I’m All Petered Out

by Jefferson David Tant

The sun was sinking, and the day’s work was done. The farmer shut off his tractor, walked to the house, and into the kitchen where his wife had his coffee waiting for him. As he sat, he wiped the sweat off his brow and said, “I’m all petered out.”

Niels Frederik Schiottz-Jensen
The tired farmer, 1882

That’s an old expression not used much these days, but it was common in former days. I probably said it as a teen working on Uncle Clide Keeney’s ranch out in Eldorado, Texas. Running the combine harvesting grain was exhausting.

Perhaps you have said it. Do you wonder about its origin? It is an odd saying, but there is a probable explanation. My father, Yater Tant, had a suggestion that made good sense. Can you think of a Bible character that often made a bold beginning, but then faded out? Oh yes, Peter! How often Peter made a strong start, but then faded away.

Once the disciples were in a storm and saw Jesus walking on the water. They were scared out of their wits, thinking it was a ghost. But Jesus spoke and calmed their fears. “Peter said to Him, ‘Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.’ And He said, ‘Come!’ And Peter got out of the boat, and walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But seeing the wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’" (Matthew 14:28-30). How exciting to walk on water! But then Peter took his eyes off Jesus and saw the storm around them, and his boldness left him.

Consider Christ’s conversation with the disciples before his arrest. "You will all fall away because of Me this night, for it is written, 'I will strike down the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.' "But after I have been raised, I will go ahead of you to Galilee." But Peter said to Him, "Even though all may fall away because of You, I will never fall away." Jesus said to him, "Truly I say to you that this very night, before a rooster crows, you will deny Me three times." Peter said to Him, "Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You" (Matthew 26:31-35). We know what happened after Jesus was arrested and put on trial. Peter failed.

Remember when the soldiers came to arrest Jesus? Who jumped into the fray? Peter, of course. “Simon Peter then, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest's slave, and cut off his right ear …” (John 18:10). And it was shortly after that Peter “petered out,” as he cursed and swore that he did not even know Jesus.

So, what’s the point? No matter how weak or fallible we may be, the Lord can still use us for great things. Peter could have given up after yet another failure. In fact, he was overcome with remorse when he realized what he had done. “Then he began to curse and swear, ‘I do not know the man!’ And immediately a rooster crowed. And Peter remembered the word which Jesus had said, ‘Before a rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.’ And he went out and wept bitterly” (Matthew 26:74-75).

But the Lord was not through with Peter. He had important things for Peter to accomplish. John records Christ’s conversation with Peter before he ascended when he asked Peter three times if he loved him. “He said to him the third time, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love Me?’ Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, ‘Do you love Me?’ And he said to Him, ‘Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Tend My sheep. Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to gird yourself and walk wherever you wished; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and someone else will gird you, and bring you where you do not wish to go.’  Now this He said, signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God. And when He had spoken this, He said to him, ‘Follow Me!’” (John 21:17-19).

Who was the lead speaker on Pentecost? The very same Peter. Oh, he was still fallible, as later Paul had to rebuke him when he refused to eat with the Gentiles (Galatians 2:11-14). But Peter never gave up! He never quit! He kept coming back! Judas gave up, but Peter didn’t.

In reading the pages of history, we see so many who stumbled. Abraham, Jacob, David, Solomon, Miriam. But they didn’t throw up their hands in despair and quit. They repented, accepted God’s forgiveness, and continued to serve him.

And so it should be with us. We stumble and sin, but we can take courage from Peter’s example, as he refused to give up, and, as Paul expressed it, “I press on toward the goal unto the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14).

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