What Is the Key to a Life Well Lived?

Robert Wolgemuth: What Is the Key to a Life Well Lived?By Robert Wolgemuth

Editor’s Note: There is one event most people don’t want to think about: their own death. And for good reason. We’re too focused on living our lives well. But that begs the question: what is the key to a life well lived? How can we face death knowing that we have finished well? Robert Wolgemuth addresses these questions in his new book Finish Line. What follows is an excerpt that explores Simon Peter’s experiences with Jesus, which reveal the key to a life well lived.

Like almost all Jesus’ inner circle, Simon Peter was executed for what he believed. About Jesus.

Of all the disciples, I guess I identify most with Peter. Maybe not as outwardly brash as this guy, but I’m every bit as impetuous. Sometimes leading with my mouth rather than my thoughtfulness. Thankfully, the older I’ve grown, the more successful I’ve become at controlling myself.

So walk with me to one of the most important conversations Jesus had with this disciple. It took place on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, home base for many of the disciples.

Except for Judas, we don’t know why the remaining disciples were not in this narrative, but we do know that seven of them were there: Simon Peter, Thomas, Nathanael, James, John, and two unnamed guys (John 21:2).

As the story unfolds in John 21, the writer cuts to the chase. The result of these fishermen’s all-night net casting: “They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing” (verse 3).

Someone might quip that this is the very reason it’s called “fishing” and not “catching.” But these guys would not have been in the mood for levity. I’m sure of it.

A Crazy Idea

As the morning sun was peeking over the horizon, Jesus shouted from the shoreline something you and I have said to discouraged—and likely angry—fishermen every time they come back from an excursion: “Friends,” Jesus hollered out to them, “haven’t you any fish?” (John 21:5).

If this doesn’t conjure up at least a smile from you and me, we’re not paying attention. Here’s Jesus Christ. The Creator of Heaven and earth. The One who spoke these men into existence. The One who made the dry land and the sea. The One who made the fish and the water on which the disciples sailed and in which the fish swam. The One who, at that moment, ordered the earth to rotate ever so slightly, exposing the day-breaking sun so the men in the boat could see the form of a Man standing on the shore. This Man who did all these things, asking a question about their success on the lake. As though He didn’t know full well how unsuccessful their trip had been.


But when they heard His naive-sounding query, they called back. “No.”

Then Jesus threw out an idea that surely was received as pure contempt. The men obeyed anyway. Read it for yourself: “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some” (John 21:6).

Here is a sweet lesson in faith and trust, right in the middle of this story. These seasoned fishermen could have dissed the Rabbi. “What on earth does a holy man know about our trade?”

Jesus told them to try something other than what they had been doing all night. So they did, and they were unable to haul it in because of the large number of fish. John breathlessly exclaimed to Peter, “It is the Lord!” (John 21:7).

Again, let these words sink in. Fishing all night. Nothing to show for it. Throw the nets on the other side? A crazy idea. Then—more fish than they can haul in. Let’s call this a miracle. A clear realization that snagging all these fish was anything but ordinary.

After shouting the words, Peter, knowing that only Jesus could have done such a thing, did what we’d expect him to do. He stripped and jumped into the water, swimming like a bandit to see his friend, Jesus, the Miracle Worker, face-to-face.

By the time Peter arrived on the shore, there was a charcoal fire going with a fish already grilling. Don’t you just love this part?

Eventually the disciples joined Peter, dragging and heaving their catch—153 fish . . . “large” ones—onto the shore. These were likely tilapia, and their average weight would have been two pounds each. That’s a lot. You do the math.

“Come and have breakfast,” Jesus invited. And not only did He have fish they didn’t catch, but He also had bread that He tore apart and gave to them. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

What did the disciples say in the face of this incredible moment? They said nothing. Why? The text tells us: “None of the disciples dared ask him, ‘Who are you?’ They knew it was the Lord” (John 21:12).

In that moment, the sand on the Galilean beach became holy ground. The grains, like precious stones.

Jesus Talks with Simon Peter

Jesus broke the silence and spoke. To Peter. His words must have cut deeply to the heart of this tough man. And as you and I read these words, they may sound like a change of subject. They’re not. Listen carefully.

“Simon . . . do you love me more than these?” Jesus asked.

“Yes, Lord. You know that I love you.”

“Feed my lambs,” Jesus responded.

Then He asked again, “Simon . . . do you love me?”

“Yes, Lord. You know that I love you,” Peter said again.

“Take care of my sheep,” Jesus said.

Then Jesus went for the trifecta. “Simon . . . do you love me?”

Because of the limitations of the English language, this sounds completely repetitive. But it’s not. The first two times, Jesus uses the word agape for “love” in asking Peter. This is best defined as perfect, flawless, unfailing love. Even though Peter responds in the affirmative, he knows better. And he knows that Jesus knows better. Peter’s denial on the night Jesus was convicted of something He had not done exposes Peter’s flawed love for his Friend.

The third time, Jesus uses a different word for love. He returns to the word Peter uses. Jesus could have said, “I know you can’t love Me with a perfect love. But are you My friend?”

Here’s another way of looking at this powerful exchange: “Even the best efforts of our human love are but a shadow to the love of God. But holiness is not achieved by our own efforts to love—and thank God! True holiness derives from the love of Christ working within us. We can only love at all, because he first loved us (1 John 4:19).”

Back on the shore, hunched over the fire, Jesus spoke to Peter. It was just the two of them. We don’t know exactly how long it had been since Peter had lied about his relationship with Jesus, standing with strangers in a courtyard outside the place where Jesus was being cross-examined by Caiaphas the high priest (Luke 22:54–62). But it’s certain that his lies were front and center in his mind as he and his Friend spoke.

Can you imagine the relief coming from Peter’s heart? Finally, he had a chance to speak to the Someone he had so desperately wronged. You and I know this feeling, don’t we?

And from Peter’s point of view, this would have been a powerful, life-transforming exchange if it had stopped there. But it didn’t. Listen carefully.

The Key to a Life Well Lived

Having Peter’s undivided attention, Jesus spoke of the eventual crossing of Peter’s own finish line. To be candid, it does feel like a complete change of the subject.

Jesus continued: “Truly I tell you, when you were younger, you would tie your belt and walk wherever you wanted. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and someone else will tie you and carry you where you don’t want to go. He said this to indicate by what kind of death Peter would glorify God” (John 21:18–19 CSB).

Suddenly you and I realize the importance of this seaside conversation. It’s a setup. The miracle of the experiences Peter had just witnessed—his denial, the crucifixion, the empty tomb, the visitation of Jesus in a locked room, the invoking of the power of the Holy Spirit, the failed fishing trip, breakfast on the beach, and the bold challenge of Peter’s love and certain death—was all a precursor to Jesus’ loving, final prediction. And admonition about Peter’s finish line.

Are you ready for it? Am I ready for it? We find Jesus’ words to this bold disciple in the nineteenth verse of the narrative. It’s all that you and I need to know about the time between now and our predicable and inescapable death. A death that we truly hope, as Jesus promised Peter, would literally glorify Him: “Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, ‘Follow me!’ ” (21:19).

Here’s your assignment, my reader friend. And it’s a clear message from Jesus in the years leading up to our deaths. It’s for you and me too. For us. Two simple words. Words for this life. And the next.

Follow me.


Finish Line: Dispelling Fear, Finding Peace, and Preparing for the End of Your LifeAdapted from Finish Line: Dispelling Fear, Finding Peace, and Preparing for the End of Your Life by Robert Wolgemuth. Click here to learn more about this book.

Facing your ultimate death can be scary, but in light of God’s promises, it doesn’t have to be. Finish Line provides practical and biblical help on topics such as finances, blessing others, end-of-life choices, heaven, and caring for those you leave behind so you can approach your own finish line with hope, joy, and peace.

It’s normal to have questions about how to face the last season of our lives well, and though we long to end our lives with grace and gratitude, sometimes we feel fear and uncertainty instead.

Robert Wolgemuth knows what it is like to face death, having lost his first wife of almost 45 years to cancer and battling cancer twice himself. Finish Line distills a lifetime of spiritual wisdom as Robert helps you:

  • Find true peace and reassurance about the end of life
  • Discover the things you can do to prepare those you love before you die
  • Understand the truth about heaven and what God has for his followers in the next life
  • Learn from people in the Bible about what crossing the finish line should—and shouldn’t—look like
  • Take care of specifics such as planning your funeral service, determining end-of-life issues, and preparing a will
  • Let go of physical, relational, and emotional clutter
  • Receive what God has for you in your final years

A rich guide for this season of your life, Finish Line offers unvarnished—even lighthearted—truth to comfort your heart, practical help to ease your mind, and a reminder of God’s promises to comfort your spirit so you can look toward your own finish line with both peace and hope.

Robert Wolgemuth has been in the book publishing business for over forty years. A former president of Thomas Nelson Publishers, he is the founder of Wolgemuth & Associates, a literary agency representing the work of more than two hundred authors.

The author of over twenty books, Robert is known as a relentless champion for the family, relationship building, and biblical truth. His favorite “audience” is one friend, a corner table in a small café, and a steaming cup of coffee (extra cream but no sugar) between them.

A graduate of Taylor University, from which he received an honorary doctorate in May 2005, Robert has two grown daughters, two sons-in-law, five grandchildren, one grandson-in-law, and a great-grandson named Ezra. He and his wife, Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, live in Southwest Michigan.

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