A friend of mine used to begin every prayer: “Father, I love you.” When I first heard him, I thought it was cool. After a couple years, something began to seem strange. I liked that he loved God, but his inflexible, unwavering, rigid preface to every prayer felt weird.
I wanted to ask him why he started prayer with those exact words, but he was also an irritable person. If anyone (especially his wife) ever questioned him, he blew up, or else he clammed up, and he said he needed to be somewhere else (probably anywhere else).
And his hyper-sensitivity was my problem. It seemed he loved his reputation most of all. Maybe he should have started his prayer, “Father, I love my name.” I finally asked him about his prayer routine, and I suggested he change it and begin each prayer, “Father, You love me.”
He called me the next morning and said, “I just can’t do it. It seems so presumptuous or pushy. Or rude.” He said, “It’s easier to say, ‘I love you’ than to say, ‘You love me.’ Especially to GOD!”
He suggested I try his approach for a week, that I begin every prayer, “I love you.”
You Shall Love the Lord …
My family is a hugging family. We express our affection. We hug hello and goodbye. We say we love each other. It’s easy, affirming, and community building. So my friend and I agreed to try each other’s idea. I’d begin each prayer, “I love you” and he’d begin, “You love me.”
But as I started each prayer, “Father, I love you,” it seemed like I was giving reasons to God why he should listen to me; after all, I loved him so very much. Sort of like the Pharisee who begins his prayer, “I thank you, God, that I’m not like other people, cheaters, sinners, or like this tax collector.” Instead of praising God, I was applauding my own wonderful affection.
A man I met on a retreat once told me the whole gospel could be summed up in one sentence: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength. But he’s wrong. That isn’t the gospel. It’s the Law. Don’t get me wrong, we should love the Lord completely, but if that command was the gospel, we would be lost. Because we fail every hour.
I began to pray, “Father, I want to love you, but I flunk. I love my name, I love my comfort, and I love success more. Please help my un-love like the man who said, ‘I believe, help my unbelief.’”
I could pray that prayer more honestly. (And honesty is a good place to start when praying.)
A week later, my friend called me, excited. He said, “I love beginning with God’s love! It’s like repeating the verse, ‘We love because he first loved us.’” He said that remembering God’s love first began to grow his own love of the Father. When he prayed, “You love me,” he almost always also remembered a time he was irritated by someone’s (especially his wife’s) correction.
He said, “God knew of that bitterness before he ever loved me. If he loved this ego-centric, super-sensitive me, then he must really love me. It sort of makes me love Him more.”
He asked me if I had ever tried my own suggestion for him, to begin each prayer, “Father, You love me.”. Honestly, I had never even thought of starting prayer that way until I noticed my friend’s routine beginning. And I had never done it myself.
He encouraged me to try it. He said that it actually gave God more glory than his own, self-serving approach. He said it’s more biblical, because Scripture is all about God’s love for us, not our love for him.
So I tried it: “Father, You love me!” For a week. And I just couldn’t do it; it felt so … presumptuous. I can say in my head that he loves me, but in my heart, I doubt.
Sometimes my “wise” advice for others is really God pointing out my own weakness.