"Just Pray"

I know that I am probably a bastard but I can't help but make a few comments about the way some or us pray. Maybe I don't understand and maybe i'm just not being understanding but praying with others is a real chore sometimes. Don't get me wrong I want to pray with people and would even say I need to but I am so bothered by some of the 'habits of prayer' that I cannot ignore. I guess the best way for me to begin to explain this is by calling to mind everyday conversations with people and the kinds of things that can really make it hard to listen to someone. Have you ever talked with someone that constantly repeats some verbal tick over and over and over until that is the only thing that you hear. You possibly even find yourself concentrating on counting, or holding back a laugh rather than listening to the content of what they are saying. They will say 'you know?' at every pause as though is functions as a comma. Maybe its "know what I mean?" at the end of every sentence. Sometimes people will begin every sentence with "With that..." or "Again..." and I am sure you can name several of your own. One of my all time favorites is "Take and". It works like this "what you gotta do is take and grab it like this" or "Take and get in the car" ot "take and..."whatever. What has struck me is that there are many such ticks in peoples prayers. People that seem to speak just fine in day to day life still riddle their prayers with them. This religious repetition of words makes me uneasy sometimes and I wonder if they are just verbal ticks or if we use them more like 'magic words.'  I honestly assume the former but...?

The first to come to mind is "Just" praying. "We 'just' come before you right now and we 'just' ask you Lord to 'just' come and fill us with your Spirit. 'Just' Hear our prayers and 'Just'..... " You get the picture. It just makes me crazy! Its not that I know somebody that does this as much as it is a phenomena  that you hear everywhere. I guess we hear these things in prayer meetings or something and just pick them up as its modeled to us. I remember when I was young I used to make fun of the way my sister sucked her teeth when she was frustrated and then one day I realized I had started doing it too and was horrified. We end up incorporating the things that we mimic.

You will also hear people that very specifically pray to our 'Father God' and in case there is any mistake about that they begin and end each sentence with an address. God is love, and love is patient scripture tells us, so I am sure that God is probably not at all like me in this. If anyone spoke to me that way I cannot imagine bearing the frustration and irritation of such a conversation. 'Jon' they might begin, I need a favor 'Jon' are you listening 'Jon'? Look over here 'Jon' What about this 'Jon'? and meanwhile I would miss everything they said as I contemplate my escape from such a conversation. I am a sinful man and I know God hears us when we pray. (Unless of course we are not doing justice in which case he has told us very clearly in Isaiah 1:15 "when you spread out your hands in prayer I hide my eyes from you, even when you offer many prayers, I am not listening") He is patient with us and is not as petty as me. His concern is not with our words, few or many, but with our hearts and loving service to the weak and marginalized.

Finally I cannot believe how many people you hear citing scriptures, chapter and verse, as they pray. As if God will answer their prayers because of how well they know his word or, even more comical, as if he is sitting in heaven with his bible out saying "wait where did I say that again?" Sometimes I wonder if it is not done more in a posture of trying to impress others in which case Jesus has clearly said "you have already received your reward."

In any case this post is not intended to make any theological statement or really to correct anything wrong necessarily. It is really just me venting about my frustration and confessing my own lack of patience. I am a bitter man. 'Just' forgive me 'Father God'. I do want to say, however, that because of Jesus we can come boldly before the throne of grace. We can speak freely and from our hearts as we would to a loved one. There is no need to 'babble on like the pagans do' and we are not heard because of our scripture knowledge or prayer forms. If there is any concern for being heard by God we should spend ourselves on behalf of the hungry and do justice. It is Jesus and justice that have our Fathers attention.


  1. You are a bastard! just kidding...
    I agree with majority of what you're saying here. You have clearly stated that these things frustrate you, but only vaguely stated the reason why. We should be continually questioning our motives behind our prayers or prayer styles, but criticizing these things seems harsh unless you go a little deeper.

    My feeble opinion:
    1. Father God. It is certainly valid that our prayer can be muddled with habitual statements that we may use to fill space as we're trying to figure out the next thing to say. Perhaps "Father God" sounds better than "Uh". Father God may also be a means of respectful address and worship in prayer. However, if the repetition becomes distracting, then it defeats the purpose. But is a distraction the fault of the one doing the distracting or the one that is allowing it to distract them?

    2. Just. "Just" implies simplicity or ease of an action. "Just forgive me, Father" as if saying, "Just add sugar." While something like forgiveness may be simple for God, it is not meaningless. So when we say things like "just" before a request, we should really understand the gravity of what we're asking for. To elaborate on my example, if we really understood how often and harmful our sins are against God, then we would find that the word "just" is hardly appropriate when asking for forgiveness.

    3. I think (and I have no basis or steady ground to stand on as I make this statement) that perhaps the real question is not how we pray but why we pray. I have very little Bible knowledge at this point, so I don't know what it says about prayer, but isn't having a conversation with God better than nothing? And once you create a better relationship with God, shouldn't we look at the content of our prayers: What we talk to God about or choose to leave out or what we're asking for or not asking for? If we look closely, our prayers reveal a lot about ourselves and our interpretation of who God is, what he's already done in our lives and what we think he's capable of doing.

    Maybe our blog rants (mine included) do too. :)

  2. Thank you for your response Sarah. I think you are absolutely right that the distraction is the fault of the one allowing it to distract them. I think the reason it frustrates me is clear. I am a bitter and ugly man. This post felt to me like both a confession of my own pettiness and a commentary on our prayer culture.

    First, there is nothing wrong at all with addressing 'father God', Jesus himself taught his disciples to pray to 'Our Father.'
    Second, the definition you used may not be what people actually mean when they 'just' pray. I might also be wrong but I have always interpreted that to mean 'only'. I just pray seems like saying my only prayer is.
    I like your idea about looking closely at what we pray and doing something like a content analysis to see what it reveals about us. I suspect we would learn quite a bit from that. Something that has always seemed important to me (and I think I may write another post about this) is that, as the Benedictines insist, work is prayer. A hungry man does not pray for food instead of working, begging or scavenging for it as well. Prayer is done while he strives toward that for which he prays. We know that our efforts fall short and we pray for God to meet us in them. Any prayer about something we are not engaged in seems false and inauthentic. We cannot think that praying for justice is anything but irony when we do not pursue justice with our lives. We pray 'may your kingdom come and will be done on earth as it is in heaven' while we do our best to do His will on earth as well. Jesus would put it this way, "14 For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins"(matt 6:14-15) Our content analysis, it seems, ought to be applied to the totality of our lives lived in Christ rather than some words that we utter in our moments of piety. Our prayers and our lives should cry out to God in unison.
    I am really grateful for your comments and I know more than most how deeply jacked up I am. I am that hungry man scavenging for food and crying out to God, our Father, to 'give us this day our daily bread.'
    I have come to think that maybe my prayers should be done as a listener rather than a speaker. My words should make up as little of the content as my life does. May the prayer that is my life make up more of that content.

    All of our conversation around prayer should remember that it isn't about right or wrong, especially in form, rather the question at my core is 'Is it genuine and authentic?'


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