“Peter followed him at a distance, right into the courtyard of the high priest. There he sat with the guards and warmed himself at the fire.” – Mark 14:54
Have you ever met someone who thinks life is just easier on the sidelines? Never really making hard decisions, or sticking with the decisions they make. Living to watch others do what they only wish they could do. Longing for things they can’t quite bring themselves to reach for. Wanting forever but afraid of tomorrow. Safe distances.
Perhaps there’s a bit of this in each of us, keeping the most exciting, challenging and even transcendent possibilities in our lives just out of reach, at safe distances. Maybe we fear being hurt, or perhaps we lack the confidence to pursue our dreams because, well, FAILURE. Safe distances.
Regardless, folks living on the sidelines set up endless barriers between themselves and the amazing fate that could be theirs if they only had the courage to believe. This is true in our Faith walks as well. Indeed, it’s been the case since the first followers of Christ professed their devotion but seemed to lack the backbone to exercise their desire.
The core issue is found in our ability (or lack thereof) to follow into the
unknown, or the dangerous. We resist. We argue with ourselves. We lie awake at night and wrestle with what we should or shouldn’t do. For Believers, many times these contemplations center on how we should respond to God’s call.
The “following” theme appears throughout the New Testament, most prominently in the Gospels (Matthew offers twenty-four examples alone). Yet the theme of following isn’t limited to merely being close to someone, marking their footsteps at safe distance. Rather, it calls for a relationship; a relationship between us, God, and other followers. A relationship of intimacy, not distance.
Scripture also shows us the shortcomings of our ability to stay committed. Take the example of Peter. On the eve of Jesus’ arrest, after three years of being as close to Jesus as anyone possibly could, Peter shifts his focus, deciding to step to the sidelines. In Mark 14:54 shortly after Jesus’ arrest, we read that Peter followed Jesus at a distance: “Peter followed him at a distance, right into the courtyard of the high priest. There he sat with the guards and warmed himself at the fire.”
Peter thought he was playing it safe. He was watching from the sidelines. Yet he was actually in greater danger because of his fear. In trying to protect his life, Peter in fact endangered himself even more by placing distance in his relationship with Jesus, denying three times he even knows Jesus (Mark 14:66-72).
God asks for our allegiance especially in times of adversity in exchange for life-giving instruction and daily provision. He pleads for our fellowship if we will only agree to follow where He leads.
Like Peter, however, we too often follow the right person but at the wrong distance. We do this out of fear, and that fear makes us vulnerable to doubt and insecurity.
I recently saw a real-life example of how we can so easily close the distances in the relationship spaces of our lives. A mother and her five or six year old son were walking through a busy airport concourse and the child kept getting distracted and wandering off. The mother, apparently exhausted with trying to keep up with her son, finally just stopped in the middle of the concourse and watched as the child continued wandering several yards ahead.
The child suddenly looked around, no longer able to see his mother. Realizing he was alone and sensing the distance that had grown between them, the child burst into tears and quickly ran back to his mother, enjoying the safety of being close to his protector. When you and I become aware of being separated from God or a loved one, do we rush back or continue drifting, perhaps placing even more distance between us?
Fortunately, Peter’s story had a redeeming ending. After denying Jesus, he confessed his shortcomings and boldly accepted Jesus’ challenge to take the Gospel to the world. As far as we know from the recorded life of Peter, he never permitted such dangerous distance to form in his relationship with Jesus again.
Staying at a safe distance may seem comforting. In fact, it can be the most dangerous place of all. Get engaged with the passions of your life. Follow the direction of where God is leading you. Being a spectator in your own life is, ultimately, the loneliest seat in the stadium.