Prayer as Love
This is a preview for the second sermon in the series “Longing, Listening, Love: A Series on Prayer.” To watch the recording of any of the sermons in this sermon series, visit our website.
“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,”
-Ephesians 3:14-21 (NIV)
In Tish Harrison Warren’s phenomenal book Prayer in the Night, she remembers fondly her tough, Texan father. She recalls that no matter what they experienced in life, he would always tell her, “‘I’ve had worse cuts on my lip and just kept on a-whistling.”
Warren jokes a bit about her father’s persevering attitude, “This became legendary in our family. There was no injury too terrible to not invoke Dad’s call to keep on ‘a-whistling.’ Broken bones. Accidents. Surgery. My father must have previously suffered untold lip trauma because he’d had worse cuts on his lip than any wound we could present.”
Many of us can laugh with Warren. Perhaps you remember similar sentiments from your own family. Or maybe when you’re having a bad day you tune into your inner Dory and sing, “Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming. Swimming. Swimming. Swimming…”
But Warren also moves beyond the joke to note something profound: “The dark side of this resistance to grief is that we do not learn to grieve ordinary suffering and loss–the commonplace but nonetheless heavy burdens we each carry. As long as anyone had it worse (which is always), I felt I didn’t have permission to be sad, to weep, to mourn.”
Or maybe–if I may be so bold as to continue her list–she didn’t have permission to pray.
Permission to pray? Who needs permission to pray? If that sounds absurd to you, then you’re not alone.
And yet–even if we dare not say that hidden belief aloud so bluntly–I wonder if deep down we might admit that Christians commonly treat prayer like something we aren’t in need of because things “aren’t that bad” or “someone has it worse” or “this too shall pass.”
Perseverance is important. But perseverance does not replace prayer. Prayer isn’t something reserved for special occasions like a fine wine. Prayer isn’t for emergencies only like dialing 9-1-1.
I’m not sure when Warren’s father, or even myself, unintentionally created this bad habit of prayer. But perhaps the best way to break this bad habit is by reframing prayer as love.
In Ephesians, Paul writes to the Gentile Christians in celebration of the miracle of Jesus’ grace that saved them from sin, made them alive, and united them into one family of God with the Jews. Paul encourages them in their faith, even reminding them not to be discouraged that he is suffering because of persecution.
Then something amazing happens at the end of chapter 3. Paul prays for the Ephesians. Even though–arguably–Paul is the one who “has it worst” and “needs prayer more than them.” Paul prays for the Ephesians who are (seemingly) doing well, maybe even on a sort of “spiritual high” from their new and developing relationship with Christ.
And what does Paul pray? He prays that the Ephesians will be rooted in love. He prays that they will come to know the endless love of God. He prays that in this love, they will seek God together and see how God does more than they could ever ask or ever imagine in their lives.
It’s a short prayer–only about seven verses. But it’s a prayer that has nothing to do with anything bad. It’s a prayer about love, given in love.
When we begin to view prayer as love, we are free to pray for anyone and everyone. When we begin to view prayer as love, we also free ourselves up to receive prayer from others. And in so doing, another miracle occurs: all of the Church is brought closer together in unity and love as we experience the wonders of God’s reconciling work in the world.
Are you quicker to ask for prayer or to offer to pray for someone else? Why do you think that is?
How does thinking about prayer as love change the way you talk about or practice prayer in your everyday life?
What would it look like for FBCM to practice prayer as love during Sunday worship?