When we were dating, we could not wait to converse with our partners. Whether in person or over the phone, we hung upon each word. Our love was so strong; we longed to be with one another. Our “first love” kindled brightly. As time goes on, most couples become immune to such powerful affection. We sometimes see conversation as a duty.
Our prayers may fall under a similar spell of disillusionment. We might think of them as an obligation to be fulfilled (before forgotten). How starkly Paul’s words to the Philippians contrast with our deflated feelings toward prayer for others:
“I thank God for you every time I remember you…It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart; for whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me. God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.” Philippians 1:3, 7-8
The obvious fondness displayed in these words is remarkable by any standards. All the more so, when you remember that Paul started out as Saul, persecutor of the Church of Jesus Christ. He stood by while Christians were stoned, and was proud to do so. Now, transformed from the inside out by the work of the Holy Spirit, he can barely contain his affection for other believers.
Paul was nothing if not “all in.” He saw his life as belonging to Christ. His personal ego long dead, he felt no embarrassment in declaring his love for groups of people, or even for other individual men (2 Timothy 1:3-4).
These strong declarations of loving affection cause me to question why are so different today? We are too cool and aloof to put our hearts out there like that. Men may declare their appreciation, regard and respect for one another, but we are hard pressed to say to one another, “I love you.” Our prayers are motivated by a sense of responsibility (not a bad thing). But what keeps us from our first love for one another? What barriers have we erected that hide the potential of deep emotional (there, I said it) connection with one another?
In speaking with an older saint the other day, as we reflected on the simple words “love is patient and kind,” I asked him why he thought we, the church of Christ, have such a hard time living them out. He answered that he thinks it is our “broken natures.” Since the Fall of Adam and Eve, people have gone their own way, seeking to be gods of their personal universes. In truth, we have a hard time letting our heart focus for long on the needs or admirable qualities of another person. And that outward focus is what is required to feel and express the affection of Christ for one another.
Let’s pray that the Holy Spirit will shine a light into the dark recesses of our hearts, not for condemnation, but for healing. Let him show us our self-centeredness, so that we can lay it down and put it to death. As our eyes turn to him, let the scales fall away from our eyes so that we can see the beloved others around us. Seeing them, let us love them. Loving them, let us say so— out loud.
“I thank God whom I serve, as my forefathers did, with a clear conscience, as night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers. Recalling your tears, I long to see you, so that I may be filled with joy.” 2 Timothy 1:3-4