I was having lunch with Bryan Kirby yesterday when Cindi called. She asked me a question, we talked for a minute, said “I love you,” and hung up. After I had closed my cell phone, Bryan told me that we were a “cute couple.” (I don’t mind being called that. Coming from a friend like Bryan, it’s a compliment.)
Since Bryan had made his comment based on hearing only my side of the brief phone conversation, I took the opportunity to lightheartedly ask him if I had a “Cindi voice” (I know that I sometimes do, but I don’t pay attention to the extent of it and I’ve never asked if it’s noticeable). Lots of couples have a voice (or multiple voices) that vary from their normal voice. Usually this alternate voice is softer, gentler, and more delicate. It’s reserved only for one’s wife or husband (or perhaps for someone else with whom they have a very intimate relationship). Using this voice is not a conscious decision. It’s instinctive. I realize that some of you girls are oohing and aahing while most of you guys are reaching for a decent-sized bucket. That’s ok. I don’t mean for this to be a mushy post. I mean to make a point. Stick with me.
Bryan told me that I kind of have a “Cindi voice.” In other words, (at times) I speak to Cindi in a voice that is a bit different than the normal voice I use with other people. This is probably especially true in phone conversations, and not as much in public face-to-face conversations. I guess (and I’m hoping) it’s enough to be noticeable, but not enough to be nauseous.
Based on this (and other observations), it’s fair to say that the way you speak to specific people is a reflection of your relationship with them. The tone of your voice in a particular conversation can reflect the depth of intimacy you share with the person you’re talking to. I love Cindi. My heart is tender toward her. I have a natural affinity for her company and an effortless affection for her conversation. In only a one-minute phone call, this was evident.
Now, to take this issue where it has to go:
If someone were to overhear one of your conversations with God, what would they think your relationship with Him was like?
Intimate? Cherished? Warm? Distant? Forced? Wooden? Loving? Genuine? Dependent? Dispassionate? Hypocritical? Autonomous?
Would they think you were speaking to a treasured friend or an administrative assistant? Would they conclude that you were talking to the love of your life or making a mandatory business phone call that you’d put off for a few days? Would they mosey off thinking, “That sounded boring,” or would they walk away with the thought, “He was definitely speaking to someone that he respects and trusts”? Examine the tenor of your prayers and ask yourself the question, “If someone were to hear one of my conversations with God, what would they think my relationship with Him is like?”
Do your requests sound like pleas from a simple-hearted child or like numbered requests on a spiritual Christmas list? Are your prayers alive, or could they be recorded, strung together, and used as a theological filibuster? By the tone you use in prayer, do you sound like you’re part of a family or a member of a bureaucracy?
Do you sound like you’re speaking to your Father or lecturing in a classroom? Would your observer conclude that you poured out your heart freely to God or that you were verbally constipated?
We ought to be vibrant and vigorous and fervent and relational in prayer. We should sound like we want to be talking to God; like we believe He is actually and literally listening to us; like we desperately need His forgiveness; like we are genuinely starstruck by His glory; like we are explosively grateful for His grace; like we trust Him to answer us; and like we long for His Son to return. We should speak to Him not as our divine secretary but as our Faithful Friend, not as our errand boy but as our Mighty King, not as our angry judge but as the Forgiver of all our sins.
Take note: The way you speak to God does not only reveal the quality of your relationship with Him; it also betrays your real theology. I wonder if the way I ask God for things makes Him look like a penny-pincher. I wonder if my praise sounds like polite applause from an audience that’s applauding just because that’s what audiences do (thereby communicating that the character and works of God are neat enough for subdued clapping but not deserving of an eternal standing ovation and a cry of “Encore!“). I wonder if my confessions are more like petty apologies for being five minutes late than gut-wrenching pleas for pardon to a father whose son I murdered.
I’m sure that my stuffy formality often paints God as a cosmic business partner instead of a loving Father. I’m sure that my meticulous attempts at verbosity mock the truth of Romans 8:26: “In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words…” And many of my prayers, if they were hooked up to a spiritual heart monitor, would flat-line.
I can tell that the cop standing at your driver’s-side window is an intimidating authority to you by the way you speak to him. I know how much you respect your professor by the way you approach him after class. Your uncharacteristic boisterousness with your friend reveals to me that you enjoy him as a brother. I can recognize that your relationship with your parents is splintered by the tension in your voice when you call home. And you can know what your relationship with God is like by listening to how you pray.
So listen. Listen and learn. Listen and learn and grow.
“For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, ‘Abba, Father!'” — Romans 8:15