Language that Enlivens Faith

I saw a headline the other day declaring a certain person a “game-changer” in the presidential campaign.  This expression, introduced a few years ago, is now ubiquitous.

This book is a “game-changer.”  That wide receiver is a “game-changer.”  Our deal on two medium pizzas is a “game-changer.”

Popular public discourse is so completely dull, unintelligent, and uncreative in its use of language to capture reality, grasp its subtleties, and bring it alive in ways that invite reflection.

I’m not a grumbling elitist.  High culture is lost on me.  My constellation of cultural engagement consists of movies, rock music, and sports radio.

But I do love language for its capacity to open up the hidden contours of human experience.  I’m saddened that good words go unused, sparkling expressions underemployed.

Lazy language always bothers me.

Uninspired speech by Christians is especially unfortunate.  We inhabit a limitless reality of life-giving sustenance, an infinite world of divine power.

We forget this when we fail to speak creatively.  We subconsciously lose heart through the repetition of well-worn clichés.

Something deep within us is always asking, “is that all there is?”

Expressions that grab hold of God’s always-newly-arriving mercies refresh our souls and catalyze our faith.

During a prayer service a few years ago, my friend John Mortensen set down the rule that as we prayed for one another, we could only pray one-sentence prayers.

We were all struck by having to think about what we were going to say to God.  It forced us to employ unfamiliar words.

No one strung together rambling requests that God “just be with them” and “just give the doctors wisdom.” 

Rather than rehearse the lazy liturgy of thoughtless language, we considered carefully how we might speak to God on behalf of one another.

It was the most meaningful prayer service I can remember.

If you want press into the profundities of the faith, rid your speech of clichés.  Consider new ways to express your petitions to God and your communication with others.

Thinking carefully about how you pray and speak will make your praying and speaking more . . . thoughtful.

10 thoughts on “Language that Enlivens Faith

  1. Luke Todd

    Thanks for this. Thoughtlessness is such a deeply ingrained part of us, not only in prayer and speech, but in all aspects of life. The testimony that we often give in our words, even and sometimes especially in our words to God, does not paint an encouraging picture of the Christian soul.

  2. John Thomson

    ‘Uninspired speech by Christians is especially unfortunate. We inhabit a limitless reality of life-giving sustenance, an infinite world of divine power.

    We forget this when we fail to speak creatively. We subconsciously lose heart through the repetition of well-worn clichés.’

    Insightful, especially second sentence. Though some of us are not as able with words than others.

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  4. Jaime Hancock

    When I first started to learn Hebrew, I started to pray in Hebrew, because I found that my lack of a complex vocabulary forced me to be more thoughtful and more direct in what I was praying about. I simply lacked the vocabulary to be “flowery”. To this day, I find that I have a simplicity that is refreshing when I pray in other languages, and as a result, I often do so, in order to train my mind to be more direct, more exact and, if I can say it, more honest in my prayers.

    Grace and Peace,

    1. timgombis

      Sounds like a great exercise, Jaime — anything to get us to think about what we’re saying and to whom we’re speaking! Doubly valuable to use the language of the Psalms . . .

  5. Raymond

    Excellent thoughts, especially the concluding note on prayer. Of course the word “just” in prayer should be eliminated altogether. The level of praying will be enhanced exponentially merely by not using that word!

    1. timgombis

      Yep, I threw that in there with a bit of cynicism! One of my pet peeves. Frankly, if most Christians made the effort to eliminate that word from their praying, it would make them give serious thought to what they’re saying and might make their praying more meaningful.

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