Peter: Stages of Transition
What connection to spiritual growth can you find with a physical transition, like relocation?
This week’s study in Acts helps us make the distinction between change and transition. Change is the events that occur in life and transition is the process of adapting to those changes. Peter went through stages of transition before he fully embraced the change God was making. Tough transitions are not for the faint of heart, but when we lay our fears before the Lord, His peace can help us thrive through any change.
About This Journey
Much can happen during transition, and in the journey between change and acceptance, we can get stuck in the struggle to want everything settled—now! Taking the time to see God in the midst of the transition is important. Recognizing He is setting the pace, even when you cannot see Him, is the best reassurance.
This Week's Readings
Peter – a Man in Transition
At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion of what was known as the Italian Cohort, a devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms generously to the people, and prayed continually to God. About the ninth hour of the day he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God come in and say to him, “Cornelius.” And he stared at him in terror and said, “What is it, Lord?” And he said to him, “Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God. And now send men to Joppa and bring one Simon who is called Peter. He is lodging with one Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the sea.” When the angel who spoke to him had departed, he called two of his servants and a devout soldier from among those who attended him, and having related everything to them, he sent them to Joppa.-Acts 10:1-8
What words come to mind when you think of transition? The common response is change, but these are not necessarily the same. In the book Transitions William H. Bridges suggests that change is an event while transition is a process. It’s a valuable distinction. I see change as the events that occur in my life and transition as the process of adapting to those changes.
In today’s reading, God is getting ready to make a big change in kingdom citizenship. Up to this point only believing Jews made up the church. The expectation for joining the Christ-followers was to commit to observe Jewish law in addition to following Christ. But change was coming. Gentiles would be welcomed without needing to follow Jewish rituals. Peter and the other believers would need to go through a major transition.
Peter was not ready for this, but change happens whether we want it or not: a PCS, a deployment, a new job, a new child, retirement. Our willing participation predicts how well we will transition—adjust emotionally and mentally to the change. I desire to thrive in transition, but my path from functioning to thriving is filled with potholes, curves, detours, and at times, complete standstills.
Tough transitions are not for the faint of heart. God picked the right person to walk with Peter on this journey. Cornelius was a soldier, a centurion in command of a hundred men, a Gentile. Did you get that? The man God picked to transition Peter through a big church change was a soldier—not a teacher, not a doctor, but a soldier. The first Gentile Christ-follower. Awesome!
God sent an angel instructing Cornelius to summon Peter. His response was to stare in terror! Do you blame him? He had faced battles, but this heavenly being was intimidating. And the angel’s message gave no indication of the outcome if he obeyed.
Fear is a natural response to the unknowns that accompany transition, to all that we cannot control or predict, especially regarding the welfare of our family. But to thrive in transition we must not freeze in fear of potential outcomes. Acknowledging fear is the first step in moving forward courageously.
What fears have you experienced in transition? What is outside your control now? Write your fears in a journal. Make them a prayer guide on your journey toward accepting change.
Lord, you have not given me a spirit of fear but of power and love and a sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7). Help me walk through transition with peace that only comes as I trust in you. I lay these fears before you and ask you to help me overcome them today. Amen.
The next day, as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour to pray. And he became hungry and wanted something to eat, but while they were preparing it, he fell into a trance and saw the heavens opened and something like a great sheet descending, being let down by its four corners upon the earth. In it were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air. And there came a voice to him: “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.” But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.” And the voice came to him again a second time, “What God has made clean, do not call common.” This happened three times, and the thing was taken up at once to heaven.-Acts 10:9-16
What was this thing in my house? My airborne jumpmaster-wannabe husband had brought home a semblance of a mannequin strapped with a packed parachute. He said he had to practice the steps of inspecting a paratrooper’s parachute. I watched him move his hands over the training aid while speaking military nomenclature aloud. He did this over and over and over. Military wives are accustomed to watching their husbands do repetitive processes for the purpose of precision.
In the incident with Peter, a voice accompanied his vision of a sheet that held all types of animals, reptiles, and birds descending to earth. The voice instructed Peter to kill and eat the animals not once, not twice, but three times. Unlike my husband in training, God did not repeat the vision three times for the purpose of precision, but for persuasion. The command to kill animals and eat them may seem like a no-brainer to our Western mindset. However, Jewish law prohibited Peter from eating meat that was not kosher. The command went against Peter’s lifelong training and practice. For the Jews, food restrictions were not about etiquette or being a picky eater. Adherence to the strict dietary laws was a matter of survival and identity. Peter cringed at the thought of desecrating the dietary laws. He burst out, “No way!” The vision had everything to do with a major transition the Lord wanted to take place in Peter’s life. Peter’s response shows his resistance to that transition.
Successful transition depends on not allowing resistance to hold you back. God was already at work in this transition from Cornelius’s end. His men were journeying to find Peter and would soon be knocking on his door. Digesting the meaning of the vision went against every fiber of Peter’s Jewish heritage, but he did not allow resistance to become disobedience. When the Gentile men sent by Cornelius arrived, Peter invited them into his home. He took a major step in this monumental transition by not recoiling at the idea of sharing food and lodging under the same roof with Gentiles. Through his obedience to the vision from God, he opened the door to receive Gentiles into the fellowship of the church.
God repeated the vision to Peter three times to persuade him to embrace this change. He knew the transition would not be easy for Peter. How many times does God prompt you before you embrace a significant change? My goal as a Christ-follower is to be someone the Lord can lead through change with a heart that is open to transition. What about you?
Oh, by the way, repetition paid off for my husband. He passed the Jumpmaster Course as a milestone, eventually earning the status of Master Parachutist. He got a wreath around the star on his jump wings to be worn on his uniform, and I did not resist the jewel he added to the jump-wings necklace to be worn around my neck!
When have you resisted transition? Was the transition physical or spiritual? What were the reasons for your resistance?
Lord, enlighten the eyes of my heart, that I may know the hope to which you have called me, the riches of your glorious inheritance in the saints, and the immeasurable greatness of your power toward me, according to the working of your great might. Amen. (See Ephesians 1:18–19)
Navigating with a Broken Compass
Now while Peter was inwardly perplexed as to what the vision that he had seen might mean, behold, the men who were sent by Cornelius, having made inquiry for Simon’s house, stood at the gate and called out to ask whether Simon who was called Peter was lodging there. And while Peter was pondering the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Behold, three men are looking for you. Rise and go down and accompany them without hesitation, for I have sent them.”-Acts 10:17-20
Transition can leave us disoriented, feeling like we are navigating life with a broken compass. As someone with a poor sense of direction, I need a fully operational compass. Military life and beyond presented me with numerous opportunities to travel. Even with my poor sense of direction, I have navigated trains, planes, autobahns, and subways around the world, but I sometimes get lost when attempting to navigate through a transition.
When the vision ended, Peter tried to figure out what it meant for him. God had smashed Peter’s internal compass of religious rituals and the rules that had directed his life and he was perplexed. Like a trooper dropped into unfamiliar territory in the middle of night with no landmarks in sight only to discover his compass is broken, Peter was disoriented.
Scripture describes his emotion following the vision as “perplexed” as he pondered the event. A good word picture for ponder is that his mind was going this way and that without being able to come to any real understanding or conclusion. Transition will do that to a person!
Have you ever used a compass to navigate? Compass navigation is more difficult than it sounds. You have to know exactly where you are when you start and make sure you have the compass pointed in the right direction. Then you must make sure you do not stop short of your destination, or navigate on the correct course but go too far past your destination point. A compass is a good tool, but tough to use with proficiency. There is a better way: GPS. Guided by a satellite in the sky, a GPS knows where you are, where you need to go, and best of all—how to get there. All you have to do is stay connected.
To Peter’s credit, the fact that he saw this vision while he was on the rooftop, in prayer, indicates that he is in the condition to receive the message of God. More important than being able to see or predict every phase of a transition is being sure our connection with God is strong. The men at Peter’s door reiterated the story of the angel’s visit to Cornelius, reinforcing with Peter that the vision and the men were both part of a script God was writing. Peter did not know where he was going or why, but he was willing to be led by God.
Transition is the process that gets us from one place to another in the context of what could be the new normal. We do not just jump from a clean start to the ordered end. What happens in the middle of the process can be messy, but the mess is necessary in order to let go of prejudices, methods, and attitudes—the emotional junk that keeps us from moving forward.
As a military wife I learned to prepare for change, but it took me a while to realize I was not always prepared for transition. Checking boxes on lists for a PCS, deployment, or reintegration can indicate that things in my life changed. I cannot make a linear plan on how I will deal with the emotional struggles I experience in between change and acceptance.
I have learned, however, not to panic when my old tried-and-true compass gets smashed. I just turn on my prayer-powered GPS, focus on where I am, and take the next turn. Sister, God knows how to lead us through transition.
The danger in this stage is to “grow numb by avoidance and denial.” What have you done to get past avoidance and denial during transition? How has prayer prepared you for transition?
Lord, when I feel disoriented I’m reminded of my dependence on you. Thank you for the assurance that your Spirit will help me in my weakness. When I do not know what to pray for your Spirit intercedes for me with groanings too deep for words. Amen. (See Romans 8:26.)
Something New is Coming
So he invited them in to be his guests.
The next day he rose and went away with them, and some of the brothers from Joppa accompanied him. And on the following day they entered Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends. When Peter entered, Cornelius met him and fell down at his feet and worshiped him. But Peter lifted him up, saying, “Stand up; I too am a man.” And as he talked with him, he went in and found many persons gathered. And he said to them, “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation, but God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean. So when I was sent for, I came without objection. I ask then why you sent for me.”-Acts 10:23-29
Transition often includes new places and usually new faces. When people are a part of a transition equation, making a good first impression can pave the way for future encounters. Consider military protocol. When a military dignitary arrives, a protocol officer ensures the correct implementation of introductions, seating arrangements, and other details for a successful visit.
The meeting between Cornelius, an officer of an occupying army, and Peter, a leader of a fast-growing religious movement, could be categorized today as a Key Leader Engagement. Such an event would require a protocol officer. For Peter to enter the home of a person whom his community called a Gentile dog, and for Cornelius to acknowledge a god who opposed his commander-in-chief, Caesar, as a deity, was likely to be awkward on both sides. External factors surrounding this meeting likely raised the anxiety-level for this key step of transition.
If proper protocol were followed in this social climate:
Cornelius, a unit commander, would have traveled to seek an audience with Peter, the religious leader.
Peter, and the Jews with him, would have never agreed to meet in a Gentile home.
Cornelius would not have bowed down to Peter because it was an offense to worship anyone but God.
Who set up this meeting, anyway? Oh yeah, God! And God decided to establish his own protocol. When Peter entered the house of Cornelius he “refused both to be treated by Cornelius as if he were a god, and to treat Cornelius as if he were a dog.”
Peter’s presence in the home of Cornelius communicates a radical adjustment in his attitude toward the Gentiles. The wall between Jews and Gentiles started to crumble as these two men responded to God’s new direction.
In the midst of a major transition, we may not have a good handle on the significance of the big picture. However, we can focus on those new individuals with whom we come face-to-face. When God is the protocol officer behind the scenes, every person with whom we cross paths may play an important role in God’s plan, both for us and for them.
Who has played an important role in your acceptance of a change in your life? What new thing is God asking you to embrace?
Lord, give me a willing heart to accept your direction in my life. Prepare me for any new thing you want to do in and through me. Amen.
Present for Duty
So Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. As for the word that he sent to Israel, preaching good news of peace through Jesus Christ ( he is Lord of all), you yourselves know what happened throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John proclaimed: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.-Acts 10:34-38
How long does it take after a PCS move before your new house feels like home? You know, that feeling like you belong and you are where you are supposed to be? Settled into your new surroundings you are ready to write the next chapter in your family saga of life in the military, and you know the read will be good!
A sign that transition has been successful is moving to the stage of acceptance. The change is complete. You are in the here and now, present for duty, and ready to get on with life.
In a few days’ time, Peter transitioned from a confused person on a rooftop, trying to make sense of a disconcerting vision, to a preacher ready to break new ground in God’s vineyard. No doubt he walked out his thought process over the two-day journey from Joppa to Caesarea. I wonder if one of the reasons God picked Cornelius for this transition, instead of a Gentile next door, is that he knew Peter would need a little time to process the big change that was coming. A two-day journey, probably on foot, was part of the plan.
When Peter addressed the group of Cornelius’s family and close friends, he preached the first Christian sermon presented to Gentiles. Though this was a new audience for Peter, the content of the sermon was the same he had been preaching to the Jews.
Peter had rapidly accepted the view that everyone was important to God. He accepted the mission from God to take the gospel to the Gentiles on their home turf. He accepted the conversion of Cornelius and those with him as legitimate. He accepted the fact that God wanted Gentiles in his church as much as he wanted Jews. He led the way in welcoming the new believers as spiritual equals through the sacrament of baptism. Peter had made a major transition in his ministry at breakneck speed.
The timeline for transition will be different for everyone. Some changes and transition come easily and quickly. Other changes drag us kicking and screaming, and the timeframe from avoidance to acceptance is longer than we want. The sooner we arrive at the transitional endpoint of acceptance, the sooner we will start looking for the good in the new phase.
What transition in your life has come quickly? What transition in your life has taken a long time? What factors made the difference in the timeline?
Lord, help me to cooperate with your plan for my life. Thank you for the times when transition has been easy and quick. Whatever the timeline, teach me the lessons I need to learn in the process. Amen.
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- Small Group Resource: Directed 2 - Leader's Guide
- Small Group Resource: Directed 2 - Participant's Guide