Amen and Amen!

by Lois Tverberg

Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel, from everlasting even to everlasting. And let all the people say, “Amen.” Psalms 106:48

It is interesting to note that the most widely known word on all the earth, across the most languages, is the word “Amen,” a Hebrew word. Jews, Christians and Muslims all use this word in prayer, and it generally moves unchanged from language to language. Even in the Greek of the New Testament, the word was written literally as “amen” rather than a Greek translation being used.

The word “amen” is related to the Hebrew words “emunah” (faith, belief, trust) and “emet” (truth). It means something like, “This I affirm,” or “Let it be so.” It was used throughout the Old Testament as a response, as when blessings or curses were read as part of a covenant, and all the people said “Amen.” When psalms were sung, the people would respond, “Amen.” The leader didn’t say it – it was a way of the people to proclaim their agreement with the liturgy they heard. (See today’s verse.) In Jewish prayer today, this is still done. After the leader recites the prayer, the audience follows with “Amen,” in effect saying, “I affirm this prayer also, let it be so for me too.”

Some scholars believe that there has been confusion in our understanding of Jesus’ use of “amen.” He often began speaking with an “amen,” which has been thought to be a way to emphasize his own words. In the King James, it is translated “verily” and modern translations remove it altogether, and substitute “I tell you the truth.”

Robert Lindsay, a scholar of the first century Jewish context of Jesus, believes that Jesus actually used “amen” as it was used by the rest of h is society – as a response of affirmation of something else that precedes his words. For instance, when the centurion tells him that by just saying the word, Jesus can heal from afar, Jesus says, “Amen! I tell you, I have not seen such great faith in Israel.” (Matthew 8:10) The beginning “amen” is an exclamation of enthusiasm in reaction to hearing the man’s statement of faith. Jesus responded to the people and situations around him with a loud “amen” sometimes, and didn’t just underline his own teachings with that word.

“Amen” isn’t just the natural end of a prayer, it is a way of saying “I most certainly agree!” Whether we say it at the end of our own prayers, or use it to agree with the prayer of another, may all our prayers reflect this wholehearted agreement with the words we have prayed, and our response of faith to God’s answers.

The Mystery of Prayer

by Lois Tverberg & Bruce Okkema

Now return the man’s wife, for he is a prophet, and he will pray for you and you will live. But if you do not return her, you may be sure that you and all yours will die. Genesis 20:7

The story above occurs while Abraham was living in Gerar, the land of King Abimelech. When the king’s eyes fell upon Sarah, he desired her and took her to be one of his wives. But before they had become intimate, God spoke to Abimelech in a dream and said that he was in great danger of Gods’ judgment because he had taken another man’s wife. Abimelech protested, claiming his innocence in that he had not known that she was a married woman. God told him because this was true, he was warning the king so he wouldn’t suffer for his offense.

One fascinating aspect of the story is that God told Abimelech that when Abraham would pray for the king, he would live. The implication is that God would wait to spare Abimelech until after Abraham had interceded. It seems like very odd logic that God himself would not release the king until Abraham prayed! We have a similar story at the end of book of Job. God was angry with Job’s counselors and said to them,

“I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has… My servant Job will pray for you, and I will accept his prayer and not deal with you according to your folly. (Job 42:7-8)

Does it strike you as strange that God would bind himself to waiting on a person’s prayers? He even tells us to pray for someone else so that he can take action. The sins in these situations have been committed against both God and man, yet could it be that God desires forgiveness between his people so much, that he asks for evidence of their forgiveness before he shows his own?

It is a mystery to us that God in some way constrains himself to working in response to prayer. Why the creator would wait for mankind to ask, when he knows the outcome and certainly does not need our advice, is beyond our understanding. Yet, he wants us to pray, and we can conclude that he is waiting for us to pray in order to accomplish his purposes.

Let us continue to pray faithfully, and let us never cease to wonder at his mystery.

Praying with Intention

by Lois Tverberg

“Who may ascend into the hill of the LORD? And who may stand in His holy place?
He who has clean hands and a pure heart. ” Psalm 24:3

The prayers that Jesus and Paul prayed were a combination of spontaneous petitions and traditional prayers that were prayed at certain times of day. One of them that is still prayed today is called the “Amidah” or “Eighteen Benedictions.” (1) It is quite lengthy, and consists of prayers for all the various concerns of the Jewish people. For thousands years since Jesus lived, these petitions have stayed nearly the same.

In contemporary Protestant culture, we tend to disdain rote prayer, preferring the intimacy of spontaneous prayer and feeling that a repeated prayer is empty and hollow. We wonder how a person could avoid just “going through the motions.” The answer is a concept that the rabbis developed known as “Kavanah.” The word means “direction,” “intention,” or “devotion,” and the idea behind praying with kavanah is that you set the direction of your thinking toward God, and toward praying the memorized prayer “with all your heart.”

A person who has kavanah focuses his entire being on prayer, and is undistracted by the chaos around him. He may have said the same prayer a thousand times, but his mind is sunk so deeply into the words that he is experiencing new insights and feelings from them today that he has never experienced before.

In synagogues, above the ark that holds the Torah scrolls, there is often a plaque that says, “Know before whom you stand.” That is just what it means to have kavanah in prayer – to have a sense of standing in the presence of God, to know that you are addressing the sovereign Lord of the universe.

When I used to pray after crawling in bed, I would often fall asleep before finishing my prayer. After thinking about the lack of reverence this has for God, I now make myself kneel or stay awake in some way, or pray at a time of day when I’m more awake. He deserves our best, not our least efforts in prayer.

Kavanah can go beyond prayer as well – our lives should also show it too. We should live each hour and day with devotion and intention, being aware of God’s presence all around us. When we do this, our lives will truly be the reflection of Christ, whose every desire was to please and honor God in every way.


1The Amidah: A New Translation, by David Bivin, is available here.

Giving of His Wisdom

by Lois Tverberg

For the LORD gives wisdom, and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding. Proverbs 2:6

The week I became aunt to a new niece, our family was praising God for her, but her birth was not routine. It was still about a month before my sister-in-law’s due date when she woke up bleeding. She was rushed by ambulance to the hospital for an emergency C-section, which saved the baby’s life and perhaps her own.

As we discussed it, we realized that if our family had lived 100 years ago, my brother would have lost his daughter and maybe his wife that day. Thinking back, we realized that many in our family would have died of serious illnesses for which only recently has there been medical care.

This reminded me of a traditional prayer that Jewish people use to praise God when they hear of a great advance in knowledge in medicine or other areas:

Blessed art Thou, Oh Lord our God, King of the Universe,
who gives of His wisdom to flesh and blood.

They also have a prayer to praise God when they hear particularly inspired preaching of the scriptures. Then they say,

Blessed art Thou, Oh Lord our God, King of the Universe,
who gives of His wisdom to those who revere Your Name.

There is a lot of wisdom in these prayers. Christians have an easier time understanding the second, that it is God who inspires us about the scriptures. But the other prayer shows another even more surprising truth – that God is also sovereign over “secular” knowledge too.

We can sometimes be tempted to believe that God is threatened by human knowledge, and that scientific advances are a challenge to his power. For instance, some feel it is unspiritual to seek medical help, and that only prayer for healing is God’s will. If man healed us, then God was not involved. In Judaism, however, a prayer is said before taking medicine which praises God for this gift and asks Him to use it to heal them. They see God’s presence in what we would say was our own accomplishment.

There is great wisdom in realizing that even the greatest human discoveries are gifts from God, and that God is sovereign over what mankind achieves too. No matter where exploration and discovery lead us, God, in his infinite wisdom, is far beyond even that.

Clothing the Naked

by Lois Tverberg

“`For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’ ” Matthhew 25:35-36

Since Jesus’ time, Jews have been encouraged to fill their days with short prayers to constantly remind themselves that God is the source of every blessing in their lives. A number of these are said traditionally in the morning while a person gets ready for the day, and the one that is said while dressing is the following:

Blessed art Thou, oh Lord our God, King of the Universe, who clothes the naked.

This prayer is also said on another occasion – when putting on a new garment from the first time. One Jewish school teacher starts each day by asking students if anyone is wearing anything new that day, and if so, the whole class recites this prayer.

This prayer and its practice I found very rich, and pointing toward some things for which I needed to be reminded. First, clothes are such a small part of my budget, and readily available, that I never thought to give thanks to God for them. I’ve been overwhelmed by blessings, and hardly think about the amazing abundance even in my own closet. Truthfully, until hearing about this blessing, I didn’t think of God as having input on small needs, or that He may even have an opinion on how I spend money on things like this.

It reminded me of the real use of clothes as they were intended, to protect and cover our bodies, to warm us and give us modesty. Do we really think of that when we spend great amounts of money and time on being fashionable? Or when we evaluate others as people by how well they have observed the current modes of fashion? Our shallowness is unmasked when we see clothing through God’s eyes rather than through the eyes of a materialistic, vain culture.

Last, it reminded me that just as I have been clothed, Jesus points out that I need to have concern about clothing the naked too. In Uganda, I saw many children in dirty, ripped clothes, knowing that those were all they had. I need to live so that I can help in supplying the most basic of needs to them as well.

The Other Lord’s Prayer

by Bruce Okkema

“This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” John 17:3

One of the most moving experiences of my devotional life centered around this prayer of Jesus. We were involved in a small group Bible study working through the book of John. On the particular week that we were to study John 17, the leader asked if we could do something a bit out of the ordinary to begin our lesson, and to this day, if you asked anyone who was there, I’m sure they will remember it.

The leader said, “I would like to play the role of Jesus, and I would like you to imagine that you are His friends who are there with Him in the final hours before He went to the cross. At the same time you are listening as if you were there, also think about how Jesus was looking far into the future and including all of us in His conversation with His Father.” Then the leader turned down the lights and prayed Jesus’ prayer for us.

I am asking you now to hear this prayer in that same spirit as you read it through. Be listening to how much Jesus loves you, and how He selflessly pleads for you before His Father. Then please carry these wonderful thoughts throughout the rest of your life, sharing them with others who need to know along the way.

Jesus spoke these things; and lifting up His eyes to heaven, He said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify Your Son, that the Son may glorify You, even as You gave Him authority over all flesh, that to all whom You have given Him, He may give eternal life. This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent. I glorified You on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do. Now, Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.
I have manifested Your name to the men whom You gave Me out of the world; they were Yours and You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word. Now they have come to know that everything You have given Me is from You; for the words which You gave Me I have given to them; and they received them and truly understood that I came forth from You, and they believed that You sent Me. I ask on their behalf; I do not ask on behalf of the world, but of those whom You have given Me; for they are Yours; and all things that are Mine are Yours, and Yours are Mine; and I have been glorified in them. I am no longer in the world; and yet they themselves are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep them in Your name, the name which You have given Me, that they may be one even as We are. While I was with them, I was keeping them in Your name which You have given Me; and I guarded them and not one of them perished but the son of perdition, so that the Scripture would be fulfilled.
But now I come to You; and these things I speak in the world so that they may have My joy made full in themselves. I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth. As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth.
I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me. The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me.
Father, I desire that they also, whom You have given Me, be with Me where I am, so that they may see My glory which You have given Me, for You loved Me before the foundation of the world.
O righteous Father, although the world has not known You, yet I have known You; and these have known that You sent Me; and I have made Your name known to them, and will make it known, so that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them.” – John 17:1-26

Prayer is the Soul’s Sincere Desire

by Laura Tverberg

“Lord, teach us how to pray.” Luke 11:1

This was one of my favorite hymns as I was growing up, and still is today. It is a wonderful description of prayer in all its forms. I haven’t heard it in churches in years, but I wish this meaningful hymn would be sung again.
— Mrs. Laura Tverberg (Lois’ mother)

Prayer is the Soul’s Sincere Desire

Prayer is the soul’s sincere desire
Unuttered or expressed;
The motion of a hidden fire
That trembles in the breast.

Prayer is the burden of a sigh,
The falling of a tear,
The upward glancing of the eye
When none but God is near.

Prayer is the simplest form of speech
That infant lips can try
Prayer the sublimest strains that reach
The Majesty on high.

Prayer is the Christian’s vital breath
The Christian’s native air;
His watchword at the gates of death;
He enters heaven with prayer.

Prayer is the contrite sinner’s voice
Returning from his ways
While angels in their songs rejoice,
And cry, “Behold he prays!”

Oh Thou, by whom we come to God,
The life, the truth, the way!
The path of prayer Thyself has trod;
Lord, teach us how to pray.

James Montgomery, 1818


This text comes from the 1912 Lutheran Hymnal. It is from a copy given to my mother, Gertrude Ritland on April 29, 1929.

Have Faith in God

by Lois Tverberg

“Have faith in God,” Jesus answered. “I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, `Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” – Mark 11:22-24

This statement is a real struggle for many of us. Some people tell those who are in crisis that it is only when they have enough belief that a miracle will happen that God will perform it for them. So many hurting hearts have been crushed by a statement that their faith is too weak for God to answer their prayers. How can it be that by sheer force of our imagination that we can force God’s hand in one direction?

I had an answer a few years ago in a relatively minor crisis. A little cat of mine who was very shy got loose one day when I was out of town. When I returned home, Raisin had been lost for several days, starving, unable to come back because of her skittishness around people. I remember begging the Lord to bring her home.

As I was praying for her, I started wondering if I was supposed to have perfect faith in the idea that I’d get my cat back in order for God to answer my prayer. Then it hit me that the faith that we are supposed to have is not in the outcome, but in God himself. God wants us to be absolutely convinced of his love for us and in his power and desire to take care of us.

So my prayer changed. I said, “Lord, I know that you are good and that you have heard my prayer, and I can trust your answer to my prayer, whether or not you bring Raisin back.” The emphasis shifted from the cat to the fact that God was good, and that I could always trust that.

It was a true surprise when Raisin was rescued a few days later in a seemingly miraculous way, when my neighbor found her curled up in the engine compartment of her car, dirty, gaunt, and with a paralyzed paw. I know that my prayers did not “earn” her return, and that it was out of sheer grace that God answered in this way.

I’m almost embarrassed to share this story when others struggle with greater needs. But it did teach me that God didn’t really need me to fervently imagine a certain outcome before he would answer a prayer. He is good, powerful and loving, and whatever answer he gave, I could still be assured of this most important fact of all.

The Prayers of Children

by Laura Tverberg (Lois’ mother)

“Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the Kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” Luke 18:15-17

A very old hymn has these words:

Prayer is the simplest form of speech that infant lips can try;
Pray’r sublimest strains that reach the Majesty on high. – James Montgomery, 1818

Even though children now don’t see Jesus in person, they can visualize Him in their mind’s eye as they’ve seen Him in any of the many paintings depicting Jesus with children. They are naturally able to trust, because they are entirely dependent on others. It makes it possible to receive God’s kingdom, as Jesus said, with the trust that everyone needs. Children learn by imitating, and by sitting quietly with folded hands at prayer time at home, they will learn simple petitions. Their hymns of praise are surely pleasing to our Lord Jesus. Thinking of Jesus as a close friend is helped by remembering the words of the familiar hymn, “What a friend we have in Jesus . . . what a privilege to carry everything to the Lord in prayer.

Many people whose learning ability is limited are also able to offer prayers with confidence that they are heard by a loving Lord. A Christian friend said that when she is asked to pray for others, she has her disabled adolescent daughter also offer intercessory prayer. That was a surprise to me, but how good to know that such persons, childlike, in a way, offer prayers which are pleasing to the Lord and receive His blessing.

Time to Pray

by Bruce Okkema

But the news about Him was spreading even farther, and large crowds were gathering to hear Him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus Himself would often slip away to the wilderness and pray.” Luke 5:15-16

“It was at this time that He went off to the mountain to pray, and He spent the whole night in prayer to God.” Luke 6:12

When I examine my life as to whether I am spending enough time in prayer, I have yet to be able to say that I am. Even when I devote a lot of time to this, it seems I can always do more. Is this true for you as well?

Jesus spent a lot of time in prayer everyday as we read in many accounts throughout the gospels. As a faithful Jewish man, he would have prayed the full Shema1 twice every day, as well as the “Amidah” or “18 Benedictions”2 at the very least. If you try this yourself, you might be surprised at how long it takes, but you will begin to realize why this was done.

Perhaps you do want to pray more, but you just can’t think of any new ways to make your prayer life deeper. You are not alone, there are many people who feel this way and as long as you make a commitment to do something about it, you can be encouraged that there are many places to turn for help.

The best place to start, is to pray specifically for God’s help in improving your prayer life. It is almost certain you will get a positive answer; can you imagine that the Lord would not help you in this? You can also begin using scripture as a guide for your prayers. Study some of the great prayers of Abraham, Moses, David, Elijah, Isaiah, Jesus, Paul, Peter … praying them for yourself. Also, look at any Christian bookstore and you will find many books on prayer with good ideas about where to start and suggestions on methods to use.

Of course the difference is not made by the quantity of time you spend in prayer or about a particular method you use, but rather your sincerity in doing it. Try to follow Jesus’ example of praying often and praying long. You will find that that more time you spend in prayer, the more time you will want to spend in prayer.


(1) See the English Translation of the text of the full Shema
(2) ”The Amidah Prayer: A New Translation” by David Bivin