Simon Peter fell in a dramatic way (Luke 22:31-62), but the story of his fall is filled with warning signs for today’s leaders. Though these signs don’t always happen in a linear fashion, each one should cause us to slow down and evaluate our lives. In these days of isolation and tension, I encourage you to pay particular attention to #2 below.
- Being overconfident – Jesus told Peter the Enemy would sift him, but Peter strongly affirmed his commitment to go to prison or to death for Jesus. Within hours, though, he would deny knowing Jesus. Peter was overconfident and didn’t know it – and that’s the danger of overconfidence. Believing “it won’t happen to me” is a huge warning sign.
- Suffering emotional and physical fatigue –The emotional fatigue of mounting opposition to Jesus had taken a toll on the disciples. Exhaustion increased their vulnerability to the Enemy’s arrows. Under the wearying strain of a leader’s responsibilities, we, too, sometimes let our guard down. Carrying too many burdens and getting too little rest can lead to serious consequences.
- Failing to pray – “Pray,” Jesus commanded the disciples in the garden. Even if they wanted to, though, sleep came easier than prayer. The problem here is simple: prayerlessness reflects self-dependence rather than dependence on God. Anytime we’re not praying, we are susceptible to a fall.
- Growing distanced from Jesus – Peter followed Jesus after His arrest from a distance. That distance was obviously geographical, but his heart would quickly grow distant from Jesus, too. His actions soon to come would make that point. Our distance from Jesus may be marked more by less Bible reading and fewer prayers than public denials, but any distance can set us up for a fall.
- Trying to hide in public – Peter did not hide well, of course, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t try. He warmed himself at the same fire that warmed the enemies of Jesus. Good leaders don’t ignore this warning sign: if you’re tempted to hide something (even while still serving publicly), you are moving in the wrong direction.
- Lying – A servant girl looked intently at Peter and accused him of being a follower of Jesus; in fact, the wording suggests she stared hard at the disciple. Face to face. Eyeball to eyeball. Still, Peter lied to her. You know a fall is at full throttle if you lie when confronted with the truth of what you’re doing.
- Escalating denials –Three times, others initiated a conversation about Peter’s relationship with Jesus; three times the disciple denied it. In fact, his denials escalated to the point that he was angry, swearing he had no relationship with Jesus. Leaders in the midst of a fall often convince themselves that loud continual denials somehow change reality.
Here’s the danger for leaders today. For Peter, the process of falling occurred rapidly. It was as if he ran and leapt into disobedience. Most leaders don’t leap into trouble, though; they slide there. Sometimes the process happens so imperceptibly that leaders are in a disaster before they know it. That’s why good leaders know these warning signals and guard their heart.