A seminary professor of mine, whenever asked to offer a “word of prayer,” would respond “HELP!”

It was, he said, a word of prayer that was relevant to almost any situation. 

He was, of course, poking fun at conventional turns of phrase that, when taken at face value, become silly, if not meaningless. Yet, like all good humor, there was an element of truth in his joke.

“HELP!”

It’s what we need from our merciful God in most, if not all, situations.

The title of writer Anne Lamott’s small book on prayer adds two other “words of prayer” for our consideration: “THANKS” and “WOW.”

People who love Lamott’s writing rave about her fresh, unpretentious and insightful analysis of the way prayer works in human life. Others find her approach unsatisfying, too short, and too shallow. What can’t be denied is the memorable usefulness of her triad. These three words of prayer — “Help!” “Thanks!” and “Wow!” — not only cover every circumstance over which we might pray, but they also provide a fruitful outline for us when we long to pray yet struggle to organize our own thoughts.  

Help! Thanks! Wow!

Ten men who suffer from a chronic and contagious skin disease known as leprosy see Jesus and cry out to him, “Lord, have mercy!” “Help!” They are looking to Jesus to supply something for their lives that they have been unable to find on their own: healing.

Jesus sends them off ahead of him to the Temple in Jerusalem with the instructions that they “Go and show themselves to the priests.” Such a showing would both provide the confirmation of healing that was required for these men to rejoin society and it would give them the opportunity to offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving to God at the Temple, the place where God had promised to meet humanity. “Thanks!”

Luke tells us that one of the ten, when he saw that he was healed, turned around and fell down at the feet of Jesus, giving praise to God. This unexpected man somehow recognizes that Jesus is the source of his healing, that Jesus brings, in his person, the life-giving presence of God. “Wow!”

Each of us has sentences at the ready to follow the prompts, “help,” “thanks,” “wow.”

Maybe, by the end of the day, you’re too exhausted to think. I know that, frequently, I am.

“Help. Thanks. Wow” might just be the ticket to your end-of-the-day reflection. 

Maybe the morning starts with hurried preparation and anxiety for what lies ahead. Some days are more rushed. “Help. Thanks. Wow” might be a way of framing the day on your way to your first class or appointment.

Maybe, when you’re alone with your own thoughts, there’s a sadness about failure and loss of opportunity that seems like it has the power to define who you are. “Help. Thanks. Wow” can re-frame your reality in light of God’s abundant graciousness. 

Pr. Jim

Sept. 18, 2019

University Pastor James A. Wetzstein and Deaconess Kristin Lewis, Interim Campus Minister, take turns writing weekly devotions for the Chapel of the Resurrection. You can contact Deaconess Kristin here and Pastor Jim here

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