God's First Love
by Henri Nouwen
BEFORE JESUS COMMISSIONED Peter to be a shepherd he asked him, "Simon son of John, do you love me more than these others do?" He asked him again, "Do you love me?" And a third time he asked, "Do you love me?" ... He whose only concern had been to announce the unconditional love of God had only one question to ask, "Do you love me?"
The question is not: How many people take you seriously? How much are you going to accomplish? Can you show some results? But: Are you in love with Jesus? Perhaps another way of putting the question would be: Do you know the incarnate God? In our world of loneliness and despair, there is an enormous need for men and women who know the heart of God, a heart that forgives, that cares, that reaches out and wants to heal. ...This unconditional and unlimited love is what the evangelist John calls God's first love, "Let us love, because God loved us first" (1 John 4:19). ...
To live a life that is not dominated by the desire to be relevant but is instead safely anchored in the knowledge of God's first love, we have to be mystics. A mystic is a person whose identity is deeply rooted in God's first love.
If there is any focus that we 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? " It is the discipline of contemplative prayer. Through contemplative prayer we can keep ourselves from being pulled from one urgent issue to another and from becoming strangers to our own and God's heart.
Contemplative prayer keeps us home, rooted and safe, even when we are on the road, moving from place to place, and often surrounded by sounds of violence and war. Contemplative prayer deepens in us the knowledge that we are already free, that we have already found a place to dwell, that we already belong to God, even though everything and everyone around us keeps suggesting the opposite.
Excerpted from In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership by Henri J.M. Nouwen (New York: Crossroad 1989), pp. 23-25, 28-29.