For those of you who know me personally, the fact that I’m choosing to wax intellectual about a topic like grammar in prayer will come as no surprise. But, for those of you who don’t know me well, at least give me a paragraph or two to explain myself and at least attempt to save face before you write me off as an obsessive-compulsive grammar nazi.
I have a degree in Technical Communication, which is an emphasis within English. It focuses intensely on audience analysis and determining what method and style of communication will be most effective for said audience based on your findings. It’s rhetoric in a sense, but with the added perks of being anal about grammar and technology, and it’s all rolled into one four-year program. Needless to say, once you’re trained in this type of thinking, it’s tough to turn it off…
I’m the person who laughs at signs that say “ATM Machine”, or chuckles at the redundancy of phrases like “enter into” that pop up all too often in the church these days [sorry Justin, I can’t let this go on any longer]. I’ve also been known to cringe at things like “8:00AM in the morning” or needlessly-elaborate phrases like “in the process of” when simply saying what you’re doing will suffice.
Anyway, I think you get the point. I tend to pay more attention to how people say things than I do to what they’re actually saying. And yes, I realize that’s going to be a major problem with a woman someday, but that’s a battle I’m prepared to fight! But for now, I’m hoping that my quirky brain will have noticed something that you, the beloved Immersion blog reader, will find thought-provoking at the very least.
So, with no further delay, here’s my question:
Have you ever noticed how often we say “just” when we pray?
Think about it. Almost everyone who you hear pray aloud will drop this seemingly harmless word into a prayer to God. “God we just ask that you [verb].” It’s very commonplace language anymore; and even I have to confess to hearing it slip into my prayers now and again.
So, what’s the problem? Well, think about the context in which the word is being used in a prayer. A dictionary suggests “only” or “merely” as synonyms for this use of “just” as an adverb. Linguistically, adding this kind of modifier to a request attempts to shrink the request and make it seem less daunting to the recipient, which therefore makes us feel more justified in asking for it.
Again, I urge you before you read on: Think about it. What are some other times in our lives when we use this kind of language? Who else do you “shrink” your language to in order to seem like less of a liability?
- Maybe a friend when you ask to just borrow a couple bucks?
- Or to a landlord when you just need a couple more days to get the rent?
- Perhaps to a friend or lover you’ve burned who you think just needs to give you another chance?
Call me crazy, but the trend I’m seeing here is that it puts us in a position of beggar, doesn’t it? By framing our requests as such, it seems that we’re acknowledging that the person we’re addressing has power over us and that, in some cases, we feel unworthy to even be asking them for a favor.
Now, be careful not to jump to conclusions. Even I want to ask, “Well, yea, but we’re talking about GOD here! Why WOULDN’T we want to pray as if we’re not worthy? Why SHOULDN’T we feel as if we’re beggars in light of God’s sovereignty?” Well, simply put, we’re not commanded to pray that way.
After Jesus told his disciples how to pray, he gave them a very powerful story about a man in need of bread that I think we could all stand to learn from:
Then he said to them, "Suppose one of you has a friend, and he goes to him at midnight and says, 'Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, because a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have nothing to set before him.'
“Then the one inside answers, 'Don't bother me. The door is already locked, and my children are with me in bed. I can't get up and give you anything.' I tell you, though he will not get up and give him the bread because he is his friend, yet because of the man's boldness he will get up and give him as much as he needs.
"So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.”
Did you catch that? Because of the man’s BOLDNESS, he will receive as much as he needs! The footnote of the NIV says this word could also be translated as persistence.
How do you suppose the man inside with the bread would have responded if the man at the door had asked “Come on, just spare a couple loaves?” I can only assume that he would’ve grown slightly more irritated and probably shooed the “beggar” away from his house and gone back to bed. However, because of the man’s boldness and persistence, he got what he needed!
It’s no accident that this story immediately follows Jesus’ teaching of what we now call the Lord’s Prayer. Jesus is telling us that yes, we do approach God as strangers in need, but that we must pray boldly and persistently! We have no reason to approach God as if we have no business speaking to him. God wants us to speak to him, and tells us exactly the posture to have when we do it! Jesus endured what he did to give us the privilege to speak to God with confidence, as justified people before a glorious God. What a shame to not use it!
So, my friends, as strongly as I can urge you, pray knowing that you’re worthy! Pray knowing that you have every reason to bring even the smallest request to God! Pray boldly for the desires of your heart, and pray persistently without shame because your sins have been forgiven! Don’t just pray, pray BOLDLY!