John 21: How hear from God?
This is part two of some thoughts on John 21. The first part is here and is basically about how Peter didn't want fish, he wanted the maker of the fish. So often we seek answers instead of the source of those answers, himself.
Today, however we'll look at the two types of love thrown around as Jesus was appointing Peter to his calling. I'll set the stage through some fiction (which means I'll be adding my little nuances to the story as I picture it played out.) And I'll use words that are more accurate to the original greek words "agape" and "phileo" instead the one word we've flattened both of them to be: love. One means a general respect for, and the other is personal intimacy and affection.
Then below I'll give you tips on how we can share more of the phileo type of love with Jesus.
As Peter stepped out of the water and wrung out his clothes, he looked up. This had to be Jesus. The way he was smiling at Peter was exactly how Jesus used to do. But he looked different too. He had looked different in this same way when he had appeared to them two other times since his resurrection.
Peter scrambled up the shore and stood awkwardly by Jesus. Jesus reached for and hugged him. Maybe Jesus really would still have Peter back after how he had denied Jesus during Jesus' trial. Peter hugged back with all his heart. He cherished this embrace of his close friend, the great messiah who wanted he, the awkward, impulsive Peter as a friend.
They sat down and Jesus reached to the fish cooking on a rock over the fire, sliced a piece off with his knife and held it to Peter. Peter took it off the knife and ate it. It was good.
They sat in silence as the other friends pulled the boat to shore and struggled to pull the net of fish in. "Peter," Jesus said, still looking at the men, the boat, and the fish. "Do you value and esteem me more than these?"
Finally, this was Peter's chance to tell him how much he loved Jesus, despite how he had denied him those three times! And even despite how cold Jesus made their love sound. "Yes Jesus! Yes, I love you! You're my..." Peter choked up. "...my best friend."
Jesus looked at him, saw Peter's heart and smiled. His loving gaze and smile lingered on Peter.
"Then, take care of my sheep." Jesus looked at the other men still dragging the net in and then down at the fire, poking it with a stick.
The men came in and were bustling about tugging and pulling the fish, each of them sneaking looks at the man they all believed was Jesus.
Before the rest had gotten to the campfire with them Jesus said again, "Peter," Peter looked up to Jesus again. "Do you respect and honor me? Do you really value me?"
"Yes, Lord! You know that I do! I love you so much more than that though as well."
Jesus nodded, knowingly and whispered as he looked back down at the campfire, "Then be a good shepherd to my sheep."
"Yes, of course, Jesus. That's the least I can do! Yes. Yes, I can do that."
The men all gathered around, shared long hugs, soon they were telling stories and laughing. Jesus most of all. He was rocking back and forth. They could tell he had missed his friends.
And as the conversation quieted down and the other friends were chatting with each other Jesus turned to Peter again, his eyes glistening. "Peter," Jesus' smile was so full of depth and peace and joy and appreciation.
"Yes, Jesus." Peter met Jesus' eyes with everything that he had.
Jesus looked down, "Do you really love me? As your best friend like you said?"
"Yes, Lord! You know everything. So you know that I do! Why do you even have to ask me to say it?!" Peter blinked and tears shot down Peter's cheeks. He was hurt.
"I love you like that too, Peter. You are my best friend as well." Jesus looked at Peter. "If you love me like this, and like I love you, please take care of my sheep while I'm gone."
"Of course Jesus, I will. I will. I will." Peter suddenly realized that Jesus had given him three chances to say he loved him, as if Jesus had known how each of the three times Peter had denied him pained Peter so much. Jesus had given him three chances to replace his denials with love.
Then Jesus said, "The reason I needed you to say it, and hear it Peter, is because I want you to follow me with everything that you have. But your road will be hard, brother, like it was hard for me. They're going to lead you where you don't want to go, like they did me. And they will kill you, like they did me. I needed you to be resolute because it will not be easy."
What I want to point out here is there are two types of love mentioned, and it prompts me to ask myself which do I have for Jesus?
First Jesus asks Peter 'do you respect me, and esteem me? Do you think of me as valuable?' This is what my research has said the word "agape" means, especially in this passage. It is the type of love God has for all humans, despite how well they perform. He regards them with value because they are his children. Which is the Christian thing for us to give to others if we want to model God's love.
But Peter feels personal affection for Jesus, as a best friend. The type of love that would wreck him if he lost him (which maybe it did). The type of love that breaks you down at your bedside and makes you cry into your covers because you miss them. The type that has a personal private history of shared jokes and memories. And this is what is great enough to motivate Peter to go to his death for Jesus.
Do I have that second type of love for God? Do I have the type that would motivate me to serve like that? How do I foster that? I remember talking to a pastor about miracles he had been a part of and he emphasized that you need to have a personal history with God. What has he told you in the quiet places? This pastor said, go to a coffee shop, put on some praise music and just try to talk with God. And do something like that often.
How can I foster a love like this? Here are a couple takeaways for me:
1) Eliminate Distractions to help you hear from God
I realize I am so easily distracted while I'm trying to spend time with God. I'll start reading my Bible but 15 minutes later somehow I've gone down a rabbit hole from Instagram to buying a new wallet, to replying to the birthdays on Facebook. That would not fly if you did that when you were trying to hang out with a friend or lover. The easiest way, if we can't resist the temptation, is to turn off our phones to eliminate those distractions when we're hanging out with God. Respect the time with God and keep it sacred. So we can build that personal history and know him like a phileo friend.
2) Go on God dates to hear from God
Go on dates with God, just like you would schedule a date with a lover. I like to do this (I need to do it again soon)! For a season in my life I even would dress up for them as if I were dressing up for a fancy date. Then I'd go to McDonalds in my tie and put on that praise music, read some Bible, ask God some questions, and write what I think he's saying.
3) Lectio Divina, to hear from God through the Bible.
Sometimes for me it can be hard to hear from God if we just ask a question and just sit in silence as we listen for an answer. But scriptures can aid in this. It feels like to me, it's easier to hear from God if we have a medium we are talking through. I think God likes to use physical things to speak to us, maybe so it's harder for us to write off as messages 'just in our head.'
Here's how I've learned to do Lectio Divina. You calm yourself and ask God to speak to you through the verses you are about to read. Then you read it through several times, listening for specific words or phrases that stand out to you. Then ask what God wants to tell you through these words. Write it down somewhere!
4) Prayer columns to hear from God
We each have different ways our minds function so we really have to try out different things that work for us. For me I've found that if I do two columns in my prayer journal, it can help give a space for God to answer my questions. I write my thoughts on the left, and if a question is involved I will write that too. And then wait for a moment to hear if an answer occurs to me and if it does I write it on the right.
5) Find your prayer place
Like I said above, each of us operates differently so we each have to try out different things that work for us. I've heard that a lot of people connect to God best through nature. I have before too. But I am so easily distracted that usually they best place for me to focus on my communication with God is laying on my back in my bed where there are the fewest distractions in how my body might be uncomfortable, or from sounds or people that might distract me. But I've had some pretty formative times in coffee shops with God as well!
Alright, I hope I've given you a glimpse of the difference between just respecting God, and loving God in an intimate, personal way that motivates us to serve Him.