A friend came by to visit and pray with us. This friend has seen several miraculous answers when he has prayed for people over the years. I have seldom heard his voice shake as it did while he prayed for Melanie and for me. We await your answer, Lord.
We are still waiting, not to be coy about it. At least, waiting for the healings our bodies need.
But it could be that we have already received another gift from the Lord that our friend brought us. This friend, while seeing a number of remarkable answers to prayer over the years, has also known spiritual struggle and failure. At one point he divorced his wife and married another woman who had also been raised as a Christian (her father was a pastor). That marriage also failed after awhile. Our friend concluded he would live out the rest of his life single. But, in a story I’m not here to tell today, he and his first wife came to a remarkable point of reconciliation and, finally, they remarried.
One of the things that helped restore their relationship was a book that came out over twenty years ago and has been a hugely popular book in marriage counseling ever since.
The book is The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman. Dr. Chapman works off one of the results of the division of languages by God at the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11). After God scrambled man’s languages, the symbols of language communication took on different meanings for different people. This is true even when people think they are speaking clearly to each other in the same language.
Now, Dr. Chapman doesn’t go into this background. He simply focuses on the challenge of learning and understanding a language that is not your “native tongue” when it comes to expressing love.
From his years of marriage counseling he tells of couples confounded by each other’s behavior. There is the husband who keeps the lawn mowed, starts the dinner each night since he gets home before his wife, washes the dishes after supper, and his wife thinks he doesn’t love her. There is the wife who watches her husband talk to their friends at parties and dinners but who never says a word to her in the car going home. She thinks he doesn’t love her.
These examples demonstrate that symbols and actions don’t always mean the same thing to different people. And I found a joke that perfectly illustrates this.
An 85 year old man is out on the lake, fishing from his boat. He hears a voice saying, “Pick me up.” He looks around but doesn’t see anyone. The voice comes again. “Pick me up!” This time the man looks at the bottom of his boat and sees a frog. “Are you talking to me??” he asks. The frog says, “Yes! Pick me up and kiss me and I’ll turn into a beautiful bride for you!” The man picks up the frog and puts it in his pocket. The frog says, “No, no! I said kiss me and I’ll turn into a beautiful bride!!” The old man says, “Naw, at my age I’m not interested. I’d rather have a talking frog.”
Symbols and actions, promises and words: they don’t always mean the same thing to different people. That can be frustrating.
If you have not seen Gary Chapman’s book, here are the five kinds of language that he says communicate the message of emotional love between people, even if the three words “I love you” are never spoken.
1) Words of affirmation; 2) Acts of service; 3) Receiving gifts; 4) Quality time and attention; and 5) Physical touch.
Melanie and I soon found Dr. Chapman reading the audio edition of his book online and we spent our mealtimes listening to it all weekend. After hearing Chapman’s presentation I got to wondering, if these are the languages we humans understand when it comes to love, is this how God also speaks to us?
I went over the list again and tried to think of any words from the Bible that might express the principles.
Words of affirmation
At the Last Supper, after Judas left, Jesus told his remaining loyal disciples, “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.” (John 15:15) That’s a wonderful affirmation.
Acts of service
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus commented, in passing, about God’s generosity to all, regardless of whether they deserved it. “I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” (Matthew 5:44-45) God meets our needs even when we don’t say, “Thank You.”
The simplest statement of this would be one that is familiar to all. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) God so loved that He gave. Check.
We’re so small and He is so busy. Can we expect God to actually pay any attention to us? We have a direct promise for this. “Call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:12-13)
This one, at first, seems a less likely language for God to use at the present time. But there was a time. John did say, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched — this we proclaim concerning the Word of life.” (I John 1:1) Thomas was invited to dispel his doubts by touching Jesus. Jesus laid his hands on many he healed, including even “untouchables” like lepers. But can we ask or expect that touch now, while Jesus is in Heaven and we are on the Earth? Well, I do think he sends vicars, or deputies, to carry out ministry in his behalf. When I pray for people, I often do so while touching them or holding their hand in mine. I have put my arm around people who needed comfort. So even if it is “just” an ambassador doing the touching, it is done on the King’s behalf for a loved member of his kingdom and family.
So I guess an argument could be made that, yes, God uses the “love languages” identified by Dr. Chapman when He talks with us. They are languages we humans speak, and which speak to us. But are any of these truly God‘s chosen “love language?”
Go back to the Last Supper. Jesus made God’s expected “love language” very clear that night.
John 14:15 “If you love me, you will obey what I command.”
He repeats himself a moment later.
John 14:21 “Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.”
John 14:23 “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.”
Jesus states this is the basis for his own love for his Father.
John 14:31 “The world must learn that I love the Father and that I do exactly what my Father has commanded me.”
He begins to connect the dots.
John 15:10 “If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love.”
Jesus raises the bar of significance for using this language with God.
John 15:14 “You are my friends if you do what I command.”
And finally Jesus ties it all together.
John 16:23 “I tell you the truth, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.
24. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.
25. “Though I have been speaking figuratively, a time is coming when I will no longer use this kind of language but will tell you plainly about my Father.
26. In that day you will ask in my name. I am not saying that I will ask the Father on your behalf.
27. No, the Father himself loves you because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.
God’s “love language” consists of watching to see if we will do what He has asked. And He is prepared to respond to the same “love language” from us.
I thought about the mechanics, the dynamics of speaking to God in this language. I wrote a book that examines The Mystery of Faith. There I explored the relationship of Faith to the two other principles that Paul said “abide forever” with Faith: Hope and Love. (I Corinthians 13:13) I made the argument that Hope is initiated in us when God speaks to us, giving us a promise or direction, a commandment. We act in Faith when we take a “He said it, that’s good enough for me” approach, without demanding any additional proof or demonstration before we agree to act. This is “living by faith, not by sight.” ( 2 Corinthians 2:7)
And Jesus has told us our Love is demonstrated when we do what he has asked us to do. Hope, Faith, Love. It is the way to understand and speak God’s “love language.”
Once you see this, it becomes clear this is how God has been talking to us all along. He begins with the Hope that we want to please Him. He speaks to us before we have shown any evidence of that, in other words, by Faith. Then he watches to see if our response will show any Love for Him. He has given us free will, the right to choose our response. He watches, with all Creation, to see what we will choose.
I have assumed for a long time that, once we get to Heaven, many things will finally “make sense” to us. We’ll be able to say, “NOW I get it! NOW I see what You were doing when I thought You weren’t paying attention and all those painful disasters were happening in my life and all around the world…!”
But now I’m not so sure it will be like that. I rather doubt God is holding His breath, waiting for me to finally review and approve how He’s been handling things.
If Faith, Hope, and Love are truly the language of Heaven for all eternity, why should I expect the language to change over to my familiar dialect when I get there? Why shouldn’t I, instead, be expecting to be the one who will speak and think and act in an entirely new way? A different way? A way that is “native” to my new home?
If it really is God’s Kingdom, why shouldn’t I expect to find that God keeps speaking in His native “love language?”