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Love Language

"True, whole prayer is nothing but love." - St. Augustine (as quoted in Richard J. Foster's Prayer)

This week we delve into Paul's letter to the Ephesians again - having looked at how God's amazing grace serves as the foundation and frame for the entire letter. Now, we turn our attention to a specific prayer Paul offers for the Ephesians:

"That's why, when I heard of the solid trust you have in the Master Jesus and your outpouring love to all the followers of Jesus, I couldn't stop thanking God for you - every time I prayed, I'd think of you and give thanks. But I do more than thank. I ask - ask the God of our Master, Jesus Christ, the God of glory - to make you intelligent and discerning in knowing him personally, your eyes focused and clear, so that you can see exactly what it is he is calling you to do, grasp the immensity of this glorious way of life he has for his follower, oh, the utter extravagance of his work in us who trust him - endless energy, boundless strength!" (Ephesians 1:15-19 from The Message).

This is gushing, tender, evocative and heart-felt writing from Paul. It is the language of love.

Meanwhile, I have also just finished reading The Shack the popular book by William Paul Young that is floating into conversations and being passed from person-to-person. Young's allegory about God and God's relation to us is also overwhelming effusive and intimate. There is one scene in the book where Papa (God) and Jesus engage in a moment of devotion and Mack, the main character, is shocked to see the two meet each other eye-to-eye, clasp hands and begin offering affirmations of love and gratitude for their relationship.

I don't know what thoughts the word "prayer" elicits in your mind, but mine are mostly stoic, restrained images of folded hands and bent heads. And, unfortunately, I think of a forced exercise - a discipline where I bend my knees or close my eyes and try to push forward a praise or a request. This is the sad reality of what prayer becomes when it too becomes a duty or a work to bring us close to God - something we conjure in a pagan way to an idol god.

On the other hand, there is Paul and there is the conversations between Papa and Mack in The Shack - conversations that are not forced, only open and honest and vulnerable ... just like the conversations of lovers.

Richard J. Foster, in his book on prayer, aims not to provide a definition of prayer or to defend the power of prayer or even to provide a technique or method to pray. No, his first aim is simply to explore "a love relationship: an enduring, continuing, growing love relationship with the great God of the universe." Prayer, than, in its purest sense is simply a response to an "overwhelming love." It means allowing ourselves to enter into God's love and to become lovers ourselves, Foster argues. And to prove his point, he offers a handful of classic prayers:

"Thy Trinity is our everlasting lover." - Julian of Norwich

"O my love! O my Honey! O my Harp! O my psalter and canticle all the day! When will you heal my grief? O root of my heart, when will you come to me?" - Richard Rolle

"Jesus, lover of my soul, let me to thy bosom fly." - Charles Wesley

So, if prayer truly is the language of lovers, where can we go today to learn how to pray? Well, certainly we can read and prayer the prayers of previous generations. We can learn a lot just by listening to and praying Paul's prayers. We can uncover Julian of Norwich's prayers and Martin Luther's. And, occasionally, we can hear honest prayer from a modern woman or man.

But, let me offer another source to explore and exume: love songs. They've fallen out of favor a bit in recent times, but if you were to take a sampling of the Billboard's Top 100 for the last 30 years, there would be a handful of love songs that could teach us a lot about prayer.

In fact, I have been listening to Marvin Gaye's collection of duets this week. It is a great instruction in prayer. Just watch the following video of Marvin and Tammi Terrell and try to imagine it as words God speaks to us and we speak to God:

True, whole prayer is nothing but love, indeed.



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