Just [as used in prayer]


Just A filler word commonly used in communal, evangelical prayer. (Example: “Lord, we just come before you today to ask that you would just fill this place with your presence…”)

I learned how to pray in a group when I was a freshman in high school. I suppose I’d been hearing it all of my life, but here, I was listening. Here I was paying attention.

I was in the home of a boy I did not know. I was a freshman, invited by a senior, surrounded by upperclassmen. I was conscious of my hair, my outfit, my hands as I folded myself into a corner of the couch. There were guitars. Guitars are my undoing.

Here is how you pray in a group of evangelical Christians: you listen for the space between the end of one person’s prayer and the beginning of another. You know when it’s your turn to speak because even though no one is looking, it feels like everyone’s eyes are on you.

When you pray, you repeat the name of God in different variations, you add in the justs to fill the spaces. Lord, we just…we just pray that you would do something in our school, Father God. We pray that you would just send revival!

You know when you on are on track when the room bursts into a chorus of Yes Lord and Thank you Jesus. Then you know that everyone else is just praying that too.

You pray for everything you can think of. You cast your words like a net in the air. You feel like if you just say enough, just put together the right combination of thoughts and syllables, all the sevens will line up on that great slot-machine of God’s goodness, and the riches will come pouring out.


Only. Simply. (As in “just be yourself.) Barely. Precisely. Perhaps. Possibly. (As in, “it just might work.)

Here is the undercurrent, the connotation: a theology of not enough. As if there is not enough to give. As if He does not want to give it. So we ask, communally, for this. Just this.

I have trouble praying aloud these days.

I hate the way my words take on the old cadence, the sounds not of my deepest heart but of the people I once knew. I begin to speak, and I feel exhausted by all there is to ask for, beg for, hope for, wait for. There is too much; there is not enough.

But he wakes up at three in the morning still, and I sit in the darkness of his room, rocking him while he drinks. He makes his small, glad eating sounds, but other than that, there silence. It is vast, expansive, deep. There is enough here. Enough space, enough time, enough to go around.

I do not need to say anything aloud; I don’t repeat the name of God in all its variations or cast requests like arrows. I don’t need to put it just right.

This is enough: to be here, my heart split wide open, the silent, speaking, mysterious God all around me.



Photo Credit: Todd White at CreationSwap

20 thoughts on “Just [as used in prayer]

  1. I couldn’t help but laugh as I remember time and again all the prayer meetings – then and now – that went exactly as described. There is almost a subtle liturgy of social cues and how you’re “supposed” to say things.

    Much worse is when you fall into a prideful trap and judge one’s depth of spirit based on their fillers and language. O God, help me to shut up and just pray.

    1. Group prayer is an interesting thing in that you still have all these personalities. You still have the guy who won’t stop talking and the one who makes it all about herself. Funnel that through that “subtle liturgy of social cues” (love that) and the Christian-speak and it can create a perfect storm for judgment and pride.

      Not sure how we move beyond our human inclinations in communal prayer to see only the deepest hearts of the people with us and focus wholly on the hidden heart of God.

  2. I’ve come to hate praying out loud. It’s not that I can’t do it, it’s just that it always feels fake.

    1. I struggle with it too. I know there’s something in it–this vocal community prayer, but I’m not sure how to work through my discomfort and prayer-meeting-baggage to get to the beauty.

      1. I guess what “gets” me is the absolute truth that I pray very differently when people are listening than I do when I’m alone. It’s human nature, I know, but I always want to impress the people. I want someone to say – and sometimes folks do – “that was a great prayer!” or “your prayer really blessed me!” While I appreciate their encouragement, I always take a mental step WAY back and think “are we praying to God, or just preaching a little sermon and cloaking it as a prayer?” I can’t get myself into a spot where my heart is truly open to God while feeling that I’m having to perform. Even “being really open to God” can just be a performance for the benefit of the listeners. Sometimes I’m in no spiritual shape, for whatever reason, to “lead” anybody in prayer, and yet I’m on stage, and as a visible part of the church, it’s virtually a requirement. At that point, “authenticity” becomes a world that I suspect a lot of Sunday morning leaders are hard pressed to encounter. Do we “pray” for the benefit of the whole church, or do we regard the fact that we are only allowed to enter the throne room, the holy of holies, through the blood of Christ, and that we have personal issues to deal with before we can even be allowed to pray for someone else? In one sense, there should be differences in the TOPICS of public prayer versus those of private prayer, but I really wish public prayer performances could be avoided. Not a simple solution. There are some advantages to the Book of Common Prayer approach, but that’s not an option to us Baptists 🙂

  3. I was in Sunday School and someone asked that we pray for her brother Chuck to come to Christ. Well, a person volunteered and he started out his prayer with, “Lord, we want to lift up Chuck to you today…” I couldn’t help but giggle inside a little at how we are so robotic sometimes when we pray out loud that somebody actually said up chuck in their prayer.

  4. If any human talked to me like we often talk to God it would be so strange, right? “Dear Addie, my niece and my sister, would you just hear me now, oh author and mother?”

  5. This was always one of my biggest pet-peeves about the modern rite. I know that it is filler, a religious version of um, but I always hated the connotation. Why, because it is said so often that it felt like we were trying to pull one over on God. Just one more thing, then just one more thing, until we have eventually asked for a ton of one mores. If God is almighty and omniscient, surely He can count. If you thank him for many things and ask for one (and mean it), your meaning will be conveyed; the same goes for the reverse, no need to pull a fast one.

    1. I agree. There seems to be a certain dishonesty about it. Maybe an underlying fear that God does not, after all, love to give good gifts to those he loves.

  6. Just discovered your blog and am reading through all these posts and enjoying them immensely. Everything you write is so resonant I feel like we’ve led parallel lives 🙂 I’m up too at so many 3 a.m.s with my littlest son, filling up the empty space with stumbling, hopeful, wordless prayers — you describe it beautifully. I’m excited to read more!

  7. “I have trouble praying aloud these days. I hate the way my words take on the old cadence, the sounds not of my deepest heart but of the people I once knew.”

    Goodness, few things I’ve read lately resound so much as these little lines (and the ones that follow). I’m the same way, and my hesitance to pray aloud (mostly in groups) has even become something of a joke with close friends. I’m not sure how to lose this hang up yet, but thank you for sharing a bit of this struggle.

    1. I’m not sure how to lose the hang-up yet either. So glad the posted resonated! Thanks for commenting.

  8. I just about laughed to death when I noticed that the word ‘Just’ as prayer filler is given an entry in the Encyclopedia of Evangelicalism by Randall Balmer

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