While I may not always verbalize the thoughts in prayer, my thoughts often turn to two types of questions: questions of comparison and questions of timing. Thankfully, Jesus’s disciples raised such questions following Jesus’s resurrection, giving us insight into how the Lord might answer our wondering.
In John 21, Jesus restored Peter to ministry, asking about his love and calling him to service three times. Peter’s threefold denial of Jesus recorded in John 18 looms in the background of this text, adding weight to Jesus’s words. In the upper room, Peter stood confidently before one who knew his weakness (John 13:36-38). Now, Peter too knows his own weakness, the hollow nature of his words. After questioning him, however, Jesus foretells another event, this time one of Peter’s faithfulness. Peter would one day give his life for his Lord, standing firm even to death (John 21:18-19). Peter, in response, looks to John and asks Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?” (John 21:21). In the face of calling, Peter turns to comparison.
Jesus’s answer is simple, yet profound: “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!” (John 21:22). Jesus sidesteps the entire question, choosing to emphasize Peter’s own call rather than comparing it to John’s.
Comparison rarely furthers obedience. We may look to the ways God has proven himself faithful to others and find hope for our own situations. Many narratives in Scripture provide excellent examples of God’s steadfast love and faithfulness, and, in such cases, comparison serves us well. More often, however, comparison feeds our fears, stokes our insecurities, and deepens our doubts, or else it introduces poison into our humility by puffing up our arrogance. Comparison seems to corrupt more than it encourages. Jesus’s response, then, draws our attention to where it ought to be: on the race set before us (Hebrews 12:1). Though we may be tempted to ask why our paths seem harder than those of others, ours is not to worry about the journeys of friends but to follow Jesus ourselves.
Sometimes, however, questions arise on different fronts. Sometimes our questions aren’t “Why us?” or “What about them?” but simply “When?” The psalmist understood such questions well. “How long, O LORD?,” the psalmist writes, and we can relate (Psalm 13:1). The disciples asked a similar question in Acts 1. As Jesus gave his final directions, his disciples asked, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6). Again, Jesus responded by shifting their focus to the mission.
He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
The disciples asked about the schedule; Jesus called them to service. Often, I wonder about schedules as well, as many of us do. We wait for God to move, watching expectantly for signs that he may answer our prayers and our patience with some longed for change. We grow restless, uncomfortable with business as usual and hopeful that a current situation will pass away with the coming of a new. Jesus, however, didn’t give a timeline. Instead, he gave directions for ministry and provision for doing the work. Ours is not to know when God will act; ours is to be faithful in the task at hand in the grace he provides.
I’m not sure questions of comparison and timing will ever go away. As long as we serve the Lord in this world, we’ll likely be tempted to compare our journeys with others or to seek a specific schedule of God’s plans. Such questions and curiosities make sense, for we tend to try to walk by sight, straining our eyes to better see the world around us, to better understand God’s plan for our lives. We’re not called to walk by sight, though. Ultimately, these questions boil down to matters of faith. Do we trust the one who calls us to follow?
Faith may require pressing on in spite of questions, trusting that the one who calls us is faithful to see us through to the end. Faith may require surrendering our need to understand everything and to instead simply obey the Lord today. Faith will require shifting our eyes away from ourselves to look instead to Christ. But such faith pleases the Lord. So trust him today. Bring your questions and cares to him in faith that he cares for you. Then follow Jesus.