by Julia Sterne
January 7, 2014
4 min read
There is a four-letter word that I hate—not hate, loathe. In the past few months it has gotten under my skin and become a pet peeve to the nth degree. This four-letter word is a word many Christian men and women use. What’s worse is that it is a word people use in abundance, particularly and irritatingly, in prayer:
Blerg. Simply saying it makes me cringe.
This word has long been in my own vocabulary and in and of itself holds no harm. However, when it is applied by the tongue in prayer and petition to God, it becomes a meaningful error in need of correction.
I want to offer a corrective for our prayer lives. Praying is a core tenant of our belief. It matters, has impact, and most importantly, keeps us deeply in tune with our God. It is how we talk to him, sharing joys and sorrows, asking questions and listening for answers. Often in church we are encouraged just to pray, but I am pushing back on that. Pray. Pray often. Please pray. But how we pray can always be growing, deepening, developing and maturing.
This is a prayer I have heard often in the past few months (especially because the word is really making me angry): “Dear Jesus, we just come before you and just ask that you would just show up. Amen.” For the sake of space I may have exaggerated the use of the four-letter word here.
Prayer is my life intersecting with the holy. It isn’t “just” anything. We are participating in something incredible.
This prayer is not wrong or bad, but the word “just” carries meaning that I do not believe we as Christians are taught to carry into prayer. “Just” here could be interchanged with “merely” or “simply.” In this prayer someone is approaching the Creator of the universe and minimizing their request. Scriptures teach us to approach the throne of Grace with boldness (Hebrews 4:16). Jesus says, “Ask” (Matthew 7:7). In our prayers we are to be bold askers. We are not supposed to sneak into the throne room and snivel about in false humility “merely” requesting things of Mighty God. Go before him. Ask him. Drop the “just”.
This prayer not only minimizes the request, but it minimizes our actions. “We just come before you”. This is no small thing! The four-letter word reduces our actions. “We aren’t doing anything grand. We are just coming to hang out here.” Prayer is grand! Prayer is a gift and treasure. Prayer is my life intersecting with the holy. It isn’t “just” anything. We are participating in something incredible. We are doing something impactful. Embrace its power and purpose. The “just” diminishes what prayer actually is. Drop the “just”.
Lastly, the four-letter word reduces the person who we are talking to. Imagine you approach your mother or your boss and say, “I just want you to clean my room.” “I just want you to give me a raise.” Or “I just want you to bring about world peace.” Do you see how that is a bit of a smack in the face? We do not use this word in relationships with authority, so why do we use it with God? When we ask something of someone in authority, whom we respect and care for, we generally phrase our requests with a bit more thought. It is okay to take time to think during prayer. God wants to hear from you, but there is no rush. Pause and consider your words with him. He is God. Drop the “just”.
As a last note, “just” more often than not is a filler word. It is used in a similar fashion as Cher from Clueless uses “like”. This is innocent. Saying “just” is most likely not even something of which most of us are aware. I do not want this to be condemning to any of you. I want to highlight the fact that how we pray and the words that we use communicates something about our beliefs. When you pray, try not to minimize your requests, minimize your action, or minimize God. Approach him boldly, ask him things, hold onto the truth that prayer is powerful, and be considerate with your words before the Good King.