Praying Platitudes

Posted: July 20, 2011 in Uncategorized

“Dear God,
We just pray that you would be with us today. We just want to thank you for who you are, God, Father, would you please, Father, just bless us today, Father. We just thank you for today, Father. Amen.”

Have you ever heard a prayer like this one? First off, it’s full of “Fathers” and “justs”, which seem to be the “ums” and “uhs” of prayers. Also, these types of prayers are full of platitudes we use that sound good but lack substance.

Let’s take, for example, the phrase “God, please be with so-and-so.” Unfortunately, the meaning of this isn’t very clear. It would seem to assume that God is not already with that person, that he isn’t already omnipresent. When someone prays this phrase for a Christian, it’s even less clear, because God promises ” “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5) If it’s true that God will never leave us, we ought to instead thank God that he is already with that person. Perhaps we ought to pray instead that God would make his presence more profoundly felt or that God would comfort that person or give them boldness or, if they’re unsaved, that He would reveal himself to them. Using the blanket sweep phrase, “be with so-and-so” is at best vague, and at worst confusing.

Secondly, I want to challenge the phrase “God, we just thank you for who you are.” This phrase is perhaps even more unclear than the previous. What does it mean? Imagine if I wrote my mom a Mother’s Day card and I just wrote “Mom, I just want to thank you for who you are. Love, Steve” What kinds of questions is she left with? She would probably wonder “What does he mean? Who am I? What kind of characteristics and qualities does he have in mind that he’s thankful for? What have I done for him that he’s thankful for? I wish he had highlighted at least a few specific qualities of my character that he’s thankful for and told me why he was thankful for them.” Of course, God knows our hearts and knows what we’re thankful for, but maybe we don’t. Maybe we’re just throwing that out there without really thinking about anything we’re actually thankful for about who God is, in which case it’s an empty phrase. And since this phrase is being used in public prayer, it’s not very beneficial for those hearing it, since they may be left with the questions I mentioned in the analogy of the Mother’s Day card.

One other little thought about prayer habits. Have you ever noticed that some of us tend to use God’s name like punctuation? “We just pray, Father God, that you would be with us, Father God. Father God, we thank you for this day, Father God. Amen.” I’m guilty of this one. I’m also guilty of listening to people who pray this way while trying to predict when the next “Father God” will be in their sentence. I know, I’m a heathen! But I’ve been thinking that perhaps using the names of God (God, Father, Lord) as filler words can tend to diminish the significance of those names. They roll off our tongue like commas and periods in a sentence. I’m glad people don’t talk to me that way! “Steve, would you come here, Steve. I just want to talk to you, Steve, and thank you for who you are, Steve.” Somewhere along the line I might consider punching that person. Just kidding. Maybe.

Anyways, these are just a couple of thoughts, and they’re not meant in any way to sound condescending. I know I have habits in my prayers that render them less effective, as well as words and phrases I don’t think about. These idea are only meant to provoke some thoughts and challenge us to think carefully about what we’re saying when we’re speaking to our Creator. What are some phrases you hear often that are confusing or seem to be used without much thought? I’d love to hear them so I might be challenged, especially since I may be guilty of them!

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Comments
  1. Zoanna says:

    Steve, I love to read your writing. You make your mother happy:). Thanks for all those Mother’s Day cards (and other cards and letters) in which you’ve take time to detail some specific things you’re grateful for. Naturally I reread them occasionally when I’m feeling like a total screw-up of a mom. Thanks for blessing me that way.

    Praying, like writing, reveals the clarity of our thoughts. It is helps us to “remember all His benefits” even if all we can remember at any one time seem extremely few. I don’t think sweeping prayers (“Thanks for everything You’ve done, Father”) helps the one praying–or listening in–to savor God’s attributes or gifts quite like naming them.

    One of the phrases Dad and I have discussed as not necessarily helpful in prayer is about God “opening and closing doors.” Why? Because Satan, the cunning deceiver, will open doors for us–trap doors! Satan will also throw fiery darts that feel like closing doors when we should be pressing on in faith. I’m sure the Israelites thought when they saw giants in the Land, “Wow, talk about a closed door!” Anyway, too long a comment. Sorry. You always stir my thoughts in a good way.

  2. amy says:

    yes, yes, yes! I am linking to this!

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