As part of my preparation for my time in Benin, I have been rereading some of the books that have been meaningful for me in the past regarding being in ministry. One of my absolute favorite books in this category (perhaps in any category) is called In the Name of Jesus, written by Henri Nouwen. Nouwen walks through a story in John: "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?' (John 21:15-17). We have to hear that question as being central to all of our Christian ministry..." (36)
Jesus is first and foremost concerned with if I love him. Not what my skills are and how to best use those in my vocation. Not with the expansive list of my many mistakes and flaws.
Implausible, isn't it, that the God who created the universe--the One who thought up stars, music, and beauty--is concerned with whether or not I love him. Yet living this implausibility is the essence of the Christian journey.
I do love, help me overcome my unlove.
After Jesus asks Peter three times if Peter loves him, he then asks Peter to do two things: to feed his sheep, and follow him. The task of feeding, shepherding, and caring for God's people is an act of obedience in response to God's love. It's easy to get caught up in trying to serve, though, and not be able to hear God's whisper: "Do you do this because you love me?"
Nouwen later makes another intriguing point regarding service. "The task of future Christian leaders is not to make a little contribution to the solution of the pains and tribulations of their time, but to identify and announce the ways in which Jesus is leading God's people out of slavery, through the desert into a new land of freedom." (87)
I can hardly articulate how much I love this thought. I am called to follow and serve, but not to save the world, wipe out poverty, or be the solution to any of the world's myriad problems. I am called to serve in order that I might bear witness to what God is doing in our midst. We are a people in slavery to our own jealousy, greed, lust, and brokenness. When we chose to doubt God's goodness towards us so long ago in the garden, we consigned ourselves to a life of bondage. Yet Jesus became Emmanuel-- God With Us-- in order to break those chains and set us free. He came that we might have life, and have it abundantly; not by half-measures, but by cups that overflow.
Lord, I do love; help me overcome my unlove. Give me eyes to see where you are at work in the world leading people out of darkness and brokenness. Give me courage to proclaim it to others. And give me the strength to stay yoked with you on this journey.