Arrow prayers, flash prayers, bullet prayers… and missile prayers, hurry prayers, and microwave prayers. All these are quick prayers said (or thought) at a moment’s notice.
The Bible doesn’t go into too much detail about names for different kinds of prayer—pretty much all the imaginative metaphors for quick prayers that we have today were invented by everyday Christians within the past 100 years. The earliest one, arrow prayer, was coined sometime in the late 19th century.
What’s particularly interesting is that once we had the first “airborne weapon” prayer—the arrow prayer—it wasn’t long before a variety of copycat terms arose. After arrow prayer we got dart prayer, and then came missile prayer and bullet prayer. These prayers are getting faster and faster!
And then, since airborne weapons aren’t fast enough for us, we see the arrival of flash prayer (as fast as a camera’s flashbulb!) and microwave prayer. It seems that in every generation, people have looked to the latest technology to find a metaphor for our quick, convenient prayers. It reminds me of how the technology of e-mail prompted someone to coin the term knee-mail.
These terms for prayer are not without their critics, though. If someone talks about prayer on the run or microwave prayer, there’s a 50/50 chance that they’re making a critique of prayers that are too short and too quick. For a different example of someone criticizing hasty prayers, look at sense 5 under the definition of popcorn prayer.
Have you ever prayed hurry prayers or trouble prayers or any of these other kinds of quick prayers? Do you have a Christianese name for them that I don’t have here? Let me know in the comments!
If you want to learn more about any of these kinds of prayers, have a look at the quotations under each definition. That will also give you an idea of how long these terms have been around.
arrow prayer n. [in allusion to the speed with which an arrow can be notched and shot; also see below] A brief, spontaneous, urgent, specific prayer; a prayer made without interrupting what one is presently doing; a prayer consisting of just a few heartfelt words such as “Help, God!”
A formal, technical term for this kind of prayer is ejaculatory prayer or ejaculation, both ultimately from the Latin noun jaculum ‘an arrow, spear, dart, missile; an airborne weapon intended to be thrown quickly’ (see 1891 citation; at *flash prayer, see 1977 citation). According to the Oxford English Dictionary, two meanings of the noun ejaculation are “the putting up of short earnest prayers in moments of emergency” and “a short prayer ‘darted up to God’ in an emergency.”
Other terms for ejaculatory prayer are: *bullet prayer; *dart prayer; *flash prayer; *hurry prayer; *instant prayer; *microwave prayer; *missile prayer; *Nehemiah prayer; *prayer on the run; *trouble prayer. Note that while the imagery of arrows, bullets, darts, and missiles in these terms certainly stands on its own, these images also allude to the Latin noun jaculum as described above.
Nehemiah, the central figure of the Old Testament book of Nehemiah, is sometimes mentioned in connection with ejaculatory prayer because verse 4 of Nehemiah 2:2–6 seems to refer to an ejaculatory prayer he made during an audience with Artaxerxes, the king of Persia (see citations for 1977, 1982, 2006; at *bullet prayer, see 2011 citation; at *dart prayer, see 2003 citation; at *microwave prayer, see 2003 citation; at *missile prayer, see citations for 1993 and 2003; also see *Nehemiah prayer).
See also *Jesus prayer; *shoot a prayer.
• 1879 The Friend LII. 45 : Every time when we feel our need, let us say, “Lord help!” I believe I have seen it reported that this was the celebrated Rowland Hill’s constant aspiration as he walked, or in connexion with religious engagements. He called it “his arrow prayer.” 1891 Hastings The Expository Times II. 284 : Arrow prayer: … We usually give it the longer and more awkward name of ejaculatory prayer. But what the Romans called “jaculum” is with us an arrow; and to our English ear the English word better describes the arrowy flight of the swift thought-appeal to God. 1902 Jowett Thirsting for the Springs: Twenty-Six Weeknight Meditations 207 : In his straights he “cried unto the Lord.” It was a short, sharp, urgent prayer. There is a phrase in one of Rutherford’s letters which it may be useful to quote just here. “Fervour is a heavenly ingredient in prayer; an arrow drawn with full strength hath a speedier issue; therefore the prayers of saints are expressed by crying in Scripture.” This was the kind of arrow-prayer that sprang from the tense feelings of this imprisoned soul. 1908 Fallows Health and Happiness: Or, Religious Therapeutics and Right Living 6 : Whatever the prayer, whether it is publicly or privately expressed in words, or simply breathed, or even thought; whether it is the swift-arrow prayer sent up in the stress of a busy, trying hour, the prayer of quiet receptivity when the rhythmic sounds of Nature speak to the listening soul with God’s voice. 1959 The Living Church CXXXIX. 98 : For minor, spur-of-the-moment blessings that come to us during the course of the day, brief “arrow” prayers that can be “shot up” heavenward wherever you are. For example, if you are reading the paper, and there learn of the good fortune of someone you know, why not take just a few seconds to say the Gloria Patri: “Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.” Or you can be even briefer with a prayerful “Thanks be to God.” 1960 Pittenger The Pathway to Believing 143 : Sometimes these are called “arrow prayers”—quick darts of faith, of hope, and of love, acts in which we send our thoughts to God in any place or under any circumstances. 1965 Concordia Theological Monthly XXXVI. 161 : Whether it be the formal liturgical prayer as God’s people come together or the “arrow” prayers shot so quickly to God in our hour (year or second) of need, we are honoring and praising Him with trust that in Him alone is our help. 1977 Bryant Climbing Higher: Mountaintop Meditations for Each Day of the Year 000 : Nehemiah didn’t get down on his knees and have a half-hour prayer session there in front of the king. He shot off an arrow prayer to God right then, because he wanted God to be in his answer to the king. And God answered Nehemiah’s arrow prayer. You can’t find God on the run. You have to be willing to take the time necessary to come into His presence. 1982 Hepburn Lead, Follow or Get Out of the Way! 116 : I want to react as Nehemiah did when he was intimidated by his opponents—snide remarks about the workers’ inability to do the job and how foolish they looked trying to clear away the rubble to get to the construction site. Nehemiah sent one of his famous arrow prayers to the Lord, and kept right on building! 1985 Bright Transferable Concepts for Powerful Living 99 : We are told to pray without ceasing, to talk to God about everything, to shoot “arrow prayers” in His direction as we go through the day. We ask for wisdom in difficult places. We thank Him for blessings as they occur. 1986 Buth The Employed Wife: Earning a Living, Making a Home: A Christian Perspective 20 : Send silent “arrow prayers” (brief and to the point) during tense business conferences. 1986 The Lutheran Standard XXVI. 199 : Sometimes a conversation with a friend will uncover a deep need, and I’ll shoot off a silent “arrow-prayer” right at that moment, asking God to meet that need. 1990 Whiteside George Otto Simms: A Biography 66 : Prayer was not reserved for fixed periods on his knees, for his work, thoughts and prayers were inextricably linked. As he went about his daily duties he prayed; sometimes they were arrow prayers, instant reactions to some piece of bad news. 1999 Achtemeier Not ’Til I have Done: A Personal Testimony 113 : All through the day I offer little “arrow prayers” to God. If an ambulance goes by on the street, I ask God to take care of the patient in it. If a family member is traveling, I pray God’s protection of them. When I return safely home from a speaking trip, I thank God for returning me to loved ones. 2000 Gruman–Trinkner A Special Gift: A Devotional for Mothers of Children with Unique Challenges 000 : A friend of mine told me she shoots up arrow prayers all day long. In confusion, I asked what an “arrow prayer” was. An arrow prayer is a quick prayer shot straight up just like an archer would shoot an arrow into the sky. The release is quick. 2005 Dennis The Jesus Habits 23 : You can pray at any place and at any time. Some people call these “arrow prayers”; you shoot them up immediately upon a need entering your life. You don’t even have to close your eyes and get on your knees. 2006 Yancey Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference? 183 : Jews and Christians both, following the example of Nehemiah, shoot “arrow prayers” toward heaven, messages as brief as “Give me strength” or “Help, Lord!” 2007 Savage My Heart’s at Home: Becoming the Intentional Mom Your Family Needs 54 : And then other times we make a request for a quick dose of wisdom—I call these arrow prayers. They are like shooting up an arrow to God with a single question in mind, such as, “What do I do here, Lord?”
flash prayer n. [in allusion to the brief flash of a camera’s flash bulb (see citations for 1968 and 1977a)] Syn *arrow prayer.
The term flash prayer is frequently attributed to Frank Laubach (1884–1970), a missionary (see citations for 1952, 1977, 1979, 1999).
• 1948 International J. of Religious Education XXV. 30 : Then there are flash prayers. These are quick prayers for guidance and strength when we face some problem, such as “O God, help me to tell the truth,” or “Of God, help me not to lose my temper.” 1952 Peale The Power of Positive Thinking 64 : Dr. [Frank] Laubach believes that actual power is generated by prayer. One of his methods is to walk down the street and “shoot” prayers at people. He calls this type of praying “flash prayers.” He bombards passers-by with prayers, sending out thoughts of good will and love. He says that people passing him on the street as he “shoots” prayers at them often turn around and look at him. 1954 Laubach Channels of Spiritual Power 95 : It is a wonderful thing to shoot silent flash prayers at people whom we meet. If we are sitting in a church or a railroad train, it is good to pray for the people who are around us. 1967 Andrew, Sherrill God’s Smuggler 85 : I knew I didn’t have funds for such a trip. “If You want me to go, Lord,” I said in a flash prayer beneath my breath, “You will have to supply the means.” 1968 Johnson Learning to Pray: a Guide for Beginner Groups 42 : Here are practical techniques that you can use as you cultivate constant fellowship with God. Flash Prayers: Just as a flash illuminates a person in front of a camera, so a flash prayer illuminates a person in the presence of God. These inner prayers can be prayed without closing one’s eyes, moving one’s lips, or changing one’s body position. 1971 Cassels The Reality of God 95 : Spontaneous prayers—the “flash prayers” that spring from our hearts at moments when we are particularly frightened or worried or relieved or grateful—are indeed precious. 1977 Freer, Hall Two or Three Together: A Manual for Prayer Groups 95 : “Ejaculatory”—from the “jacula” or “spear,” thrust ahead—a prayer tossed ahead as though hurled from the heart toward God above. Dr. Frank Laubach and others today speak of “flash” prayers, the sudden illumination of the flash gun in taking of a photo. 1979 Ray Art of Christian Meditation 54 : It is important in your quest for a deeper awareness of God to take prayer moments throughout the day. Use short, sentence prayers—“flash prayers,” as Dr. Frank Laubach calls them. 1980 Hardman Ingredients of the Christian Faith 103 : Throughout the day, other opportunities can be seized—times which might otherwise be wasted. A ride in an elevator? A minute’s wait at a traffic light? Each provides a moment to offer to God what some have called “flash prayers.” 1981 The Lutheran XIX. 14 : Children need to know the value of flash prayers, to be told: “Pray with your eyes open, wherever you are, whenever you need help.” 1986 Hart The Hidden Link Between Adrenalin and Stress 60 : Such prayer has become a lifestyle for many Christians. And while “flash” prayers in odd moments can be helpful, a prayer life that consists entirely of praying “on the run” is hardly conducive to spiritual growth. 1999 Caine, Kaufman Prayer, Faith, and Healing: Cure Your Body, Heal Your Mind, and Restore Your Soul 162 : Also known as flash prayers, a term thought to have originated with turn-of-the-century missionary and literacy advocate Frank Laubach, arrow prayers are brief intercessions that can be ordered lightning-fast in any situation. 2004 Hontz Listening for God: How an Ordinary Person Can Learn to Hear God Speak 83 : Learn the value of “flash” prayers. Anytime you are talking to someone, quickly and silently ask the Lord to help you know how best to respond to that person. 2007 Fernando Jesus-Driven Ministry 167 : Following Paul’s admonition to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17), we can send what are called “flash prayers” or “arrow prayers” for people at different times of the day.
dart prayer n. [in allusion to the speed and spontaneity with which a dart can be thrown] Syn *arrow prayer.
• 1957 The Living Church CXXXIV. 22 : This is a book to help people to pray better, largely by making use at odd moments—as, for example, when they are riding on the bus or engaged in some more or less mechanical operation—of brief forms of devotion, “dart” prayers, and the like. 1986 Klug Bible Readings on Prayer 32 : Our lives provide us with many opportunities for such “dart” or “flash” prayers. They come naturally in times of crisis, when we cry out for the Lord’s help. 2001 Fuller When Couples Pray 20 : We had uttered our own individual, silent “dart” prayers as we raced to the emergency room with Justin during an asthma attack. 2003 Carter They Knew How to Pray: 15 Secrets from the Prayer Lives of Bible Heroes 129 : Nehemiah’s prayer jumped out of his heart on a moment’s notice. We could call it a dart prayer, a missile prayer, an arrow prayer, or a heavenly telegram.
bullet prayer n. [in allusion to the speed and accuracy of a fired bullet] Syn *arrow prayer.
• 1985 Muck Liberating the Leader’s Prayer Life 159 : Another pastor … said his most effective prayer time was while driving. He described his prayers as bullet prayers lifted quickly to God for action on others’ behalf. 1989 Rydberg How to Survive in College 44 : When you believe that God is your closest friend, that he loves you and wants you to express what’s on your mind, you can feel free to fire off some quick prayers (some call them “bullet prayers”) as you meet people, take a test, work on a paper [etc.]. 2011 Fry Rekindled Flame: The Passionate Pursuit of God 131 : As we wait on God for quick confirmation, we can send up “bullet prayers,” like Nehemiah did.
missile prayer n. [in allusion to the speed and accuracy of a launched missile] Syn *arrow prayer.
• 1999 Larcombe An Angel Called Mervin: The Christian Story Through Celestial Eyes 85 : I’m not talking about those missile prayers of intercession. [footnote:] Nehemiah 2:4–5. 2003 Carter They Knew How to Pray: 15 Secrets from the Prayer Lives of Bible Heroes 129 : Nehemiah’s prayer jumped out of his heart on a moment’s notice. We could call it a dart prayer, a missile prayer, an arrow prayer, or a heavenly telegram. 2013 McMenamin When a Mom Inspires Her Daughter 144 : So I breathed a missile prayer—Help me, Lord.
Nehemiah prayer n. [in allusion to a prayer made by Nehemiah; see verse 4 of Nehemiah 2:2–6; also see *arrow prayer] A brief, spontaneous, urgent, specific prayer; a prayer consisting of just a few heartfelt words such as “Help, God!”; an *arrow prayer.
• 1969 Short Real Success and How to Achieve It 175 : Then there are “Nehemiah prayers”—sometimes called “arrow prayers.” Nehemiah was a Jew in the service of the Persian king, Artaxerxes. While waiting on his royal master, the king noticed that he looked sad. The fact was that he had just received bad news from Jerusalem. On the spur of the moment, the king asked him what he could do to help. An immediate reply was expected. Nehemiah tells us: “I prayed to the God of heaven.” In the middle of his conversation with the king, he spoke to the King of kings, and received inspiration to frame an appropriate response. 1989 Briscoe Before You Say Amen 19 : Discuss a “Nehemiah prayer” (a “Help!” prayer) you have prayed and God has answered or one you need to pray. 2005 McDonnall Facing Terror: The True Story of How an American Couple Paid the Ultimate Price Because of Their Love of Muslim People 126 : I said a quick Nehemiah prayer—Father, help me—and walked casually down the hall, trying my best to hide my nervousness and excitement.
microwave prayer n. [in allusion to the speed and convenience of cooking with a microwave] Syn *arrow prayer.
Sometimes microwave prayer carries a negative connotation (see citations for 1989, 1997, 2010).
• 1989 Gazowsky Teach Me to Pray, I’m Falling Asleep 11 : The “microwave” prayer: Living in an “instant” society has made many Christians demand immediate responses to prayer requests. If we don’t get “service” real quick we go somewhere else. Often prayers sound like this: “In the name of Jesus heal my daughter, Amen”; or, “Thanks for the food, Amen!” By using a minimal amount of words, we get right to the point, and then expect an answer just as quick. 1997 Sanders Seize the Moment, Not Your Teen: The Art of Opportunity Parenting 20 : Don’t try to get in touch with the God of gods and Lord of lords with a quick, flippant, microwave prayer on your way out the door with a thousand other things on your mind. 1998 Keefauver Lord, I Wish My Husband Would Pray with Me: Breaking Down the Spiritual Walls Between You and Your Husband 23 : There are occasions for instant, microwave prayer precipitated by emergencies, crises, and immediate needs. 2002 Warren The Purpose-Driven Life 207 : I call this a “microwave” prayer because it is quick and to the point: Help! SOS! Mayday! When temptation strikes, you don’t have time for a long conversation with God; you simply cry out. 2003 Young High Definition Living: Bringing Clarity to Your Life’s Mission 46 : In Nehemiah 2:4 he prays a powerful microwave prayer. You know the type: Time. Cook. Five seconds. Beep. Send to God. In essence, Nehemiah was saying, “God, help.” 2003 Gondola Pray Like This: Sermons on the Lord’s Prayer 57 : This same pastor encourages us, when tempted, to use a “microwave prayer.” Not a long prayer: just a kind of “Help!” “Mayday!” “S.O.S.!” 2010 Talaya 40 Days’ Journey to the Feet of Christ 173 : There are times for microwave prayers, and there time for real and sincere prayer!
hurry prayer n. [a prayer made hastily, or when one is in a “hurry”] Syn *arrow prayer.
• 2009 Pondt The Decline and Subsequent Resurgence of Fasting in the Church 91 : So much of the Christians prayer life is hurry prayer or microwave prayer … a quick “Help me” in times of crisis, and a quick “Thank you” when we receive an answer.
instant prayer n. [a prayer made at the “instant” that one needs help] Syn *arrow prayer.
• 1889 Gordon Ecce Venit 42 : Such “instant prayer” we may all well learn to offer, in the midst of our necessary work constantly sending up ejaculatory petitions that we may be delivered from the present evil world. 1981 MacNutt The Prayer That Heals: Praying for Healing in the Family 64 : If you begin to do this, if you are willing to get down to the work of praying and not settle for the “cheap grace” of an instant prayer, you will begin to see wonders take place. 1988 Elliot Loneliness: It Can Be a Wilderness, It Can Be a Pathway to God 19 : I sent up an instant prayer for help in showing her what God might be up to. 1994 Habenicht How to Help Your Child to Really Love Jesus 151 : A quick prayer many times puts things in perspective. Teach your children about “instant prayers”–prayers on the run. 2002 Warren The Purpose-Driven Life 207 : When temptation strikes, you don’t have time for a long conversation with God; you simply cry out. David, Daniel, Peter, Paul and millions of others have prayed this kind of instant prayer for help in trouble.
prayer on the run n. Syn *arrow prayer.
Sometimes prayer on the run carries a negative connotation (see citations for 1990, 1991, 2002).
• 1981 Evans Give Us Our Daily Bread: Asking for and Sharing Life’s Necessities 31 : I am grateful for prayers on the run, especially because they allow me to talk to the Lord all day long—“prayer without ceasing”—and still do his work in a practical sense. 1985 Guest Only a Prayer Away: Finding Deeper Intimacy with God 114 : “Prayer on the run” is living with the Lord in the little events so that when the crises occur, prayer is not a “panic move.” 1990 Littauer Make the Tough Times Count 243 : If you never have time for study and only shoot up prayers on the run, you may not ever hear His counsel or know His will. 1991 Roberts Revival 137 : Prayer on the run is surely important but absolutely insufficient. Specific, extended daily periods must be set aside for communion with God. 2002 Ingram I Am with You Always: Experiencing God in Times of Need 233 : I believe prayer is the most difficult, rigorous discipline—at least for me—in the Christian life. By this I mean honest prayer, not prayer on the run, not just the prayers prayed while driving in the car, or while drinking a cup of coffee, or around the dining table, not prayer that is hit or miss.
trouble prayer n. [a prayer made when one is in an emergency or some other “trouble”] Syn *arrow prayer.
• 1994 Habenicht How to Help Your Child to Really Love Jesus 151 : Tell them about “instant prayers” or “trouble prayers.” For example, when they hear a little voice in their minds telling them to do something they know is wrong, but they’d like to do it anyway, a “trouble prayer” will bring lots of angels to help.