Pragmatic Communion

pragmatic living in the presence of God

God has a desire for my affirmation of His love?

When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?”
“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”

Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me?”
He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”

The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”

John 21:15-17

I’ve heard this story countless times. But today, as I was reading The Only Necessary Thing: Living a Prayerful Life by Henri Nouwen, I was prompted to pay closer attention.

“If God is born like a little baby, God cannot walk or speak unless someone teaches God. That’s the story of Jesus, who needs human beings in order to grow. God is saying, “I want to be weak so you can love me. What better way to help you respond to my love than becoming weak so you can care for me? . . .

The God who loves us is a God who becomes vulnerable, dependent in the manger and dependent on the cross, a God who basically is saying, “Are you there for me?”

God is saying, “I want to be vulnerable, I need you love. I have a desire for your affirmation of my love.”

God has a desire for my affirmation of His love?

I had to stop reading. Sometimes I agree with something an author writes. Sometimes not. And sometimes, I need to think it through.

No. God doesn’t need our love. Who are we? Who am I? Compared to God? Nobody. I’m a fraction of a speck of sand compared to God.

And there it is. My human inability to fathom the idea that I might be important to God. My conscious mind, the one that does the Bible study, knows I’m important to God. It’s my subconscious mind, my heart that doubts. The Bible says I matter to God. My heart says, “Seriously? How is that possible?”

My mind immediately goes to Luke 15: The parable of the lost sheep, the lost coin, the prodigal son. And Matthew 6:26:

“Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?”

My mind tells my heart: “See? If I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a thousand times! I am important to God!” (my mind is a bit of an insufferable nag)

And immediately the question: “If I’m important to God, is my love important to Him?”

Why have I never considered this before? I click on over to http://www.biblegateway.com and read this verse again and again in different versions. Take a look at this version from the Amplified Bible:

15When they had eaten, Jesus said to Simon Peter, Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these [others do–with reasoning, intentional, spiritual devotion, as one loves the Father]? He said to Him, Yes, Lord, You know that I love You [that I have deep, instinctive, personal affection for You, as for a close friend]. He said to him, Feed My lambs.

16Again He said to him the second time, Simon, son of John, do you love Me [with reasoning, intentional, spiritual devotion, as one loves the Father]? He said to Him, Yes, Lord, You know that I love You [that I have a deep, instinctive, personal affection for You, as for a close friend]. He said to him, Shepherd (tend) My sheep.

17He said to him the third time, Simon, son of John, do you love Me [with a deep, instinctive, personal affection for Me, as for a close friend]? Peter was grieved (was saddened and hurt) that He should ask him the third time, Do you love Me? And he said to Him, Lord, You know everything; You know that I love You [that I have a deep, instinctive, personal affection for You, as for a close friend]. Jesus said to him, Feed My sheep.

Jesus asked a different question the first two times. The third time, He changed his choice of words to match Peter’s answer.

I never knew this.

I went to www.blueletterbible.org, my go-to reference when I want to look up original Bible language. The first two times Jesus asks Peter if he loves Him, the word Jesus uses is “agapao.” Peter responds the first two times by telling Jesus he loves Him, but Peter uses the word “phileo.” Finally, the third time, Jesus asks Peter if he loves Him, but he uses the word Peter used in his first two answers: “phileo.”

agapao. phileo. I Google “Peter do you love me?” and an article references Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance: “agapao is more of a heart love and phileo is more of a head love.”

And that’s when I go back to Henri Nouwen.

“God is a jealous God in the sense of wanting our love and wanting us to say yes. That’s why in the end of the Gospel of John, Jesus asks Peter three times, ‘Do you love me?'”

I have never once considered this exchange between Jesus and Peter as anything but a lesson for Peter. A lesson in humility. In faith. In . . . I don’t know. I can’t figure out why God does things in my own life, how do I know what He wanted Peter to learn? But, I have ALWAYS viewed the fact that Jesus asked Peter this question three times as somehow related to the fact that Peter denied Jesus three times.

Looking at it today, from Henri Nouwen’s perspective, I see a glimpse of human vulnerability in Jesus. That doesn’t come naturally to me. I so rarely think of Jesus as human. I know he was human (if my mind has told me once, it’s told me a thousand times). But I don’t intuitively filter His words and actions through the idea that he was human, because, well, He was God. (FirstHusband always says I don’t like paradoxes.)

So I’m contemplating all this. I’m thinking about the devotion I wrote this week about our deepest human desire – the desire for communion with God. An idea also prompted by Henri Nouwen. I sit on the loveseat a while. Quiet. Moments pass. The Holy Spirit nudges me to dig through the piles of books surrounding me on the loveseat to find Jesus Calling and though I generally don’t read dated devotions on the actual date because it makes me feel like I’m consulting a Christian version of a horoscope, I open to today’s entry:

“I am calling you to a life of constant communion with Me . . . Talk with me about every aspect of your day, including your feelings. Remember that your ultimate goal is not to control or fix everything around you; it is to keep communion with Me. A successful goal is one in which you have stayed in touch with me, even if many things remain undone at the end of the day. Do not let your to-do list (written or mental) become an idol directing your life. Instead, ask My Spirit to guide you moment by moment. He will keep you close to Me.”

And my mind goes back to the C.S. Lewis quote in my last devotional, where he talks about falling away from God is sometimes a moment by moment occurrence. I think about Brother Lawrence and the Practice of the Presence of God. And I consider Nouwen’s statement again:

God has a desire for my affirmation of His love?

My mind accepts this and my heart is completely overwhelmed at the breadth and depth of God’s love.

Writers are mentors.

“‘When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him?’ asks the psalmist. An excellent question, as well as a reminder of a point of view I easily forget. We are, we humans, a mere pinch of dust scattered across the surface of a nondescript planet. At the heart of all reality is God, an unimaginable source of both power and love. In the face of such reality we can grovel in humanoid humility or we can, like the psalmist, look up instead of down, do conclude, “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!”
Philip Yancey
Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference?

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April 1, 2010 - Posted by | Uncategorized

1 Comment »

  1. Wow – that quote from “Jesus Calling” just reached right out through my laptop screen, put both its hands on my cheeks, and looked me in squarely in the eyes. Powerful.

    Comment by Debbie | April 20, 2010 | Reply


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