31 “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, 32 but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” 33 Peter said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death.” 34 Jesus said, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day, until you deny three times that you know me.”—Luke 22:31-34 (ESV)
I don’t know how many times I’ve heard this from the pulpit, probably three or four. That old chestnut about Peter and why he denied Christ. Most of the time it goes like this, “Peter didn’t have a blow out when he denied Christ, he had a slow leak,” and it generally leads into a discussion of personal holiness. There are things that get in the way. There are things we allow into our lives that prevent us from doing well and right. Sin modifies our Christian behavior. It’s like a nail in a tire. Sometimes, if it’s a big enough nail, the tire blows out. Sometimes, though, its just a little thing. It’s a little pet sin that sort of lets the air quietly escape from our life in Christ. Pretty soon we can’t go as fast as we used to go and a little while after that, we’re flat.
Our performance as Christians always slows down before it stops. Remember that. If you just can’t do the Bible reading you used to do and if you just can’t keep up with your praying then you need to look around. It’s a symptom of a deeper problem.
I had a flat tire on my van yesterday and it got me thinking about all this. In reality, there is nothing that gets your attention from a maintenance perspective like a flat tire. You can limp along on a bad radiator for awhile and a bad alternator will kind of charge your battery for some time—but a bad tire stops you quick and that’s why its such a good analogy for the Christian life. As I was changing that tire, I noticed something that I’d never noticed before. Four types of folks came by while I was jacking up the van and I learned a little something from them.
The first few were just cars that drove by while I got out and opened the back and started getting my tools out. They may not have even been aware that there was a problem, they just knew I was marginally in the way. It’s not that they didn’t want to help, they either didn’t recognize the opportunity or were so ‘busy’ getting where they were going that they didn’t even consider it. I think this is where most people in a church setting. They are going and doing and zipping around and not really taking in what is going on around them. Either that or they recognize someone is slowing down, but they don’t take the time to find out why because of their own current ‘urgent’ project, need or quest.
The second person who drove by was a little ominous. They knew exactly what was going on and why. In fact they drove by a little later to see if I was still stuck and a third time as I was driving off. Ladies, when you read this, go check your spare right now or make the hubby do it for you. Make sure its aired up and make sure you keep your phone charged up. Two cans of fix’o flat may be annoying to the tire guy when he takes the tire off of the rim, but it may save your life. This second guy gave me the creeps and made me get a better grip on the tire iron. Spiritually this kind knows you’re slipping and is just waiting for the right moment to tempt you. They are just waiting for the right moment to offer you a beer or show you some porn or slip in that stiletto of your besetting sin. You’re a lot better off patching that tire up and getting out quick.
The next two were out walking. I was in a neighborhood and they came by twice. Once they said, “Need some help?” and sort of giggled. It was a pair of young women out for their morning constitutional I guess. “I’ll let you change it for me if you like…” I said. “Oh, I really don’t know how to do that, I just always get someone else to do that for me” and her buddy just nodded enthusiastically. When we’re spiritually flat we get a lot of this insincere kind of help. The kind that says, “I see you have a problem, this is what I always do to fix it, Oh look at the time!” and then they’re gone. They have assuaged their conscience. They have made the offer and now they feel better because it’s obvious that you have things well in hand. My retort to these girls was “Well if you’ve got a minute I’ll show you how to change a flat.” They were not interested. I hope they’re never actually in trouble because that information can come in handy.
The last one was a sincere patrolman. In that neighborhood I imagine that part of why he was stopping was to check on whether or not I was dealing crack or otherwise causing trouble. In his official capacity he asked if I needed anything and watched to make sure I didn’t and when he saw I had things well in hand he said, “Well I’ll leave you alone with it then.” And he went on with his morning patrol. I suspect in our analogy that this is how the pastor operates. He sees you have a problem and attempts to run off the bad guys with a show of authority and has the resources to offer real help if we need it. Sometimes we do, you know, when we have a major problem. Sometimes we don’t have the knowledge to ‘change the tire’ that’s gone flat. Sometimes we just need someone to guide us through it.
Disinterested, Insincere, or the Other Kind or help we can do without. If you need help and its offered by the fourth person in our discussion this morning, then take it. There isn’t a thing wrong with getting help when we need it.
The last thing is that when you see someone with a spiritual flat or a blow out or whatever, make sure you can actually help them. Make sure you’re not one of the first three I talked about up there. Sometimes the best thing I’ve been able to do is pray and talk to the pastor about a friend who was struggling. Sometimes calling for help and going on about your business is the best thing you can do. Just make sure, whatever you do, that you don’t make it worse. Make sure that you don’t come along at the wrong time with your little stiletto…you know what I mean.