Restoration and Renewal: Hope for Our Weary Souls
“Rachel, do you love me?”
“Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
“Feed my lambs.”
Again, Jesus said to me, “Rachel, do you love me?”
Again, I answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
“Take care of my sheep.”
And a third time, Jesus said, “Rachel, do you love me?”
“Lord, you know all things, and you know that I love you.”
“Feed my sheep.”
A Reluctant Yes
It was July 2019 when I had this conversation with Jesus, a dialogue that comes almost verbatim from John 21:15–19. I’m no apostle Peter, but the Spirit often speaks to me through the words of Scripture, and Peter’s journey of meeting Jesus in moments of wild doubt, bold faith, and the messy in-between is one that resonates with my own story.
I remember exactly where this holy encounter happened. It was the first day of The Gathering in Winnipeg, Manitoba. The theme for the weekend was taken from Isaiah 6:8—“Here I am. Send me!” When the speaker encouraged us to spend time in honest prayer, asking God where he was sending us, this is the conversation that I had with the Lord.
“Rachel, do you love me? Feed my sheep.”
It was a simple prayer—not even my own words—but I will never forget the way it terrified me. I was in the middle of a teaching job that I loved—I wasn’t looking for something new. And as much as this was a call for faithfulness in my shepherding role in the classroom, I knew Jesus was calling me to follow him into a new area of ministry. In this conversation, what the Lord was asking me was, “Rachel, do you trust me? Do you trust me enough to follow me into new seasons and costly growth? Into full-time ministry and into deep unknowns?” I wanted to say yes, but I didn’t know how. All I could whisper back was, “Yes, Lord. You know that I love you.” I guess it was my own version of Isaiah’s response—“Here I am.”
What I didn’t know when I said that feeble yes to Jesus on that day is all the tiny, wobbly steps of obedience that would be part of this season. Discipleship is never linear, and neither is calling. A few months after that weekend, on the tail-end of that sacred moment, I entered into a mental health crisis. I faced burnout and anxiety and depression, combined with continued grief from the loss of my father a few years earlier. It was unlike anything I had experienced or anything I was prepared for. I became unable to function—completely dependent on others and completely dependent on Jesus.
Jesus, certainly you don’t want me? You’ve picked the wrong girl. Pick someone else for ministry. I’m too broken. I’m too weak. I’m too fragile.
And yet, what I learned in that season is that the gentleness of Jesus has grace for my desperation. It was in that season of being fully broken that I experienced a spiritual renewal I didn’t expect. It wasn’t a vibrant revival but the steady glow of a faith that wasn’t dependent on my contributions but on Jesus’ faithfulness. I had nothing but Jesus left. I was fully aware of my own weakness, and the Lord met me there.
A Restored Betrayer
I’m reminded of the context of Jesus’ encounter with Peter from which my own prayer was derived. After Peter had been so adamant about his love, so staunch in his commitment, so resolute in his own strength (“Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will!” Matthew 26:33 NIV), he failed desperately. He denied his Lord three times. Judas gets a lot of flak, but Jesus had two betrayers on the night of his death. Judas may have given Jesus’ location away, but Peter denied even knowing the Lord he promised to never leave.
But what strikes me about the conversation in John 21 is that despite Peter’s flagrant betrayal, Jesus reaches out to Peter. Jesus is the one who welcomes him into renewal—who welcomes him back into restored relationship. And Jesus’ welcome isn’t one that leaves Peter on the fringes. Jesus doesn’t start Peter off with a trial period. He brings him back into full communion with a powerful new mission.
With each of the three repetitions of “Do you love me?,” Jesus renews Peter’s calling: “Feed my lambs”... “Take care of my sheep”...“Feed my sheep.” The Good Shepherd who leaves the ninety-nine calls the one sheep who left the fold to join him in the shepherding. Wow!
You can hear Peter’s hurt in Jesus’ repetition. “Lord, you know all things. You know that I love you!” But I wonder if what Jesus is revealing to Peter in this conversation is that his love for Jesus will never be complete—it will never be strong enough. Peter is coming face-to-face with his inadequacy, but the grace of Jesus meets Peter in the middle of his weakness. His calling comes in the after-effects of his deepest failure. Peter’s calling is not changed because he has proven himself unworthy. Rather, his weakness becomes a way to see his need to fully trust Jesus.
And at the end of the conversation, Jesus repeats the first words he ever spoke to Peter in Matthew 4:19: “Follow me!”
A fresh start.
A full renewal.
A Weary New Beginning
In 2021, I began seminary. It was hard to leave my job. It was hard to step into something new. It was hard to be a novice again after years of being the expert in my classroom. And it’s been a lot of hard and trying work. The journey of obedience is costly. But it has also been so rich! I have learned so much about the grace of God and the complications of ministry. I have gained confidence in interpreting God’s word and caring for God’s people. I have met people who draw me closer to my Saviour. I have learned the joy of daily saying yes to Jesus. And I have learned that this journey will be life-long.
I am brought to the end of myself almost daily. And isn’t that our calling as followers of Jesus? To come to the end of ourselves and find a gracious Jesus waiting. Jesus doesn’t give us a full map for our life, but our loving Saviour meets us at each step, welcoming us to follow him. I don’t know where this journey is leading. But I know I serve a God who asks for my weakness, not my strength. I know that he will be faithful when things go well and, especially, when things go poorly. I know he will always ask me to do impossible things because he is the one for whom all things are possible (Matthew 19:26).
I don’t know what your New Year looks like. After years of upheaval and disaster and change, maybe you are starting this year weary. Maybe you feel like you’ve failed before you’ve even begun. Maybe you’re clinging to desperate hope that somehow this year will be better. And maybe … that’s enough.
Maybe this year, renewal looks less like a shiny new start and more like the determination to continue to fix our eyes on Jesus (Hebrews 12:2) each and every day. Maybe our weary beginnings and our fitful starts and our feeble yes’s are enough. Because we serve a Jesus who renews what is broken and restores what feels hopeless. A Jesus who invites the lost sheep to join him in the shepherding. A Jesus who calls inadequate people like you and me.
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Matthew 11:28–29 (NIV)
This year, wherever you are, I invite you to come weary and find rest in the arms of the Good Shepherd who calls you, equips you, and loves you. May you have eyes to see the way Jesus is at work in the world and in you, slowly but surely making all things new.
Rachel Wall is a graduate student at McMaster Divinity College, working on her Master of Divinity degree. Before beginning seminary in 2021, Rachel taught Grade 8 for several years at Mount Salem Christian School in Aylmer, ON. She lives in Tillsonburg, ON with two of her best friends and her cat Oatmeal and attends Aylmer EMMC where she serves as a youth leader. In her spare time, Rachel enjoys learning Hebrew, tutoring high school math, belting out musical theatre songs, and collecting more books than she can read.
This article was originally published in The Recorder Vol 59 No. 1