There are some pretty awful prayers out there. The Sinner’s Prayer is an awful prayer for all sorts of reasons that have been well rehearsed, not least by evangelicals, particularly the version where, as the climax to a manna-back guaranteed four-part plan of salvation, you say it on the Naughty Step (otherwise known as the Anxious Seat). The Prayer of Jabez is another God-awful prayer. I think of it as the Thirty Days Mind-Loss Manifest Destiny Prayer: daily reiteration for a month of the petition “enlarge my border” and Bingo! – you’re a soteriological imperialist.
But the most awful prayer of all has got to be the Justwanna Prayer. This is a corporate prayer. It works best when you form a circle (facing inwards) and sit slouching forward, in something like the position one is told to assume by flight attendants in case of a plane crash. (Holding hands is optional, particularly among hormone-rich adolescents who might thereby be sexually distracted). Then off goes one of the group: “Father, I/we justwanna praise you for this, and justwanna thank you for that, and justwanna ask you for the other thing.” Why is this so awful?
One reason is the brain-numbing heart-sinking spirit-sapping repetition of the phrase, as it is invariably picked up and echoed by the next pray-er, and then the one after that, and then the one after that, … “world without end”. Often the initial vocative “Father” is also religiously repeated, as if God might suddenly forget his paternal identity and think he’s a Second Cousin.
What makes the repetition even worse is that the “justwanna” is grammatically redundant. Why “we justwanna thank you”? Why not, simply, “we thank you”? What work does the “justwanna” do? Syntactically, none whatsoever. It should be struck out with a red prayer pen.
Actually, however, the “justwanna” does do some work – work, however that makes you justwanna puke. It goes with the body-language of the slouch. You might even call this the Uriah Heap Prayer for its “umbleness”. Humility? No, false humility, because the obsequiousness suggests (a) that we are not really asking for all that much, so it ill behoves God not to give us what we ask for, unless (b) we justwanna do great things for God, like have a mission and save the atheists, Muslims, and lost folk at St. Gargoyle’s from eternal, painful, if pointless, perdition, in which case, still with hand-wringing self-abasement, we give God alone the glory.
Finally, one might ask why this atrocious prayer has such staying power. The answer is not far to seek (apart from sheer inertia). The Justwanna Prayer is a shibboleth. It’s the badge that you are a certain kind of Christian, the saved kind of Christian. It’s a sort of Masonic handshake: those who don’t punctuate their prayers with “justwanna” are not part of the guild, and must either be cold-shouldered or initiated into this arcane rite. Perhaps by first saying the Sinner’s Prayer or the Prayer of Jabez.