I’m giving up ‘Amen’ for Lent.
The word amen is from a Hebrew root word ‘aman‘ which means firm, solid, certain, permanent. It is used in many places throughout the Bible. New Testament writers use it as a pronouncement on the importance of what they have written. It is what Christians say as an affirmation or a solemn agreement, typically at the end of a prayer. And that’s the problem.
Recently I’ve made a habit of praying a few extra minutes each morning while on my way to work. However it occurred to me one day that I was actually hurrying through prayer time so I could get back to listening to the sports radio station I often listen to. I realized that by finishing and saying Amen I was giving myself permission to get back to hearing what other people had to say about my Bills, Leafs, Jays and Raptors. (All the talking and listening hasn’t helped any of them, by the way…)
Jesus himself gave us the Lord’s Prayer as our prime example of how to pray and it’s found in Matthew 6 and again in Luke 11. Many of us have memorized this prayer but if you look at it you might notice that there is something missing from most of our Bible translations: there is no familiar ending with “…for Thine is the Kingdom, the power and the glory forever and ever. Amen.” The traditional ending was not in the oldest manuscripts of Matthew and never appears in Luke and was probably a popular Christian doxology that was added by the early Christians.* That doesn’t make the ending illegitimate mind you, but it’s interesting that Jesus’ prime example of how to pray doesn’t include an amen. None of his prayers do. My guess is that Jesus’ life was such a constant, natural conversation with his Father that there was no need to artificially insert a conclusion.
Margaret Feinberg speaks of something related and from a slightly different angle but we’re on the same page:
‘As I’ve reflected, I’ve decided to give up prayer for Lent. Okay, maybe not all prayer, but lengthy prayers in my personal time with God. I recently heard a sermon by our friend, Jay, which highlighted the importance of praying simple but potent prayers. As I’ve been mulling over this concept, I realize how mindless I’ve become in my own prayer life. Yes, I feel free to express every desire, whim, ache and need to God “which is a good thing!” except that at times my prayers sound like a gushing four-year-old who talks in an eternal run on sentence. I realize that over time I’ve been increasingly unspecific and unattentive in my prayer life.
‘That’s why I’m giving up prayer for Lent. Or at least long prayers. For the next 40 days, I’m committed to only offering God three word prayers. ‘Help me Lord. Heal oh Jesus. Give grace abundant. Grant strength now. Thank you, God.
‘I’m hopeful the discipline will help me be more thoughtful in my prayer, more strategic in the things I ask God, more focused on Jesus, more ready to listen, more prepared to unleash heartfelt worship and gratitude on Easter morning.’
For many of us, Amen concludes our list of requests and is almost an excuse to get on with the day without Him. I‘ve done my duty, now back to reality is what we seem to be saying. It turns out we’re addicted to giving God time slots and controlling our one-way conversations with him. So I gave up amen in my prayers.
I’m trying to let prayer unfold as a natural and ongoing conversation. I’m trying to let ‘thank you’ or ‘forgive me’ or ‘help!’ or ‘that was funny’ or ‘help that person’ fall in and out of my thoughts as I am living my moments. And honestly it is a little uncomfortable and a lot unnatural. But it is important to walk and talk and ask and share and live with prayers that are natural and continuous. Time to let my conversations with God be so natural that they actually become breaths of life.
May I suggest that you give up saying ‘amen’ for Lent? And while you’re at it perhaps you could learn to pray with your eyes open so you can be sensitive and focused and natural as you talk with God about the things around you that matter.
Personally, I’m learning to like it.
* The doxology ending in Matthew does appear in some translations. It is in the King James Version (which is where most of us learned it from) while some others (HCSB) bracket it with a footnote. In any case, those are simply translation decisions based on its use in tradition.