When listening to others pray – especially in a church setting – some of the words they use may be intimidating. Sometimes, people who haven’t been “read in” to the terminology fear that – because they haven’t learned the language – they don’t know how to pray…or how to pray “correctly”.
The fact is that praying to God is just like talking with a friend, and no special language is required, but just to catch you up, here’s a quick tutorial:
- Thee, Thou, Thy – Based on special terms of honor used to refer to God in the King James Version (translation) of the Bible, think of these as personal pronouns (usually referring to God): Thee and Thou = You; Thy = Your. So, “We thank Thee for Thy goodness” means, “We thank You (God) for Your goodness.” These can be used to show extra respect to God, but so can a lot of other things we say and do.
- In Jesus’ Name – Jesus refers to asking for something “in his name” (see John 14:13-14, for instance). Personally, I imagine this as writing my request on a special letterhead labeled, “From the desk of Jesus”. If I was given permission to ask for whatever I wanted, and to put this on the stationery of someone important (whether in business, government, academia, or otherwise), that would be a big deal. As a Christian, though, I carry the name of Jesus Christ, which is even better.
- Bless, Blessing – A blessing is a good thing that we receive (maybe a gift, a positive set of circumstances, health, or something else), and asking God to bless us (or others) is requesting that He provide us with good things. So, a nighttime prayer of, “Bless mommy and daddy and my goldfish”, is simply asking God to take care of them. (Hint: If you pray for specific things, though, rather than – or in addition to – general blessings, it’s easier to see how God is answering your prayers.)
- Amen – From a Hebrew phrase (and other languages throughout history), “amen” means something like “it is so”. When spoken today, this term usually means that the person saying it agrees with what has just been said. (Outside of church, we’d probably say something like, “You know that’s right!”, or “You go, girl!”.) In this context, it makes sense for a group of people to say “Amen” after hearing a prayer or sermon point that they agree with. However, many speakers end their prayers with an “amen”. It may seem a little weird to affirm what you’ve just said (hopefully, you meant it the first time); however, in today’s traditions, saying Amen usually just means that the speaker has finished the prayer.
None of these terms are bad or wrong. In most cases, you can use them when talking with God, or you can not use them. But now, when someone else chooses to use them when talking out loud to God, you can follow along. Continue to pray to God, in terms you are comfortable with, with the confidence that Jesus is taking your messages to His Father, and finish your prayers either with “Amen” or by just stopping. God knows what you mean.
Oh, and one more thing: When someone is speaking in church, and says, “And all the people said…” (followed by a long pause), the expected answer is “Amen”. This is a reference to the second part of I Chronicles 16:36, and is usually just a call for the audience to verbally support what has just been said. You might prefer to clap, nod, or do nothing – that’s ok, too.
Honest, legitimate prayer can take a lot of forms (meaning that it doesn’t have to be the same from one person to the next), and isn’t as complicated as we sometimes make it. Take a look at examples from the Bible (like the ones below) to get an idea for what prayer looks like:
For more reading, see also Preconceptions About Wisdom.
A version of this devotion originally appeared at http://fcccanton.com/fancy-prayer-words/ as a Study Guide. Reprinted here by permission.