February 10, 2014
Drop the four-letter word when you’re talking to God.
Communication is a powerful tool. Relationships depend on communication; if there is no conversation, there is no relationship.
Experts tell us that non-verbal communication can be more powerful than words, but a dour look only goes so far. “If looks could kill…” may be a dramatic description of someone’s ability to melt glaciers with their icy stare, but toxic memories will more likely recall dark dialog than scathing scowls. The schoolyard defense says, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me;” adult life delivers a far different view of reality. Words, once spoken, can never be retracted.
Words are the colors on our verbal palate; we paint our prater with what we have at our disposal. The current inventory of words – based on Webster’s International Dictionary – exceeds 470,000; individual speakers get by with less. A 1995 study shows that junior-high students recognize the meanings of about 10,000-12,000 words; college students progress to 12,000-17,000; older adults archive 17,000-21,000 to use in the cross-word puzzles that fill their days.
Say “four letter word,” and our minds run to the gutter. The powerful new film, Lone Survivor, is the story of a Navy Seal team in Afghanistan. It exposes the reality of modern warfare, but everyone warns of the innumerable uses of the “f-bomb” by the warriors, to reduce the shock effect in the theater.
With all of those words, you’d think we could clean up our prayer life. There’s a four-letter word that I hear in invocations that could impair the prayer irrecoverably. The word: just.
Not “just,” as in the adjective meaning “morally right or fair; legally correct.” God is just; it’s part of His character. Asking for God’s justice is a dangerous action: I’m more likely to seek his mercy, for me (letting me off the hook from His justice), but to seek His just wrath for people who have offended me (a dangerous paradox). Mercy for me; justice for them; really?
The “just” that is most dangerous in devotion is the adverb: “simply, only, no more than; exactly; barely, by a little…” You’ve heard it; you’ve said it: when appealing for God’s intervention into the affairs of life, we write our preferred script… and then ask for that much and nothing more, and set ourselves up for a puny dose of Providence.
Just imagine Moses, with Egypt in his rear-view mirror, approaching the Red Sea: “Oh, God… would you just allow us to arrive at low tide?” Really; that’s all you want? If Moses prayed like a modern, self-confident Christian, he would have everything figured out before praying, so that God could just rubber-stamp his request and call it a day…
Who are we dealing with, when we pray? “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever!” (Ephesians 3:20-21)
If you don’t believe me, just listen-up, the next time you’re in a group prayer exchange. “God, would you just make this interview go well and let me get this job” (when God had a better position around the corner). “Oh God, would you just use the doctors to treat the tumor” (when God was willing to remove it from the x-ray). “Oh God, would you just…” You get the point.
I’ve cleaned up my act. I no longer use the “j-bomb” with God. I share my issues, but I don’t prescribe His potential. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways… As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9)