The trouble with coarse language in our prayers is that sooner or later we start to know—to really know—the one we are speaking to: we begin to see their point of view, and we are embarrassed, not so much by our language as by the attitude behind the language, which suggests the thought, ‘I’m just as good as you’. And that is why Peter (in Luke’s gospel chapter five) for example—having just been quite gruff towards Jesus—soon found himself saying, ‘Depart from me Lord for I am a sinful man!’ Admittedly he might not have been using ‘language’, but either way, the change happened not because Jesus criticised his manner of speaking but because Peter saw something that Jesus did, which opened his eyes to a reality that was staring him in the face. You could say he unwittingly allowed himself to be found by Jesus, and it was as if he was caught unawares in the presence of something and of someone he had never really imagined. And—like a drunken man who is suddenly sober and realises he has elbowed his wife in the face—shame is what he felt, but it was that good, cleansing kind. And his attitude and manner of speaking was transformed. Meanwhile God continues to be happy to listen to, graciously translate and respond to even the most awful prayers—provided of course that they come from a sincere heart. ‘Awful’ by the way, can still happen when the words themselves are beautiful but the heart is far away. The Africans have a saying that goes something like, ‘Do not speak when your heart is far away.’
Below are the prayers from the previous blog, ‘Good Prayers Using Bad Language’ but this time they are in polite language instead.