Can one small shift in your words affect your prayer life?

by | Mar 13, 2017 | Faith | 5 comments

Several years ago, when our oldest son, Gideon, was still a toddler, my husband made a comment that has stuck with me ever since. We were going through our normal bedtime routine and Gideon was dawdling in the bathroom. To encourage him to get moving, I said, “Come on, Gideon, it’s bedtime! Hurry up so we can read the Bible and say our prayers.”

That’s when Jason piped in. “Don’t say say our prayers. Just say pray.”

“It’s the same thing,” I said, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized he was right.

Praying and saying your prayers is not the same thing.

Sometimes even the smallest shift in our vocabulary can affect our attitudes. For example, I never allow my children to say that we have to go to church on Sundays. I always clarify, “No we don’t have to go to church. We get to go.” Have to implies obligation and resentment. “I have to pay bills. I have to mow the lawn.” Get to implies privilege and honor. “I get to buy new clothes. I get to go on vacation.”

It may be years before my children fully understand the blessing of religious freedom we have in this country, but by insisting that we get to go to church, I’m helping mold their attitude about church in hopes that they come to see corporate worship as a gift rather than a punishment.

The subtle difference between praying and saying your prayers can affect your attitude as well. When you say say your prayers, the emphasis is on the saying rather than the praying. It implies going through the motions. Repeating something without thinking about it. Getting it done and moving on.

When a child misbehaves and is instructed to, “Say you’re sorry,” what does he do? He grits his teeth and mumbles the weakest, “I’m sorry,” he can muster because he knows that empty words are enough to satisfy his bedraggled parents. Is he really sorry, or did he just say he’s sorry?

The same holds true for prayer as well. Is it enough to say your prayers, or is it better to pray? Praying is supposed to be heart-felt communication between you and the one person who knows you best in the entire world. It’s not a speech. It’s not a spelling bee. It’s an intimate conversation.

Jesus explained this difference in attitude just before He introduced the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:

“When you pray, don’t babble on and on as the Gentiles do. They think their prayers are answered merely by repeating their words again and again. Don’t be like them, for your Father knows exactly what you need even before you ask him!” (Matthew 6:7-8 NLT).

Over the next few weeks, pay attention to the words you’re using when referring to your prayer life. Try putting the emphasis back on praying and away from saying and see what affect it has on the intimacy of your conversations with God.


Have you ever made this small change in your vocabulary? How did it affect your prayer life?


  1. Kay Reed

    Emily, You really opened my eyes. You’re right there is a difference. Thanks for pointing this out. All the years I’ve been a Christian, it never occurred to me to look at the difference these small words can make in our attitude on prayer. I see my 2 granddaughters off on the school bus each morning and I have prayer with them for their school day. Now they ask to pray instead of me. I’m going to make it a priority to check my “words” with them. I am so blessed.

  2. Debbie

    We’ll. I have to admit I do, in effect, say or ask the same blessings quiet a lot. BUT you’re very right about making that small shift.
    And, yes, it made a difference. Still. My very best prayer times are when I wake up, whatever time, & just talk to God & Thank & give glory to Jesus ….for ALL……Past, present & future

  3. Norma ogletree

    Thanks, Emily. Just what I needed to hear this morning while rooming with grandchildren in Calfornia n spring break

  4. Imogene

    As always, good thinking and good writing!

  5. Kimberly Lindquist

    Thank you for the reminder of how words affect attitudes that can last for years!


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