church is the average believer’s inability to stick it out. When the going gets tough, the ranks thin quickly.
The dropout rate in Christianity is alarming. Few believers follow through on their initial zeal for the Savior, and the loss to potential Christian ministry is great. Most of us assume that sin or bad doctrine is responsible. A closer look reveals that many of us simply quit. When the excitement fades, so do we.
Jim is one of those who quit. When I first trusted Christ as Savior, Jim was my closest Christian friend. What fond memories I have of those years. We were partners in the leadership at a local Christian group. Our days were full of spiritual excitement and eternal significance as we led Bible studies, prepared evangelistic messages, prayed together, and talked theology for hours. It seemed we couldn’t get enough.
I have always looked forward to spending some time with my old friend when I go home. He’s still a great guy. He runs an honest business, devotes himself to his family, lives a balanced life, and even goes to church. He knows he’s a Christian, that Jesus died for his sins, and he could probably hold his own in most conversations about the Bible. But it’s not the same. Somewhere along the way Jim just gave up.
What happens to people like Jim? Why do so many of us who begin so zealously become so zeal-less? Maybe you feel like quitting. You’re not alone.
The first believer who felt like quitting was Peter. It was after the resurrection when an angel had promised that Jesus would meet with His disciples in the north (Matt. 28:7). They went to Galilee and waited. But Jesus didn’t show. Peter, disappointed by the delay, announced that he was going fishing. He must have been pretty persuasive because seven of the disciples went with him, and three of those weren’t even fishermen! John records the event in chapter 21 of his gospel. It’s a touching story God has used many times to speak to His children who want to give up. The passage revolves around the three major mistakes Christian quitters make.
Don’t Look Back! (Jn. 21:1-14)
The first mistake Christian quitters make is looking in the wrong direction. When we’re in fellowship with/obedience to Christ our entire orientation is to the future. We are new creations in Him (a child of God), and all things have become new (2 Cor. 5:17). When we begin to look back at our comfort zone we get into trouble.
Peter tried returning to his comfort zone. You really can’t blame him. Jesus had been talking about a coming kingdom and glory with Messiah for three years. But each time they asked the Lord if “this was it,” they were told to wait. Now, exhausted from the trauma of the crucifixion and the turmoil following the resurrection, Peter and his friends were discouraged. They remembered the good old days when life was uncomplicated: the daily routine of fishing, the security of knowing what was next, the satisfaction of running your own life.
So Peter announced to his friends, “I’m going fishing” (Jn. 21:1-3)!
I remember a time when I was tired and almost quit. It was my second year of seminary. The bills were piling up and the workload seemed unbearable. I hated my menial job and never had enough time for studies or family. I began looking back at the “good old days” when we had been in the Army: good pay, significant duties, exciting travel, great friends. Why did I ever resign my commission? Then I received an inquiry from Uncle Sam. There was a shortage of officers and they were offering special incentives to those who would come back in.
I almost quit seminary. The military was my comfort zone. I would simply pick up where I left off. Then the story of Peter in John 21:1-14 reminded me that I could never go back.
Peter was tired of waiting. He would just pick up where he left off. But the Lord wanted him to know that he would never just be a fisherman again. In fact, without Jesus Peter couldn’t even fish well anymore. It wasn’t until the Lord showed up to give them specific instructions on fishing that these professional fishermen even got a bite. With the Lord’s guidance their net overflowed.
Do you ever ask yourself, “Why do I put up with all this?” Being a serious Christian adds a lot of pressure to our schedules. And serving with other believers often results in strained relationships, disappointment, even pain. All of us will sometimes dream of what life was like before we were so committed. But we need to know that we can never simply pick up where we left off.
I know a couple who always look ahead excitedly. Talented, professional, good looking, articulate, with no children, Mark and Peggy moved to Oregon to get away from the rat race of Southern California. Their mountain home provided the perfect base camp for the lifestyle of their dreams. Skiing, backpacking, rafting, hunting, and fishing filled their lives.
But it didn’t take long for them to see that these beautiful Cascades were full of hurting people who needed their Savior. They traded their mountain hideaway for a house closer to the new church they helped start in the valley. Their skis, fishing poles, packs, and hiking boots now gather dust in the garage. But they don’t care. You see this garage is attached to a home full of God’s love, and the dust never settles there. Tonight’s the party for the junior high gang. Tomorrow they will lead a home Bible study. Then there’s that couple they’re discipling, and the new believers who want to know how Jesus Christ can rebuild their marriage, and the friend who doesn’t know Christ yet, and…
Thank God for people like Mark and Peggy who never look back.
The lesson for quitters in John 1-14 is clear. Don’t look back. You belong to Jesus now and things can never be the same. Your future is with the Lord and full of exciting significance if only you will follow Him. For those who will follow there is the assurance of a Savior who will provide in an intimate and personal way. He even cooks breakfast!
Don’t Look for Perks
At the center of the quitter’s problems is a lack of motivation. When it comes to serving God the only sustaining force is a deep love for the Savior. When we consider the mercies of God, the only reasonable response is to present our bodies as living sacrifices (Rom. 12:1). If we are following our Lord for any reason other than love, we will run out of steam.
The heart of this passage records Peter’s threefold lesson on proper motivation. The Lord makes sure that His disciple made the connection between love for the Savior and service to Him. Whatever else was cluttering Peter’s desire to follow Christ, it was jettisoned on that day. His Lord left no room for selfish goals. Only the pure motivation of love for the Chief Shepherd (Jesus Christ) qualified Peter to care for His sheep (believers).
The pattern never varies. Dropouts betray their inner motives the moment they quit. Each year our church presents many opportunities to serve. Initially, the euphoria of all that is new and exciting carries people through. Then, as the year wears on, the rationalizations begin to trickle in: “I don’t think I am cut out for teaching small children; it simply isn’t fulfilling.” “I just cannot work with this man anymore; our differences are too great.” “Our family is just too stressed out over this.” “I really don’t have the time to put in on this class.” At the end of the year the only ones left standing are those who volunteered for the right reason in the first place – love for their Lord.
I wish you could meet Dirk. He’s the CEO of a global firm, a renowned researcher and inventor, and a world-class Sunday school teacher. All employees know that he must not be disturbed when he is preparing next week’s lesson. Executives, engineers, competitors, and customers are all put on hold until Dirk has complete confidence he is teaching the best class he can.
Many have commented to me how odd it is that such an important man spends so much time preparing for Sunday school. Sometimes only a handful shows up. But they don’t know my friend. Dirk isn’t teaching this class to attract great crowds. The class is a weekly love offering to a Savior who died for the teacher … when he was still a sinner!
The believer who is looking to get something out of service to Jesus Christ never lasts. The Christian who volunteers because of a deep love and commitment to Jesus Christ never fails.
What about you? What strings are you attaching to your service for the Savior? Be careful. God will stretch those strings until they break. Don’t look for perks. Do it for love, or don’t do it.
Don’t Look at Others (Jn. 21:18-22)
The third error believers who throw in the towel make is looking at the wrong person. Christianity is a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. God has unique plans for each of us. When we compare ourselves to others we usually get ticked off at God.
One of the most interesting dynamics in the gospel accounts is the relationship between Peter, John, and Jesus Christ. Peter is the Lord’s obvious choice as leader of the disciples, but John is Christ’s closest friend. Surely the memory of the Last Supper is fresh in Peter’s mind. The future leader of the church had to depend upon John to find out who would betray their Lord (Jn. 13:21-26). So when Jesus solemnly predicts Peter’s future execution on the cross (Jn. 21:18-19) Peter’s immediate reaction is, “But what about John?” Jesus’ rebuke is sharp. “If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow Me” (Jn. 21:22)! Peter had to learn to trust Jesus to take care of John while he concentrated on what Jesus was saying to him.
Did you ever fall into the comparison trap? My closest friend, one of the most effective men of God I know, has been haunted by this problem. He grew up under the ministry of a very talented pastor who now heads up an international ministry. My friend, though equally gifted, has never gained the high-profile status of his mentor. His assignments from God have taken him through two very painful pastorates. While his role model was on tours behind the Iron Curtain, this young pastor was settling disputes over the color of the cloth curtains in dingy Sunday school rooms. This contrast has been one of the greatest challenges to his attitude. He often commented to me during the toughest times, “I bet Joe never has to put up with trivial, petty problems like this!”
Let me ask you this: Who is your “Joe”? Who is it that you present before the Lord and ask, “What about this person? Why does he or she have it so good when I’ve got it so bad?” Their marriage is marvelous, but yours is miserable. His career is soaring while yours stalls. She gets all the attention at church, but nobody even notices you. It seems they never have the problems we have. It just isn’t fair! So I’m just going to quit.
Jesus would no more put up with that attitude today then He did on the shores of Galilee hundreds of years ago. Don’t look at others. Christ is more than capable of dealing with each saint. He doesn’t need any help from us to make sure every believer gets a fair deal. The cancer of comparison will eat at your attitude until you quit. But Jesus says, “Stop worrying about others; you follow Me.”
Don’t Miss God’s Best (Matt. 28:16-20)
The timing of Jesus’ visit with His disciples that morning causes us to consider the enormous cost of quitting. The events recorded in John 21 follow the disciples’ arrival in Galilee to wait for their Lord (Matt. 28:16). It was during this time of waiting that Jesus met His discouraged disciples for breakfast and taught them these vital lessons on quitting. But look at what follows: The Great Commission (Matt. 28:18-20)! Think of all they would have missed if they had quit that morning. These were the men Jesus had chosen to change the world, not to go fishing.
I often wonder what my friend might have accomplished for God. He was a phenomenal evangelist and discipler. He had a way about him. His pattern was simple but effective. He would move into your life, earn your trust, then challenge you with the eternal truths from Scripture. God used him to bring many to Jesus in those few short years before he faded.
We may not know exactly what God has in store for us, but His best will never happen if we quit. Don’t miss God’s best. God has great plans for you. But you will never know that exciting future of growing significance for your Savior if you quit.
Don’t look back; the comfort zone is a myth. Don’t look for perks; the compelling force in your life must be love for Christ. And don’t look at others; the comparison game always disappoints.
Ed Underwood, Kindred Spirit