“Lord, we just come to you now and just ask that you would just be with us.”
Does this sort of prayer sound familiar? Have you ever noticed how many times you use the word “just” when you’re speaking to God without even thinking about it?
It’s easy to pray on autopilot when you’re interceding for a situation or expressing gratitude.
You’ve probably heard “just” prayers like this regularly at church or in your small groups. You may even do it yourself.
While it’s true that God ultimately looks at our hearts and the sentiments expressed than the exact wording of our prayers, the word “just” is not very helpful when it comes to praying with intention. It’s a crutch we could do without.
Why does this matter?
Here are five reasons why:
1. Just prayers are not bold or confident prayers but too apologetic in nature.
People often use the adverb “just” in a way that tones down their message so as not to sound overly forward or presumptuous. How many emails do you receive that begin “I’m just writing to you to let you know…” or “I’m just trying to find out…”?
When we say “Lord, we just want to come to you and just ask you that you would just help us in this situation,” we are effectively saying “Lord, sorry to bother you and approach you like this, but could you possibly grant us this little thing if it’s not too much to ask?”
It sounds timid, as if we are trying to apologise for asking this little favour. It gives the impression we’re saying it’s merely a quick prayer to ask God something in the same way we phone someone up and say “it’s just a quick call to ask you…”.
Similarly, when we say “Lord, I just want to thank you for X,” it sounds as if we’re saying “Lord, I hope I’m not speaking out of turn, but I only wanted to express my gratitude – that’s all.”
In Ronald Dunn’s book (ironically titled in this context) “Don’t Just Stand There, Pray Something”, the late pastor and president of Lifestyle Ministries points out how Jesus mentions in Matthew 6: 7- 8 that we should not pray with meaningless repetition.
Jesus equates this to praying like the heathen.
While using the word “just” may not have this intention or may not be quite tantamount to babbling or rambling on, it can have the same effect.
“To them [the heathen or pagan] prayer was primarily a matter of convincing their gods that they were worthy of the blessing they were seeking. It was prayer by attrition, wearing the god down until he would give what was asked.”
When we use the word “just” in our prayers all the time, it is as if we are trying to convince God to see things our way and only ask this one simple request. “Just this one thing Lord.”
“It’s amazing how pagan we can be in praying. Listen to yourself the next time you pray; you may find that much of your praying is trying to talk God into seeing things your way.”
We are not to pray this way because verse 8 tells us that our heavenly Father knows what we need before we even ask him.
Hebrews 4:16 says
“Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (NIV)
Contrary to the way many people use “just” in their prayers, the Bible tells us that we are able to come boldly into God’s presence and converse with him intimately as a friend and Father.
Hebrews 10:19-22 also encourages us to come to him confidently and boldly. This is not because of anything we’ve done on our own merit. It’s because of what Jesus has done on the cross for us. I’ve written about this in more detail here.
While we do want to show reverence, adding “just” to our prayers does not make our requests any more reasonable or respectful. There is no need for it.
2. It’s redundant and renders the word “just” ineffective when you really need to use it.
The issue here is not that you shouldn’t ever use the word “just” but that you shouldn’t overuse it. At times it has its proper place.
In John 17, Jesus prays for his disciples and for all believers in the passage known as the High Priestly prayer. Many modern Bible translations use the word “just” in verse 21, even though it is not explicitly there in the original New Testament Greek.
However, the word is used within its proper context, and it has actual meaning and weight when Jesus says:
“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, JUST as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” (NIV)
The word “just” is used here to compare the unity between Jesus’ relationship with the Father and the unity that Jesus desires for his disciples and all believers. He is using it here to say “in the same way as you are in me and I am in you”. It’s not a mitigation.
Imagine how less effective this prayer would have been to our ears if he had prayed:
“My prayer is not just for them alone. I just pray also for those who will just believe in me through their message that all of them may just be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they just also be in us so that the world may just believe that you just have sent me.” (NIV)
The actual “just” that translators use would be lost in there and become meaningless amongst all the other occurrences of the word.
Similarly, in Matthew 8:8 when the Roman centurion begs Jesus to come and heal his servant, he says:
“Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But JUST say the word, and my servant will be healed.” (NIV)
In this case, the centurion felt that he was unworthy to have Jesus come into his house. He admitted that he himself was a man of authority who used words for others to do his own bidding, having people come or go when he gave the order. Therefore, the centurion was using the word “just” or “only” very specifically in this situation. It acted as a modifier of what Jesus needed to do in this situation, rather than a mitigation of the centurion’s own prayer request.
Here, it functioned as an expression of his faith in the sufficiency and power of Jesus’ words. It carried the same authority as when the centurion gave an order and his word became deed. The centurion had an understanding of the concept of speech acts, and this naturally informed his worldview of Jesus and added to his faith.
He wasn’t saying “I just ask that you come and heal him”. Rather, it was that Jesus needn’t trouble himself to come all the way there. He believed that a mere word from Jesus was all that was needed, and his servant would be healed.
Imagine if he had said:
“Lord, I just do not deserve just to have you come just under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will just be healed.” (NIV)
It wouldn’t have the same effect. We also wouldn’t appreciate that only a word is needed from Jesus to heal his servant, because there would be too many “justs” in there which would cloud the issue.
In the same way, we should use the word “just” sparingly and only when it is truly needed.
If we keep using it in every sentence, then when we genuinely want to use the word “just”, we’ll find that it has become overused. It will have become the spiritual equivalent of having cried wolf. Because it’s so commonplace, no-one will pay attention when we really do mean it. It will have lost its impact.
3. Using the word “just” is distracting, unnecessary filler.
People often use filler words such as “umm”, “you know”, “I mean”, “kind of” or “like” in their conversation. Not only are these distracting, but they have little relevance to the actual content. They diminish the strength or credibility of the message. For example, if you say “I’m like, really smart”, that doesn’t do you any favours reinforcing the image that you are in fact smart.
I remember once sitting through a law lecture where the speaker used the filler “basically” in every sentence. “Well basically, you basically file X, and then basically wait basically Y number of days before you basically receive the response basically. And that is the basic registration process basically.” I’m not even exaggerating here. If anything, I’m under-exaggerating, as it was a much longer set of instructions that ran on for about 10 minutes or so with “basically” punctuating every other word.
No-one could follow a thing he said because they were so distracted by his excessive use of that word. After the lecture, other students noted that “basically” was all anyone could take away from the lesson.
Using the word “just” too much in your prayers has a similar effect.
I understand why people resort to these fillers in every day conversation. Our brains sometimes operate more slowly than our mouths. Relying on these may allow more time to search for the right word or idea, but it breaks up the fluency of our speech.
We wouldn’t pray “Lord, you know… we like… kind of like… thank you for… you know… how you have like… totally blessed us… I mean… like recently you know like… in our lives… like.”
That would be extremely distracting and would hinder others who are praying with you from keeping track of the main thread of your prayer.
However, many are perfectly content to litter their prayers with the word “just”.
Perhaps, when you first began praying out loud in front of others, you were nervous. You wondered how to pray as eloquently as everyone else. To help see you through, you relied on a few “justs” while you thought of the next thing to say.
Or maybe you heard others dropping “just” in everywhere, and either copied it, or it filtered into your own prayers without you even realising.
I’ve noticed how sometimes in a group, when one person prays with an excessive use of the word “just”, then the next person who prays unconsciously picks up those same quirks and interjects that word into their prayers too. It almost feels contagious.
The word “just” may have become a hard habit to break and may require effort if you use it now without a second thought.
However, eliminating these filler words will make you more conscious of what you are actually praying, and will allow you to pray with greater meaning, confidence and authority.
4. It’s not really natural to use the word “just” in every day speech.
While people might use filler words such as “like,” “you know” or “I mean” in every day speech, it’s not common for people to insert the word “just” into every sentence.
We might occasionally say something like “Could you just stop by the chemist on your way to the store?” However, when we use it in this context, it’s almost a by-the-way request.
But if you follow it up with a list of other things you “just” want, then it’s no longer simply a small favour. You obviously didn’t want only that one little thing.
And imagine saying:
“I just ask that you could you just stop just by the chemist just on your way to the store.”
That doesn’t even sound natural.
You might think this sounds like an over-exaggeration, but I’ve heard people pray precisely in this way.
Since we don’t even use this filler word in everyday conversation to the same extent as “like” or “you know”, it seems almost exclusively a Christian filler that people import into their conversation with God.
When we first began to pray out loud, we may have heard others using it and adopted the same approach. Or it filtered through into our own speech patterns by osmosis.
It borders almost on “Christianese” – contained language and jargon that is used within churches that only other Christians understand. However, “just” isn’t even jargon but simply a filler. The main question though, is: do non-Christians use this word as much when speaking? Is it natural to even speak this way?
Alternatively, it might be because we don’t have an accurate view of God. Do we feel we have to approach him tentatively and mitigate our requests with the word “just”?
5. Jesus didn’t teach us to pray “just prayers”.
In Matthew 6: 5-13, Jesus teaches us on prayer. In verses 7-8, he says we shouldn’t babble like the pagans because our Father knows what we need before we ask him.
Then in verses 9-13 he gives us the model prayer that we all know so well and pray on a regular basis.
However, he didn’t say:
“This, then, is how you should pray:
“‘Our Father just in heaven,
hallowed just be your name,
your kingdom just come,
your will just be done,
just on earth, just as it is in heaven.
Just give us just today just our daily bread.
And just forgive us just our debts,
as we also have just forgiven our debtors.
And just lead us not just into temptation,
but just deliver us from just the evil one.” (NIV)
Imagine how silly that would sound.
Now of course, that is somewhat exaggerated. However, I’ve heard some people inserting almost as many “justs” into their prayers as that. So it’s not that far off from what happens in practice.
Ronald Dunn goes into much more detail on Jesus’ model prayer in Matthew 6 in his book, mentioned above. He writes that:
“It is God’s character that determines how we pray; therefore, in prayer, the chief thing is knowing what kind of God we are praying to…We are not beggars cowering at the back door pleading for a handout. We are children seated at the Father’s table.”
With that in mind, we do not need to approach God the Father timidly. Nor do we need to try to entreat him with small, minor requests – “just this” . We don’t need to wear him down until he gives us what we want.
We can come to God like children and ask for whatever we want in Jesus’ name, knowing that the Father already knows what we are seeking before we have even petitioned him.
Practical steps to eliminate the word “just” from your prayers.
According to the Babylon Bee, there’s a prayer app called “Just Stop” that delivers an electric shock to you via your headphones every time you use the word “just” in your prayers. Apparently it’s highly effective and has topped the App Store and Google Play charts!
All joking aside though, while it might feel like an ingrained habit now, you can eliminate the word “just” from your prayers. You can retrain yourself to speak without relying on that crutch.
Now you might think it’s merely a harmless filler word. Making people overly conscious of it might be turning it into a stumbling block, preventing you from praying fluently. However, it doesn’t have to be one at all.
Remember when you first began praying out loud in front of others? Maybe it felt unnatural to begin with. It was harder to string a sentence together to form a prayer, even if you were used to speaking fluently in normal conversation.
However, you didn’t consider that your prayers were hindered simply because you had to stop every few words while you tried to think of what to say next. Nor did you believe that God was listening to you any less.
Well eliminating the word “just” is similar to that.
The more you practise, the better you’ll become at it. You’ll soon find that with time, praying without needing that word has become second nature.
I understand that it’s undoing perhaps a lifetime habit and it won’t happen overnight. However, there are several practical things you can do to eliminate this filler word.
Finally, do you struggle with using the word “just” too often when you pray? What’s the reason you use it?
Have you ever found it distracting or lacking in boldness? Do you think it matters whether people overuse the word “just” or not?
Comment below with your thoughts, and share if you found this article useful.
Robert is the founder of Drawing on the Word. He has a Bachelor’s degree in Theology and a Master’s degree in Systematic Theology. He also has a degree in Law and was called to the Bar. Robert previously taught religious studies and was a theology lecturer. He is an artist, musician and writer, and has created a graphic novel version of Luke’s gospel. You can follow him below.