A few months ago I was following a discussion on social media about how people of faith would respond if faced with martyrdom. It generated some good back-and-forth, but I could not help remembering the words of Peter to Jesus, “Even though I should have to die with you, I will not deny you.” The Gospel adds, “And all the disciples spoke likewise” (Mathew 26:35).
And what does Peter do? Well, he does die for Christ, eventually, but not before denying him Lord, not once, but three times. The disciples scatter when the soldiers come to arrest Jesus. One guy even leaves his garments behind (Mark 14:52). Who was with Jesus in his last hour? Mary, His mother, the other Mary’s, and the disciple whom He loved – the strong and silent types.
Bravado and Truth
Peter has to eat his words in bitter shame, weeping because he had said them with such bravado. Yet there is a critical point we must not overlook: while Peter does not die with Christ at his hour, he does go to his death for him at Peter’s appointed time. This is, of course, after Pentecost, when Peter and the other disciples are given the grace and courage by the Holy Spirit to suffer and die, and to do it well. But their high-minded words prior to the appointed time are just that – words.
I appreciate quotes from the saints who have walked the walk and have the street creds to give authority to their words. I do not have much use for nicely-crafted words from inspirational speakers making the daily memes for their social media postings. Every now and then I come across a blunt little nugget from someone having no intention of being a JV philosopher, someone who is not necessarily religious but who is just speaking from life experience. Life carries weight.
Mike Tyson was that guy this morning when I read his words, “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” He spoke about the origins of that quote here:
“People were asking me [before a fight], ‘What’s going to happen?'” Tyson said. “They were talking about his style. ‘He’s going to give you a lot of lateral movement. He’s going to move, he’s going to dance. He’s going to do this, do that.’ I said, “Everybody has a plan until they get hit. Then, like a rat, they stop in fear and freeze.'”
Like a rat, they stop in fear and freeze. Can anybody relate to that? It is easy to talk a good game about dying for Christ and becoming a martyr, and we should in fact desire that – but I dread that day. A person wrote to me the other day crediting me with some religious points during my interview on “The Journey Home” and asked if I agreed. All I could tell him was that I can only identify with Peter who, after sinking into the sea, said to the Lord, “Depart from me Lord, for I am a sinful man” (Luke 5:8). Grace is the only thing I have. My faith is smaller than a mustard seed, by a lot. Grace keeps me from drowning. It is all I have.
I am not used to being in the public eye, so to speak. It is a little disorienting. After the airing of the show, I spent a good amount of time in prayer, arms extended like Moses to feel the burn, because I felt like I deserved a good smarting, a sharp thorn, like Paul, to keep my face close to the dirt. I was afraid of the publicity, and still am. I have seen big names fall. I have seen the devils shooting arrows at the saints on the ladder of divine ascent, and pride brings every one of them crashing through the rungs.
The Power of Witness
If you want to die for Christ, suffer for Christ, save your words. Sacrifice, but do it in private. Pray, and pray some more, with tears. Peter would tell you the same, I suspect. God will give you what you want when you are focused on Him. Just make sure it is what you really want. Converts are made by witness, not pastoral letters. Live your life as a witness. But go easy on the words and sabre rattling, because you never know how that day is going to look when it comes. Faith and character is proved by fire, as gold through the furnace.
“If you’re good and your plan is working,” Tyson said, “somewhere during the duration of that, the outcome of that event you’re involved in, you’re going to get the wrath, the bad end of the stick. Let’s see how you deal with it. Normally people don’t deal with it that well.”
There is truth there. Sanctity does not come cheap, and nothing really goes according to plan. Stay focused, do the work in front of you, and roll with the punches so you can persevere to the end. Do not make an oath, as Peter foolishly did; rather, “Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No’ mean ‘No.’ Anything more is from the evil one“ (Matthew 5:37).
No one plans to get punched in the mouth, after all. How you respond when you do will be the mark that matters in the end.