HINKING THAT MY WIFE DIDN’T want anything all that special for Valentine’s Day, I approached it a little haphazardly. I should have known better. It was our first Valentine’s Day as a married couple, and the expectations were a little higher than I anticipated.
I was convinced that we had a mutual understanding that we weren’t going to make a big deal of the day. We had had numerous conversations about how she was more interested in spontaneous romance on other days, than overtures that are the result of clever marketing schemes employed by card and flower companies.
Any experienced man could have warned me. I should have seen it coming myself. But I’m a literalist. Like most guys, I listen to the words that my wife says and not the true meaning behind them.
So the day crept up on me and caught me unaware.
As the day unfolded, I became keenly aware that my wife was hoping for something a little more special than I had planned (read: I hadn’t planned anything yet). I scurried around for ideas, and while she was working I created the most beautiful card 10 minutes can produce.
When she got home I presented it to her, eagerly anticipating the joy that her face would surely indicate. The smile never came, however. There wasn’t even the courtesy “Thank you” that typically comes from her disappointed heart when I don’t quite hit the right spot. It’s not that she’s hard to please, but there is the rare occasion when I don’t succeed.
As I analyzed the card that I crafted for her, it suddenly occurred to me where part of the problem was. I wasn’t speaking her love language. I wasn’t even speaking her native language.
You see, the card was written in Hebrew.
As a seminary student who has been energized by the passionate teaching of my Old Testament professors, I have found a new love for the Hebrew language. Although I would never claim to be an expert in it, I at least have had a desire to learn the alphabet.
What better way to use it, I thought, than to declare my undying love for my wife in the language? So, using Photoshop, I gleefully painted the words in Hebrew script “Kamil tov me’od anochiy wahavtiyah. Walentin yom tov dodiy” on a card and printed it off. (Roughly translated: “Camille is very beautiful and I love her. Happy Valentine’s Day, my love.”) It was even in full color.
To say the least, though I was certainly expressing my love for my wife through a love language that excited me, I wasn’t speaking her language.
Have you ever done such a thing? I don’t know how many times I’ve given someone a gift that meant a lot to me without thinking about whether it was something that would speak to his or her heart. Furthermore, I don’t know how many times I’ve tried to express my love for my wife when I’m not speaking her love language.
It makes me wonder: does God have a love language; and, if so, are we speaking it to Him?
How Shall We Praise?
One of the most controversial topics within the Adventist Church these days is the issue of praise and worship. It seems that the church-at-large is abuzz with this subject. Articles are constantly being written, sermons being preached, and churches have even split over the matter. It is a sensitive issue, to say the least.
It is not my desire to exhaust you with another opinion on which side is correct. This is not an article on organs or guitars. I am not submitting a dissertation on the evils of drums or the importance of PowerPoint. It’s not even a “practical” article. It is simply philosophical in nature, reflecting upon the heart of the issue.
The truth of the matter is that praise and worship, as with so many other things, is a heart issue. We can debate until we’re blue in the face about whether drums should be allowed in the sanctuary, or if hymnals should be set ablaze during a Saturday night book-burning ceremony. But, ultimately, the praise that God desires most is what comes from a truly converted heart.
I fear that many of us, no matter what side of the aisle we may sit on, have approached this issue from a selfish point of view. Whether it’s the ancient hymns we cling to or the “relevant” praise songs we insist upon, much of our worship stems from what we want. Few of us pause to ask what God wants out of our worship.
I’m sadly reminded of Cain, the Bible’s first murderer. You know the story. Cain and Abel come before the Lord and bring their offerings. While Abel humbly brings a lamb, pointing to the coming Messiah, Cain brings the pride of his own labors. As a tiller of the ground, he brings fruit.
Genesis tells us that the Lord “respected Abel and his offering, but He did not respect Cain and his offering” (Gen. 4:4, 5).1 Cain, of course, becomes upset, and his face shows it. After the Lord talks with him about his attempts at worship, Cain invites his brother out to the field and brutally murders him.
It’s frightening to think that the first murder was over the issue of worship. While Cain was convinced that he was bringing a worthy gift to the Lord—the result of a “spiritual gift” that he thought the Lord had given him, no doubt—it wasn’t God’s love language.
Unfortunately, many of us, like Cain, will spare no expense at worshipping the way we want, even if it forces us to engage in such extreme behavior. For us, it has become a life-or-death issue.
This is not to say that God is angry and needs to be appeased. Nor is it to say that there is only one way to worship Him. What it is saying, however, is that God doesn’t desire the pride of our own hands when we praise Him. He desires humble vessels that have been washed in the blood of the Lamb.
To be honest with you, much of our worship has always been perplexing. Usually the criteria for how we worship God stems from what blesses us. Many of us seek to be “blessed” by God during worship, rather than seeking to bless Him—the alleged recipient of our praise. This seems to be a great contradiction. It would be like throwing a party on a friend’s behalf, but never asking him what he wanted to do for it.
If the ultimate goal of Christianity is to be a blessing to God and to others, why do we always start by first asking what will bless us? Perhaps there will come a day when, in our praise and worship, we ask ourselves, “What will bless Grandma Smith, sitting in the third row?” or “How will the song I’m doing for special music bless Mike, who is home from college?”
The Heart of the Matter
There’s more. More than any song we could sing or testimony we could share, God’s primary love language is that which is reflected in our lives. What brings joy to God’s heart more than anything else is a life that has been touched by Calvary’s love. When a person is truly motivated by that love, his actions will be the greatest praise God could ever receive.
Long before Calvary ever occurred, God lamented over the fact that His people were not truly praising Him. Two passages in the Old Testament reveal as much. In Isaiah 29:13 God cried, “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me” (NIV). Their singing and dancing were spectacular, no doubt, but they didn’t mean much to God. The lives that His people lived, after the music was over, contradicted that which they were proclaiming in song.
Similarly, when Saul failed to follow God’s instructions to totally obliterate the Amalekites, Samuel responded by saying, “Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the Lord? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams” (1 Sam. 15:22, NIV). Plainly put: Given the choice, God would rather have an obedient heart than a fancy religious ceremony. As Eugene Peterson puts it in The Message, obedience is better than “staging a lavish religious production.”2
Thus, Carsten Johnsen concludes, “Obedience is the highest praise man can offer to God.”3 All other “praise” is meaningless if it is divorced from a life that has responded to Calvary through obedience.
This is not to say that we shouldn’t verbalize our praise in fear that we may stumble the minute we leave the stage. But perhaps Ecclesiastes is right when it encourages us to “let your words be few” (Eccl. 5:2). A life that is marked by humble obedience is far greater than any song that could ever be sung. Though we might boast that we can sing of His love forever, is it our desire to humbly live that love forever?
A Deeper Intimacy
It’s exciting to think that we can speak God’s love language both with our lips and with our lives. The heart that has truly responded to Calvary’s love can praise far more beautifully than we could ever imagine.
True praise won’t be limited to Friday night or Sabbath morning. Just as with my wife, Christ longs for an experience with us that goes beyond a Valentine’s card or a Christmas gift—and in His language of love. He eagerly looks forward to having blissful and loving intimacy with us all the time. What greater privilege can we have than to bring joy to the heart of our Savior?
Perhaps, He, too, will then be able to say as Solomon did of his lover, “You have ravished my heart, my sister, my spouse; you have ravished my heart with one look of your eyes” (S. of Sol. 4:9).
1All Scriptures, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
21 Sam. 15:22. Taken from The Message. Copyright © by Eugene H. Peterson 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.
3Carsten Johnsen, The Maligned God (Sisteron, France: Untold Story Publishers, 1980), p. 267.
Shawn Brace is currently attending the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan.