The English author Lynne Truss wrote a clever book about punctuation called Eats, Shoots & Leaves. The book’s title comes from the grammatical misstep of a student who wrote an essay about pandas and tried to explain their plant-based diet. These creatures, the writer meant to explain, “eats shoots and leaves.” Unfortunately, the student inserted an unnecessary comma, making the panda sound like a gun-toting critter that starts a fight in a restaurant. The panda “eats, shoots and leaves.”
Tiny commas can make a big difference. Consider the two words please God.
With a comma inserted between them, those words become a meaningful prayer—one I have lifted up to the Father many times. I’m guessing you have offered such prayers as well. “Please, God, have mercy on me.” “Please, God, let me pass this test.” “Please, God, heal my sick friend.” “Please, God, help me make the right decision.” “Please, God, calm my nerves.” “Please, God, get me out of this mess!” It’s natural to cry out to our heavenly Father when we’re in times of need.
Remove the comma, though, and instead of a prayer those same two words have a different slant. Now they state a vision to pursue: “Please God!” Several passages of Scripture exhort us to make pleasing God a personal priority. The apostle Paul urges us to “make it our goal to please him” (2 Corinthians 5:9) and to “find out what pleases the Lord” (Ephesians 5:10). Hebrews 13:16 exhorts us, “Do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.”
To be honest, in my own relationship with God, I tend to insert the comma more often than not. It’s natural for me to pray, “Please, God,” because I am quite conscious of my own worries and needs. But how often do I analyze how my attitudes and behaviors can “please God”? It’s fine to ask God for blessings, but do we also make every effort to please the heavenly Father and bring him delight?
Faith in God’s Faithfulness
Abraham’s wife Sarah provides a fascinating character study. She traveled with her husband to a previously unknown land, faced the frustration of infertility, endured the indignity of her husband passing her off as his sister, and waded through the conflicts that resulted from Abraham fathering a child with another woman. When God promised to give her a son, at first Sarah reacted with laughter that sprang from delight and wonder (perhaps mingled with a touch of skepticism). But in the end, Sarah believed God, received his promised blessing, and made her mark in history as a person of great faith. She found that the Lord always proves himself faithful (Hebrews 11:11).
At first, I imagine Sarah’s prayers were the kind that included the comma. “Please, God, let me have a baby.” It was the kind of earnest request that flows out of a broken heart, begging God to intervene with blessings we long to receive. I will keep saying such prayers as long as I live. But as I grow in Christ, I also hope my faith will lead me not only to ask, “Please, God, will you do this for me?” but also to say, “God, how can I please you?”
David Faust serves as the Associate Minister at East 91st Street Christian Church in Indianapolis, Indiana.
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