This content has been adapted from Dr. Steve A. Brown’s upcoming book, Jesus Centered – Focusing on Jesus in a Distracted World launching April 12.
I’ll never forget the time a painting made me realize how little I understood God’s love for me. The Last Supper by painter Jacopo Tintoretto shattered my mental framework for this intimate scene. Up until that point, almost all the pictures I had seen or imagined of the Last Supper focused around thirteen sitting men. Like a sports team photo, they were all behind a table facing the camera, so to speak. Jesus sat in the middle, flanked by six men to His right and six to His left.
But Tintoretto’s painting provided a different perspective. For starters, there were several dozen people in the picture, some of them women. It didn’t look symmetrical, nor orderly. Instead, it looked chaotic and busy, like the meal at a family reunion or church potluck. And then there were the top corners of the painting. The top left corner gave a glimpse into the spiritual realm of angels looking down. The top right corner had what looked like a Holy Spirit fire.
As I tried to wrap my mind around the painting, I pondered the questions: “If I were in this picture, where would I be? Would I be right next to Jesus? Would I be at a distance? Would I be talking to Him or to someone else? Where would I be?”
To be honest, I finally determined that I wouldn’t even be in the picture. I actually pictured myself outside the building, far from Jesus. Why would I be outside? In my mind, I was outside because I was busy preparing for what Jesus might need me to do next.
My reflection on the painting stunned me. I was faithfully serving. I was faithfully doing. From most perspectives, I’d get high marks on living out the Great Commandments. Yet, I was actually feeling disconnected and far from Jesus.
It’s one thing to express love to God or to express God’s love to others, it’s another to deeply and fully receive and experience God’s love for yourself. Thankfully, I began to encounter Scripture that helped me to see and understand how God loved me unconditionally. In fact, I learned God already loved me, even when I was living life against His ways. Romans 5:8 became a key verse for me. It reads: “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” The cross is the ultimate demonstration of God’s love. Another verse I found was 1 John 4:19: “We love because he first loved us.” Both point out God’s initiative in the relationship. As St. Augustine said, “By loving the unlovable, you made me lovable.” I learned that our love for God and for others needs to first be established in and flow out of God’s love for us.It’s one thing to express love to God or to express God's love to others, it’s another to deeply and fully receive and experience God’s love for yourself. Click To Tweet
To deeply know you are loved by God brings freedom. It brings security. It brings confidence. It becomes a reservoir that fuels serving and loving others in a sustainable way. It changes how a pastor preaches and teaches, how a parent interacts with his or her kids, or even your posture as you walk down the street. Whatever your context, it’s a game changer for how you live and engage with others.
Jesus wants for you to be right next to Him in Tintoretto’s painting. He loves you more than you know or can imagine. You are beloved, so let yourself “be” loved. Enjoying Him, being enjoyed by Him, and glorifying Him is what you were created for. Centering your life on God’s love changes everything. It changes you. It changes how you relate to God. It changes how you see yourself. It changes how you love others. Be loved.Centering your life on God’s love changes everything. It changes you. It changes how you relate to God. It changes how you see yourself. It changes how you love others. Be loved. Click To Tweet
“And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” Ephesians 3:17–19
Cheering you on,
Dr. Steve A. Brown
President, Arrow leadership