O God, teach me how to pray not only more effectively but also in a way that is more pleasing to You.
Read Hosea 14:1–9
Return, Israel, to the Lord your God.
Your sins have been your downfall!
2 Take words with you
and return to the Lord.
Say to him:
“Forgive all our sins
and receive us graciously,
that we may offer the fruit of our lips.
3 Assyria cannot save us;
we will not mount warhorses.
We will never again say ‘Our gods’
to what our own hands have made,
for in you the fatherless find compassion.”
4 “I will heal their waywardness
and love them freely,
for my anger has turned away from them.
5 I will be like the dew to Israel;
he will blossom like a lily.
Like a cedar of Lebanon
he will send down his roots;
6 his young shoots will grow.
His splendor will be like an olive tree,
his fragrance like a cedar of Lebanon.
7 People will dwell again in his shade;
they will flourish like the grain,
they will blossom like the vine—
Israel’s fame will be like the wine of Lebanon.
8 Ephraim, what more have I to do with idols?
I will answer him and care for him.
I am like a flourishing juniper;
your fruitfulness comes from me.”
9 Who is wise? Let them realize these things.
Who is discerning? Let them understand.
The ways of the Lord are right;
the righteous walk in them,
but the rebellious stumble in them.
New International Version (NIV)
Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
“May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer” (Psa. 19:14).
I know the sayings, “Actions speak louder than words” and “there’s a lot more said than done.” Yet today I want to say something in praise of words, for today’s reading exhorts the people to “take words” with them as they return to the Lord (2). Of course, we want
to avoid empty words and idle talk—but words matter, or I would not be writing and you would not be reading. Words shape our thinking and our doing. Indeed, speaking is a form of doing. Without words, it is difficult, perhaps impossible, to express our thoughts, hopes or regrets, sorrows, dreams or cares. Words are essential to expression and may be necessary even for thought.
In evangelical circles, we tend to prioritize spontaneity and extemporary expression, but this passage favors the careful use of words. “Take words,” says Hosea. Then he specifies what words should be brought. He lays down a form of liturgy. “Forgive all our sins and receive us graciously, that we may offer the fruit of our lips. Assyria cannot save us; we will not mount war-horses. We will never again say ‘our gods’ about what our own hands have made, for in you the fatherless find compassion” (2,3).
When we are insincere, we “weary the Lord with our words” (cf. Mal. 2:17). Yet this is true whether our words are spontaneous or rehearsed. The advantage of using prepared liturgy is that we can take the time to think about what we are going to say. Whether we write the prayers ourselves or use the work of others, the act of poring over a text can help sharpen our focus and hone our commitments. Especially when praying with others, thoughtful words can transform prayer. Again, words matter.
Think about your use of words in addressing God and in speaking with others. What does your language say about you? How might you improve it in prayer and conversation?
Lord, You said to pay attention to what we say because every idle word will be brought forth on the other side (Matt. 12:36). Keep me aware of what I am saying.