by Shane Russo
Sometimes, we use words without thinking of their implications. A while back, I noticed that I had a tendency toward a few verbal quirks. I decided to examine them during my regular time of self reflection. What I found was interesting. So, today, I want to discuss my first quirk, what I like to call Just Prayers.
One day, a friend pointed out that I use the word "just" a lot when I pray. After reflecting upon a few of my most recent public prayers, I realized that she was right. But, what's the harm in using a word often? It’s just a word, right? I mean, what could possibly be wrong with the word “just?” Well, for starters, read the following prayer. Then, think about how it would sound without all the "justs."
“Lord, we just praise you. We just ask that you would fill this place with your presence, Lord, and that you would just let the Spirit work in us and through us. And, Lord, I just want to personally thank you for just being there for me this week. Please just help us to remember that we are your children, Lord, and that you will never leave nor forsake us. It is in your name, Lord, that we humbly pray. Amen.”
Now, you might think I’m being a little overly hyperbolic with my usage of the word “just.” But, listen to people pray out loud, truly listen. The over-use of “just” in my own prayer language was...well…just amazing. It wasn't intentional. At least, not completely. I am pretty sure people, myself included, default to using that word for two reasons.
Reason 1: Nerves. I don't want to sound stupid in front of other people, so I default to praying as I have heard others pray. That is a completely natural and appropriate response to the fear of public speaking. But why did I ever hear that in the first place? Because of reason number two.
Reason 2: Humility. I believe the first people to get a little too rambunctious with the word “just” did so out of a sense of humility before God. They didn’t want to sound like they were commanding God or being pretentious enough to think that they deserved God’s undivided attention. So, they interjected the word “just” in order to seem humble. But, were they being authentically humble, or where they feigning humility in front of the others. To answer that, I ask another question. Do I use the word "just" like that when praying to God silently in my head when no one else is around? The answer is no. No I don't. When I do it out loud, it probably comes from a position of false humility.
In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus is reported as saying the following:
"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; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!" (Matthew 7:7-11 NIV)
You see, God expects us to ask. Not only does God expect us to ask, but God also expects us to keep asking over and over again. Does that mean we approach God in arrogant expectation of with a sense of entitlement? Of course not! But, it does mean we don’t have to feel sorry or guilty for asking God.
The other problem with using the word “just” in my prayers is that it seeks to diminish the work I wish for God to do. Let me put it another way, when I use the word “just” like I am prone to do in our prayers, I am saying to God, “It’s the least you can do.”
You know what else using the word “just” implies? It says to God, “If you would just do this one thing...” The implication there being that I will not ask for more. Who am I really fooling? Both God and I know it is never going to be “just” this one thing. The least that God can do is never going to be enough because I always crave more. And I should because God’s grace is wonderfully amazing.
I still fall victim to “just.” I’ve gotten better over the years, but I still just can’t help myself sometimes. :)
That said, like everything else in my spiritual life, I need to be more intentional. Communication with God is powerful. I should use powerful words that come rooted in humility. Find the most powerful words is a constant exercise in self-reflection, self-discipline and relation building. My spiritual journey continues. Will you walk with me?