On starting my prayers with “God” – a tiny rhetorical reflection

We always want help in getting what we want. Those of us who use words instead of force often read books about persuasion, influence, marketing, and relationship. 

Since 600 BC or so, getting what you want through words has been called rhetoric. Every generation since then has created structures that guide how to talk in ways that are most advantageous to you and your cause. I spent a few years and a couple degrees studying rhetorical theory. I don’t want to talk about it all, but I do want to highlight one question that people often ask: how do you talk to your audience most effectively

From sales to dating to evangelism to mask-wearing, we want to get the beginning of the conversation right. And I think it’s true in prayer, too. 

In the middle ages, social and political hierarchy was both clear and rigid. Everyone knew their place and rank with precision. More important than the value of your ideas was your ability to start a letter or a speech in a way that showed your understanding of where the other person was and where you were. Get that wrong, be too familiar or informal, and you were done. 

When we pray, we often worry about getting the wording of our greeting exactly right. Dear God. Dear Jesus. Dear fount of all blessing, creator of all joy, power beyond all earthly power. 

We want to establish the appropriate subordination, and we want to show the people listening to us that we are appropriately trained in intercession with the almighty. 

When I started writing prayers for Sunday morning, I wondered a little about this. What would be the appropriate way to start each week? What would make God pay attention? What would keep from offending God? What would reflect a clear theological understanding of the Trinity, of our brokenness, of God’s forgiveness? 

I eventually stopped trying to figure out how to game the hierarchy. Instead, I start every Sunday with “God.” It’s like in a meeting where I raise my hand and say, “Patrick” or say “Jen” to a friend looking the other way at a gathering. I simply get their attention by saying their name.

And then I begin the conversation. And that’s where the questions and affirmations and confessions and requests happen. 

I once had a friend who started her prayer, “Father dearest.” That was perfect for her. For me, I’m not worried about the right start. It’s mostly enough to start. 

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My book, “God. We Need You.” is out this week. It’s a year’s worth of Sunday prayers that start, as you might suspect, with “God.” I’d love for you to take a look at it and buy it if it looks helpful. 

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