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I was just saying …

I thought it was timely to just have a word or two about a small matter that just drives me a bit nuts and is just a bit frustrating. It’s the word just.

It’s a lovely word, don’t get me wrong. I have no issue with talking about what is morally right (‘it was a just outcome for all concerned’) or what is deserved or appropriate (‘he got his just desserts’), or even in relation to something being valid or sound (‘the subject of just criticism’).

Where I struggle is where just is used as a filler word, similar to when many people would use ‘um’ or ‘ah’, and especially during prayers.

“Lord, we just want to praise your name today because you’re just so wonderful and caring and loving that, at times, we just don’t even know how to express our gratitude and love for you. So, this morning, we just want to dive into your Word and just seek your truth and your voice for what you want to say to us today, and we pray that you will just bless us in a powerful way. Amen.”

Now read that prayer again and skip over each ‘just’. See ... you lose nothing! If anything, it makes the prayer feel stronger and more confident by not saying ‘just’ every few seconds.

This is because the word ‘just’ is commonly used to mean barely or narrowly: “He just made it over the fence.” Similarly, we use it to mean only or simply: “There’s just a few left in the bag.”

So, when we use it in a prayer, it can act in a way that weakens or diminishes what we’re asking for. To pray that God will ‘just bless us’ can mean we want God to ‘barely bless us’ or ‘only bless us’. It’s weaker than simply saying: “We pray that you will bless us.”

I’ve listened to prayers where I’ve grown increasingly distracted by each ‘just’ uttered. Yes, I’m aware that’s probably my issue, and I shouldn’t let something so trivial distract me from the intent of the prayer, but sometimes it’s hard to ignore:

“Dear God, we seek your will for our lives and pray that you will just empower and fill us with your Spirit today. We’re just so mindful of your wisdom and your leading when it comes to just living day to day in our troubled times. You’re just so discerning when it comes to what is morally right and wrong, and we pray that people will just act in a fair and just just way. And, well, um … just amen.”

So, here’s a cute game to play: next time people pray in your meeting, keep score of the number of times ‘just’ is used. And if you want to play the game at an advanced level, do a little cough every time someone prays a ‘just’.

To listen out for each ‘just’ will actually help you listen more intently to the prayer – which is a good thing – and the coughing might annoy the pray-er enough to just stop doing it!

– Major Mal Davies and his wife Major Tracey are the Corps Officers at Adelaide City Salvos


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