Getting God’s Attention: Adjectives and Adverbs

Far be it from me to give a quick grammar lesson, but here it goes for those who are years beyond recalling information from bonehead English class.

Adjectives are words that describe things.  e.g.: the cotton candy tasted sweet.

Adverbs are similar in that they describe things with how, when, why; typically ending with an –ly. e.g.: The taste of cotton candy sweetly filled my mouth.

Okay, before I lose anyone and a grammar teacher tells me I have no proper concept of the English language, let me stop while I’m still ahead and get on to the topic at hand: Praying in ways that gets God’s attention.

As a child, my prayers were simple.  Truly child-like.  Before going to bed I would say, “God, thank you for Mommy and Daddy.  I love Peppee.  I’m sorry I fight with Doug.  Help Grandpa and Grandma and Peter and Erin.  Amen.”

Now what I really meant was that I was thankful for the cookies Mom made, and for the new dress she sewed for me, and that Dad put the training wheels BACK on my bike, and I liked playing with our little white poodle Peppee, my brother and I fought a lot, Grandpa had heart issues, it made Grandma sad, I really liked Peter from preschool and wanted to play with him at recess and hoped he would come to my birthday party, and I liked my playmate Erin who lived down the street but sometimes she was mean and I just wanted friendship and didn’t understand why she acted like she did, what would Jesus do, etc…  WHEW !!!

Okay you get the picture.  My simple 4-year-old prayer had a lot going on behind it.  Yet God knew exactly what was going on; I never considered the need to fluff up the prayer with all the details, adjectives, and adverbs.  But now I’m older, wiser, and I feel compelled to let God know exactly what is going on, just incase He isn’t 100% up-to-speed on the situation.  I give Him names, first and last, relationship updates, I describe the issues with lots of adverbs and adjectives – because God needs to know I mean business and have a lot of details and I really need Him to pay attention.  So I talk a lot.

Then the other day I wondered if God ever thinks, “Sherry, can you cut the crap and just get to the point already?  Remember those 4-year-old prayers, I liked those.  Don’t worry about the details, I actually know a little more than you give Me credit for.”

Hummm.  This got me thinking.  Do I need to cut out all the fluff, does the weight of my prayer have less to do with all the words and more to do with my heart?  Does God give my heart-felt three-word-prayer (“God, help me”) just as much attention as my lengthy going on-and-on prayer?  Do I need to stop giving God a multiple-choice list of ideas on how to fix things, because I’m arrogant enough to think that I have some ideas that He might have not thought of, and He needs to know I’ve given a lot of thought, heart and soul to the matter? Do I limit God with my list?  Or should I just leave the solutions up to Him?

Is it really as simple as, “God help ______, Your will be done”?
UPDATE: Or in light of recent events, “God please have your loving hand in the mess of Haiti.”

I don’t have the answers, but if this is right, prayer time is gonna get a lot shorter at my weekly Small Group…

Do you pray “short” or do you add lots of adjectives, adverbs and solutions?  Seriously, what do you think?


Copyright © 2009-2010 Sherry Meneley. All Rights Reserved. sherry meneley soiled wings

12 thoughts on “Getting God’s Attention: Adjectives and Adverbs

  1. OK – pet peeve time.

    The best prayer I ever heard out of someone’s mouth came from my daughter, when she was about three. She was running and fell down and skinned her knee. Instinctively, and without guile of any sort, she shouted/cried, “Oh God!” She’d never heard this expression in the usual profane setting–she wasn’t repeating a curse (although I wouldn’t have blamed her for cursing the sidewalk!). But in her young heart, in the urgency of the moment, she cried to God. Would that all of us would think of him first. That prayer was elegant, profound, and pure.

    Compare that with what I call “pastoral praying.” This is the prayer that comes from pastor-types, religious professionals who are often called upon to deliver a ceremonial, officially sanctioned, direct-link-to-God prayer. These prayers are full of, among other things, fluff (good term!), powder and smoke and lights and theater. They are all adjectivy and adverby and dramatic. The tone and the pace and the language and the volume hark back to Charlton Heston castigating the Israelites as directed by DeMille. THESE PRAYERS MAKE ME PUKE.

    I am a pastor. When people know about what I do, and we’re going to eat, all faces turn in my direction. I am, after all, the prayer expert. When it comes to speaking with the Almighty God of All The Universe, I’m your man, because I have a MDIV degree–a MASTER OF DIVINITY!– and a little card in my wallet that says I have been ordained. All of this, of course, means that if anybody in the room is more likely to get God’s attention and make a difference to the food waiting to be consumed, it’s me. They expect a “pastoral prayer.” I usually disappoint.

    In my ministry, I have been called on the carpet for my lack of expertise in this area. Fine. I decided a long time ago that what I say to God is for God’s ears. If people want to listen in, OK. If, while listening, they decide they don’t like it, tough. God and I know what I’m talking about. And God even knows that sometimes my lips need to stop flapping, my tongue cease wagging, my mouth close tight. Sometimes the best prayer is to just SHUT UP! Uncomfortable, when a room is full of 350 people waiting for you to finish so they can eat.

    Prayer is a precious gift. It doesn’t need my attempts at designer fix-ups to make it better. Psalm 51:16-17: “You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”

    Thanks for letting me blow off steam.

    • Ron – everything you said DITTO! Thank you so much. You can vent anytime here, I’m all ears. It’s refreshing to know you don’t play into the “pomp and grandeur prayers” just because of your job. One of the best prayers I’ve heard from a pastor at my church was “God, thank you for accepting me, poop in my pants and all”. I loved that.
      PS: my brother, the pastor with all the same alphabet soup to his degree, is also the “chosen” one for prayer. I feel for pastors everywhere…

  2. At that time Jesus prayed this prayer:”O Father,Lord of heaven and earth,thank you for hiding these things from those who think themselves wise and clever,and for revealing them to the childlike.Yes,Father it pleased you to do it this way. Matthew 11:25

    • Thanks David. Jesus had it right. (of course He did…) Even quietly weeping and pleading is prayer when our focus is on humility and needing God more than anything. Sometimes it’s wise to be the child of God we are intended to be, and to not act overtly grown up with our “big words”.

  3. I hope you get lots of responses because this is one of my issues about prayer, especially in groups. Way too many details are shared and I don’t need to know all that stuff to pray for someone. Sometimes it feels like gossip. I’ve always wondered if it is just me or do others feel that way too.

    • I frist started thinking about this subject after being in a “prayer” group. Some of the grandstanding really left me conflicted. I was distracted during prayer by all their fluff. Later I was told “that is how they really pray”, but it still felt “fake”. And a big DITTO on that gossip stuff. I love prayer, I love that it works, but I think God might get discouraged at some of our tactics.

  4. Thank you, thank you, thank you for this! I have always admired the eloquent way you and a couple of the others lead our prayer group – and that is why I rarely if ever contribute! I felt so childish in the way I say my prayers so simply. But from this and the very reassuring comments left thus far, I feel so, I don’t know, relieved I guess would be a good word. Now maybe I won’t start to doze off at night when trying to say my prayers in such detail!

    • Sharon! Are you kidding me. In my mind, I CANNOT pray out loud. Let me assure you, I feel like I pray like a kid. I ramble and say silly things. I don’t use all the Christianese phrases. I’m not very orthodox. I’m just being real me. So if you really think I’m eloquent – I’m blown away. {blush} I’m just a girl who loves God and talking to Him. Oh and singing, I really REALLY like singing to Him.

  5. One of the toughest times to pray is when I have no clue HOW to pray for someone – as in, maybe it’s a really intense or hopeless situation & I can’t imagine how God could work anything good from it. Sometimes I say “God, what do you want to do in this situation?” – & then I try to listen. If I think of something, maybe it’s His direction about how to pray- so then I can agree with Him. And if I don’t, then I guess I can just sit with Him quietly…

    My dad-in-law (a well respected preacher) often started those tough-time prayers with “LORD, teach us to pray” & then would pause while waiting for direction.

  6. Hi Sherry,
    I just found your blog through freshly pressed and Im loving everything that i read!
    You have a real gift for writing?
    I just came to this particular post and it made me laugh because my prayer group leader emailed me this only this morning.
    { sorry it is a bit long, but it’s good – it’s from Joseph Prince and it’s exactly what this blog post is about}

    Subject: Just for you
    Date: Tue, 19 Oct 2010 13:44:44 +1000

    Jesus Your High Priest Intercedes For You
    Hebrews 7:25
    25… He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.

    The verse says that Jesus always lives to make intercession for us. Once, I used to think that this meant that Jesus is seated at the Father’s right hand today, praying all the time for us, waiting and hoping that the Father will do something for us.

    But that is not true. Look at what Jesus prayed when He stood before Lazarus’ tomb. He declared, “Father, I thank You that You have heard Me.” (John 11:41) He prayed these words even before Lazarus came forth from his tomb alive. Jesus knew that what He said would come to pass because the Father always hears Him. (John 11:42)

    So what does “Jesus always lives to make intercession for us” mean?

    Because Jesus is our High Priest (Hebrews 4:14), we get a picture of what happens when we pray when we understand what the high priest in the Old Testament did with the burnt offering of a bird. (Leviticus 1:14–17)

    The birds brought to the high priest are a picture of our prayers “flying” to the Lord Jesus because we pray to the Father in Jesus’ name. Now, just as the high priest removes the bird’s feathers after killing it, Jesus removes all that is superfluous and unclean from our prayers, such as unbelief and self-centeredness.

    Then, just as the high priest offers the bird as a burnt sacrifice, a sweet aroma to the Lord, Jesus our High Priest adds His perfection, beauty, excellence and fragrance, which the Father so delights in, to our prayers. That is how He presents our prayers to the Father. That is how He lives to make intercession for you.

    My friend, you don’t have to run to a church leader to get him to pray “more powerfully” for you. You can pray yourself. Then, take advantage of Jesus’ intercession for you and say, “Lord Jesus, I don’t know what else to say… please intercede for me.” And when Jesus gives His personal touch to your prayer, you can be sure that it will be answered!

    • Thanks Fiona – I actually needed to read this today. And it’s so funny that this will tie in wiht a post coming out in a week or so called Funky Aromas. Again, thank you – I needed to read your friends email today, it blessed me.

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