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Valentines Day. It comes once a year and with it come the challenge: Is there a way to communicate love to the one we love in a fresh and genuine way? It isn’t that the “classic” expressions of love are inadequate or insincere, but for relationship to grow and deepen, we rightly look for fresh ways to say what we have always said to the beloved: I love you.

I remember when I first met the sweet woman who would become my partner in life for life. I wrote her notes. As the relationship grew, I wanted to find fresh and appropriate ways to speak to her of my growing love for her. I wrote her poems. And as the relationship deepened, I continued to search for ways to say to her what I longed for her to know. I wrote some sonnets (a very particular kind of poem with a set rhyme pattern). I was looking for a growing “vocabulary” to express my love to her. (And, I am still looking for fresh and genuine ways to tell her of my love for her!)

That idea of a growing vocabulary of love helps me make sense of what Paul writes to the Colossians about their worship.

Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. (Colossians 3:16)

I know that a lot has been written on what it is believed that Paul had in mind in referring to “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.” Some see the language referring to songs anchored in the Old Testament psalms, songs written for the church drawing on the theology they were coming to own, and songs that flowed freely as the Spirit spontaneously gave them. That’s a possibility. Some suggest that the language indicates that some of the singing was accompanied by instruments while some was not. That’s a possibility.

Although we might not be able to nail down the specifics, one thing is clear to me: The “singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God” was varied. There was a variety to the worship. There was a broad vocabulary in the love songs sung to God by these saints.

And that causes me to wonder: Do I have a growing vocabulary for expressing my love and thankfulness to God?

I know. We all have songs and song styles that feel “comfortable.” I can readily turn to the songs I first learned as a Christian, finding in them “old friends” that can draw my heart in worship. Maybe you prefer the “old hymns” with substance of lyrics and a familiar cadence. Maybe you are drawn to “contemporary Christian worship” with emotive words and a memorable and singable melody. There is nothing wrong with such preferences, such choices. But I do wonder about whether there might be room for growing our vocabulary in expressing love to God.

I have had the opportunity to worship in a great variety of church traditions, having served in across-denominational-lines ministries for many years. I have ministered in Europe and Asia and South America, as well as on both coasts here in the States. My first blush response to worship experiences in such diverse places and divergent styles was not always a welcoming one. But I have grown; I have learned. And I have had my vocabulary of worship expanded.

Rather than just writing love notes to God in worship, I have learned to appreciate and write poems, I have given myself to writing sonnets. I have found fresh and genuine ways to express my love to God. And that has enriched our relationship.

So consider this an invitation. Broaden your vocabulary. Yes, the style of music might not be what you would first turn to in worship, but listen, reflect on, and sing along with the songs sung by other worshippers whose vocabulary differs from yours. If the hymns are your common language, get your hands on a contemporary worship album (not too edgy of course!) and enter into the worship . . . more than once. If all you listen to is contemporary Christian songs, find a collection of “old hymns” (or some believers who still sing such songs!) and enter into the worship . . . don’t just watch.

And sing with thankfulness in your heart to God in a variety of ways . . . for his great love for you.

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