One of my favourite sentences in the whole book of Psalms is the beginning of Psalm 18: I love you, Lord, my strength,my rock, my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock in whom I take refuge; my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.
It is a bold declaration of love for God, but based on him being the strength, the rock, the deliverer – on him being the foundation of my desire to love him. Nobody can pretend to love God purely and simply – especially not with all his or her heart, soul and strength. When Augustine says that loving is a gift from God, he means that it is something God must continuously grant to us with the bread and forgiveness we ask for daily in the Lord’s prayer.
This is what we need to know if we want our prayer to be real, our fondness for God to be imaginative. And this is what God never tires of helping us to realize through his insistent questioning: Do you truly love me?, Do you truly love me?, Do you truly love me? The answer he is eager to elicit from us is not a perfunctory quotation of the verse of Deuteronomy: ‘Yes Lord, with all my heart, all my soul and all my strength”. The only truthful answer to this question comes to us as it did to Peter, and only thanks to God’s gentle and insistent prodding: Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.
Our love is sincere only when it acknowledges its inability to match God’s love for us while trusting that God is not put off by our helplessness: You know all things.
Our love is authentic only when it is humble, that is, aware of its “powerlessness, distrust, doubts, fears, nostalgia, despair, in a word of everything that has to do with the condition of our existence”. Karl Barth, one of the greatest theologians of the 20th century, says that prayer “depends on whether or not it is done in sheer need (not self-won competence), in sheer readiness to learn (not schooled erudition), and in sheer helplessness (not the application of a technique of self-help). This can be the work only of very weak and very little and very poor children, of those who in their littleness, weakness, and poverty can only get up and run with empty hands to their Father, appealing to him.
One of the most striking elements of the dialogue with Peter at the end of John’s Gospel is how eager Jesus is to elicit the right kind of love from him and hence from us – a love aware of its shortcomings and for this reason not self-reliant but glad to count on God’s patience and forgiveness.
Nobody has expressed this awareness more ardently than Augustine in his celebrated Confessions: “What am I to you that you command me to love you? If I do not love you, is that but a little misery? What a wretch I am! In your mercies, Lord God, tell me what you are to me. ‘Say to my soul, I am your salvation’. Speak to me so that I may hear. See, the ears of my heart are before you, Lord. Open them and ‘say to my soul, I am your salvation’. After that utterance I will run and lay hold on you. Do not hide your face from me.”.
Let us make this the heart of our prayer then. It does not take much - just one little moment in our day, in the midst of our activities – we can pause and simply rest in the sentence I quoted at the beginning from Psalm 18: I love you, Lord, my strength, my rock, my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock in whom I take refuge; my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.
 Psalm 18.1f.  John 21.25.  Archimandrita Sofronio, La preghiera: un’opera infinita, (Bose: Qiqajon 2001), 10.  Barth, Karl, The Christian Life, Church Dogmatics vol. IV, part 4 (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark), 79f.  Augustine, Confessions 1.5.  Psalm 18.1f.