Sunday, March 24, 2013

When praying, words matter

In previous posts, I railed about some common grammatical errors people (including me) make. The following is not really a grammar thing, but it does have to do with words improperly used.

It's very common for people, when they pray in public especially, to say, "Lord, we pray that you would... (you fill in the blank)." I'll never forget what one of my seminary professors (the venerable and late Dr. Robert G. Rayburn) did one time. He asked a student to pray at the start of class. And so this student started praying a very nice prayer. He used the well-known and very proper A-C-T-S pattern that every Christian knows we're supposed to use. And when he got to the S part of the prayer ("supplication"), he said something like, "And Lord, we pray that you would use this class in our lives to make us more like Jesus." But before he could finish that sentence the professor interrupted him (gasp!).

Dr. Rayburn said, "You must not pray that way. Don't say, 'Father would you do this or that,' say 'Father, will you do this or that'!"

What Professor Rayburn was getting at was that the word "would" is not the language of a child speaking confidently and shamelessly to his Father. A little child does not usually say to her father, "Daddy, would you read a book to me?" If she does, she apparently is none too confident that daddy wants to read her a book. Instead she says, "Daddy, Daddy! Will you read a book to me?" She expects to be heard and she expects to be gratified. Similarly, God wants to know what we want. He wants us to ask for what we want, not tentatively but confidently.  When we pray, we should talk as though we believe what Jesus said one time: "Ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you" (John 15:7). Sure, God can, and often does, say "No" to our requests. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't ask for what we want.

So the way that student should have prayed is, "Lord, we pray that you will use this class in our lives to make us more like Jesus."

Ever since Dr. Rayburn shared that little secret, I have tried to pray, "Lord, I pray that you WILL...(whatever)." Try it and see if using the word "will" instead of "would" helps you pray with more boldness and childlike honesty.

1 comment:

kristinwithani said...

So interesting!

Kinda like how Dr Futado ruined modern praise songs for me forever when he pointed out how many songs' lyrics are ABOUT WANTING to praise the Lord instead of simply giving praise. Not his fault, really. It was a Psalms class and we were following the psalmists' lead.