“Again Jesus said, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’”
- John 21:16
Back in January of 2020, before the chaos of Covid-19 had sprung into existence, I was able to lead a few devotionals at our church leadership retreat on this very question that Jesus poses to Simon Peter—a question that he poses not just once, but three times.
“Simon son of John, do you love me?” It’s the question that we must keep coming back to, in whatever season. Because as a fellow pastor recently shared, “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.”
Pause for a moment and imagine Jesus calling you by name and asking you this same question. What is your instinctive reaction? Are you confident in what you would want to say? If not, what’s holding you back?
If yes, what would it feel like for Jesus to ask you the question three times? What kinds of doubts would run through your mind? Would you be upset? Angry? Uncertain?
Peter was hurt—legitimately hurt—because Jesus questioned him three times. And it can be discouraging to feel questioned. To feel as if we still haven’t made it. As if we’re not enough or we’re inferior. To eat some humble pie and know that we still need growth and development.
And yet Jesus never asked Peter: “Do you have the skills? Have you achieved enough? Who do people say that you are? Do they say you’re good enough? Are you sure you’re right for this job? For these responsibilities?”
He never asked any of that. The only question He asked, the only one that mattered for the task that lay before Peter, was this: “Do you love me?”
Henri Nouwen wrote, “If there is any focus that the Christian of the future will need, it is the discipline of dwelling in the presence of the One who keeps asking us, ‘Do you love me? Do you love me? Do you love me?’”
The tragedy, he explains, is that we are constantly being pulled in different directions, by different issues, by more ‘important’ things, and we end up becoming strangers to our own hearts and to God’s heart in the process.
But when we are safely anchored in the desire to love and be loved by the God who is love, then all of our other desires for favor, wealth, attention, relevance, etc. cease to be what drives us.
When our identity is deeply rooted in the love of God, and our heart’s greatest desire is to respond to that love by loving Him back, then we are at home, rooted and safe. We can move around from place to place, go in and out of different seasons, endure both affliction and abundance, suffering and joy, and yet be at home.
Why? Because we’ve already found a place to dwell. We already know that we belong to God, says Nouwen, even though everything around us keeps suggesting the opposite.
‘Do you love me?’ is the key question that Jesus asks his disciples to ponder. It’s the key question that provides the heart-beat for everything we do. It’s the key question that defines how we follow Him at all.
So. Do we love Him?
You who love us more than we can know,
who loved us before we even knew that such love existed,
before we could ever conceive of such love,
I ask that you would allow Your love to sink deeply into my spirit,
that I might be filled with the Presence of a love
that is deeper than the ocean
and higher than the heavens.
May I love you in all things and before all things.