The words we use
"And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself restore, establish, and strengthen you. To Him be the dominion forever and ever. AMEN."
-I Peter 5:10-11
By BISHOP ROBERT E. HAYES JR.
Have you ever given much thought to the origins of the words we use? Words have fascinated me since the time I was an English major in college. I delight in uncovering how the years have shaped and molded the vocabulary of this age.
One word in which I have particular interest is amen.
We often use this expression in our worship services, especially at the end of songs and prayers. An ancient word, amen remains one of the most important words in our religious life today.
Originally, amen was a Hebrew word that meant "yes." If a king or a master gave an order to a servant, the servant might answer, "Amen!" That response acknowledged, "I'll do it! Yes."
Later, amen became a Greek word, used quite often, even by Jesus. He used it at the beginning of a teaching opportunity. He said, "Amen, amen, I say unto you ... In the Bibles of our time, those words are translated as "Verily, verily, I say unto you ... or "Truly, truly ..."
Today amen means "true," "so be it," or "let it be so."
In some churches, the "Amen Corner" has existed. Fervent, enthusiastic Christians often sat together in one area, near the pulpit, and that place became known as the "Amen Corner." When the pastor, whether preaching or offering a prayer to God, made a statement that resonated with a worshipper, that person would cry out, "Amen! Amen!"
Amen is a seal we put on our prayers. Just as a seal placed on a document makes that paper valid, amen at the end of a prayer makes it valid. In essence, when you say amen, you say, "I really and sincerely pray this prayer."
Closing with amen means you are not taking lightly the words of your prayer or song. It expresses the idea that you are looking for an answer to your prayer.
Amen is not just a word to end a prayer, much like a period ends a sentence. It is a solemn declaration of sincerity, and is truly important.
My prayer experience
An experience some years ago shaped the way I feel about saying amen.
A new pastoral assignment had created uncertainty, fear, and doubt within me. It was a very difficult time. I went to God in an act of desperation. I got on my knees and prayed for faith, guidance, and strength.
I ended my prayer by saying, "Amen." In essence I was saying, "So be it." Whatever God did or however God wanted to respond to my plea, I was saying, "Let it be so."
As time passed, it seemed that instead of giving me what I had asked for, God gave me more problems. When I had originally petitioned God, I thought I had reached bottom. But, as each day went by, the bottom dropped further! Each day seemed an ordeal.
Yet, as I continued to muster my strength to meet the demands placed on me, I realized what God was doing. I was being made stronger through a series of setbacks and problems I had never anticipated.
During that time, God forced my attention away from what I thought was difficult and put before me new challenges that summoned every ounce of my will to survive. With God, I did. After some months, my situation did get better. In retrospect, I realize I got what I wanted-but I had to accept it on God's terms.
A word to all
It is important to be fully aware of what you express when you say amen. In the days leading up to Lent, we lift our petitions to God, declaring we are going to clean up our lives and restore our relationships with the Creator. Words such as self-denial, penitence, and fasting will be prominent in some prayers. We will ask for forgiveness and opportunities to start over yet again. We'll make promises that we know will be hard to keep.
At the end of all that, we'll say, "Amen."
When you say amen, you are ready to accept what God has to give you. God's response may not always be the answer you seek. But, by your amen, you are saying you trust God to make the right decision for you. You are surrendering your will to God's terms.
Will you be prepared to accept God's response? Are you willing to venture into the depths of growing stronger with God through the Lenten days leading to Easter?
Be careful what you pray for because you just might get it. AMEN!