The Right Words Matter

ALT="The Lord's Prayer"

By Davalynn Spencer @davalynnspencer

Years ago, after landing a job at our local newspaper as a crime-beat reporter, I attended a journalism workshop that stressed the importance of tight writing.

The Lord’s prayer has 66 words, one handout noted. Lincoln’s incomparable Gettysburg address, only 286.

The point: less is more.

The pointed example: “Mother’s dead.”

As a novelist today, I still apply many rules I learned as a journalist.

Of course journalism is not fiction. At least it didn’t use to be. But in the pursuit of tight writing, authors—like journalists and speech makers—spend quite a bit of time searching for just the right words.

The comment about the Lord’s Prayer led me to realize how concise the scriptures are while brimming with metaphor, simile, and story.

Each word matters. No deadwood floats upon the waters of wisdom. No fluff fills the pages. Each word is specifically and carefully chosen, as in, “Let there be light.”

God started the whole show with just four syllables.

When the Word became flesh in Jesus, people began to understand even more about the Creator who spoke light from darkness.

As an author, I strive every day to say the right thing the right way, and often it’s that very striving that straps me to a literary treadmill. Lots of work, lots of words, no forward movement.

Therefore, in the quiet hours of most mornings, before the world crashes in, I take time apart, often penning my prayers in a small journal. Recently I asked for direction regarding a current work in progress and I wrote, “Show me, Jesus.”

Pausing, I looked at the sentence, then copied it again without the comma.

Show me Jesus.”

The absence of that little squiggle made a big difference and created questions in my mind.

Which of my two written requests was more important? Which did I need more than the other?

The answers were defining.

Rather than mere direction, I needed the Director.

Rather than answers to the next storyline, I needed the Answer.

As I set myself aside that morning and sought the peace of His presence, my ears opened, my mind cleared, and my eyes saw—all because of three words without a comma: “Show me Jesus.”

An old gospel spiritual, said to have originated during the dark days of open slavery in this country, presents several stanzas that are answered by a simple three-word chorus: “Give me Jesus.”

The original singers of this song could have cried out, “Give me, Jesus.” Give me freedom. Give me liberty. Give me the help I so desperately need. But they sang that line without a comma, asking for the source of comfort Himself.

Today I hope to make my similar three-word prayer the song of my heart – Show me Jesus. For I know if I choose that concise and pointed phrase over all others, everything else will fall in line.


They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request.
“Sir,” they said, “we would like to see Jesus.”
John 12:21 NIV


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7 thoughts on “The Right Words Matter

  1. Years ago, I sang that song acapella to a few hundred people, in a somewhat dark sanctuary. I’ve since heard it performed with a full band, and in a somewhat “country” style.
    I don’t think it’s meant to be anything other than a mournful spiritual sung without accompaniment. In my humble opinion, the lyrics and the origin do not mix with anything other than voices, simply because the song is the prayer of a broken-hearted people, whispered in the darkness.
    I still sing this to myself, and to Jesus.

    1. davalynn

      I can hear it in your voice, Jennifer. I can hear it in your heart.

  2. Lori Smanski

    this is a very good post. thanks for sharing today.

    1. davalynn

      Thank you for reading, Lori. I’m glad you enjoyed it.

  3. Phylis Moore

    Thank you Davalynn…excellent, and I echo
    Show me Jesus, but also,
    May Jesus be seen in me.

  4. Phylis Moore

    Thank you Davalynn…excellent, I echo
    Show me Jesus, and I also say
    May Jesus be seen in me.

    1. davalynn

      Amen, Phylis!


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