Let the Amen Sound Again1
Amen is one of those words that we just don’t seem to agree on how to pronounce. Is it AH-MEN or AY-MEN? I am not sure we will ever come to a consensus. However, there seems to be disagreement on more salient points. When do we say it? Do we say it loud? And what does it mean after all?
I have had the opportunity to live in different countries and American states and to worship in several languages among various people groups. I have found that Amen is not exclusive to Christian worship but is also used by Jews and Muslims. If there is one word that crosses cultural barriers and transcends ethnolinguistic differences, it is Amen. Most say Amen loud, at various points in a prayer (similar to “yes Lord”) and at the end of every prayer (agreeing with the one praying: “let it be so Lord!”). This is true in other parts of the US and in other denominations. Yet I noticed there seems to be an unspoken rule in some milieus: you only say Amen at the very end of all prayers (or sometimes you say it if you want to cut prayers short!). I also found our Amens to be oftentimes anemic or subdued in our corporate and small gatherings. I wonder why such a marvelous and enigmatic word has become a ritualistic ending to prayer. Kevin DeYoung once said that Amen is not Christianese for “prayer over.” I wholeheartedly agree!
Amen peppers most of Scripture. It denotes faithfulness, reliability, and the people’s agreement with God. The first one in the Old Testament is found at the end of Numbers 5:22. In Isaiah 65:15 which discusses oaths, God is called the God of truth (“God of Amen” in Hebrew). The Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6 ends with Amen. While most modern New Testament translations have a few Amens in them, if you’ve read a KJV, you will come across the Amen repeated twice especially in the Gospel of John nearly before every time Jesus speaks, beginning in John 1:51: “Amen, Amen I tell you…” Our modern translations render it: “Truly, truly” or “verily, verily.” Jesus in fact uses this Aramaic/Hebrew word (pronounced AH-MEAN) to emphasize the truth of what he is about to say. It is his way of saying “Thus says the Lord.” Beyond the Gospels, and outside doxologies and letter endings, Paul seems to indicate that hearers should follow prayers with saying Amen (1 Cor 14:16). In 2 Corinthians 1:20 where he emphasizes the truth of Christ’s promises, he defines Amen as a strong agreement with God, for his glory.
So the Amen should be said at the end of every prayer if we are in agreement with the one who is praying, for the glory of God. In Revelation 7:9-12, we find a vision of the multitude of the redeemed praising God and the Lamb. Afterward the angels, elders and creatures around the throne start their praise and end it with loud Amens! In the Old Testament times, the people responded with loud Amens, sometimes in repetition (Psalm 89:52).
We sing loud (I hope!). We cheer loud! We argue loud! In our corporate worship, let us say the Amen loud! Say it strong! Mean it! And if in our smaller circles someone is praying out of brokenness or deep pain, do not sit there silent. Let the one who is praying know you are following and understanding, listening and agreeing. This is one way of affirming one another in the body of Christ. If not Amen, then say “Yes”, or “Yes Lord”, or send a small hum in agreement. When a brother is praying with an open heart, affirm him. When a sister is pouring her soul to our Father, agree with her. And when it comes to saying the Amen, say it at the end of every prayer. Say it in the middle! Begin your prayer with it! Say it frequently, for his glory. Amen reminds us to pray according to God’s will, trusting his grace to hear our prayer, having the confidence that he promised he will.
Martin Luther wrote this about saying Amen:
[Y]ou must always speak the Amen firmly. Never doubt that God in his mercy will surely hear you and say “yes” to your prayers. Never think that you are kneeling or standing alone, rather think that the whole of Christendom, all devout Christians, are standing there beside you and you are standing among them in a common, united petition which God cannot disdain. Do not leave your prayer without having said or thought, “Very well. God has heard my prayer; this I know as a certainty and a truth.” That is what Amen means.
Amen, like our creeds and hymns, unites us with believers from all nations and languages, in all places and at all times, for the glory of God. Amen! Come Lord Jesus!