covet someone’s prayers; earnestly covet someone’s prayers

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It’s a classic line: “We covet your prayers at this time.” But are Christians allowed to covet anything, even prayers? Read on…

(? Click here for an audio podcast version of this post. ?) A Texas reader of the blog writes in and says:

I’ve heard people say “I covet your prayers” and “we earnestly covet your prayers.” But whenever I hear people say the word “covet” I think of the Ten Commandments and “Thou shalt not covet” (Exodus 20:17). What’s the story on “coveting prayer”? Can people do that, and where did the saying come from?

Praying Without Ceasing or Coveting
Austin, TX

Great question! Thanks for contacting me via the Facebook page! I’m letting everyone know that they are welcome to ask questions about Christianese via the Facebook wall. Feel free to post on the Dictionary of Christianese wall or send me a private Facebook message. If you send a message, let me know if you want me to quote your note, and if you want me to use your name or an alias. I’ll be thrilled to hear from you!

But let’s skip the commercials and get on with your question. The Christianese idiom “covet prayer” or “earnestly covet prayer” isn’t in the Bible, so there’s the answer to that part of your question. But just because a phrase doesn’t appear in the Bible, that doesn’t mean Christians can’t use it. The word Trinity doesn’t appear in the Bible either, and for that matter neither does the phrase New Testament. But just try to talk about the Christian faith without ever using the words Trinity or New Testament! That would be a tricky proposition.

Nowadays when we think of the word “covet” we typically think of the Ten Commandments and how we’re not supposed to covet anything, especially not our neighbor’s wife, his stuff, his ox, or his brand-spanking-new cherry red convertible Porsche. Basically, if your thought ever begins with “I sure do covet my neighbor’s…” then hit the eject button immediately!

But it wasn’t always this way when it came to coveting. Older translations of the Bible use the word covet in a positive sense. For example, the King James Version of the bible (published over 400 years ago in 1611) says that Paul instructed the Corinthians to covet the spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy. Back in 1611, the verb covet was just a neutral word that meant “to really want.” I suspect that after 400 years of memorizing the King James Version of the Ten Commandments, the only time we ever heard “covet” was when a broken commandment was involved. Does nobody read 1 Corinthians in the King James Version anymore? Anyone?

Bear in mind that not all Christians use the expression covet prayer, and obviously it’s not a phrase that Christians are required to use. But if you’re around people who do use the term, just remember that all it means is “I want prayer.” Your ox and Porsche are perfectly safe around these covetous people.

Do you have another word you’re curious about? Use the contact form in the sidebar and let me know!

covet prayer v. phr. To greatly desire the prayers of fellow Christians.
This expression might seem strange because the Bible warns people not to covet. But in the KJV we read that Christians are to “covet earnestly the best gifts” (1 Corinthians 12:31) and “covet to prophesy” (1 Corinthians 14:39). So the expression simply uses an obsolete meaning of the verb covet which is “to strongly desire.”
The expression is sometimes intensified with the adverb earnestly (see citations for 1781, 1866, 2011).
Instead of “coveting” prayers, one can always “ask” for them; simply say that “prayers at this time would be appreciated.”
1781 MacGowan Discourses on the Book of Ruth and Other Important Subjects xxii : I feel a total incapacity of standing one moment of myself, much more so if being of any the least use to my hearers, without a divine blessing. Therefore I earnestly request, yea, I even covet your prayers for me. 1866 The Eng. Presbyterian Messenger 176 : We have never heard a single murmur from our missionaries in regard to salaries, but how earnestly do they covet the prayers and sympathies of our people! 1965 Ward Fraser of Trinity and Achimota 319 : We covet the prayers of our friends and we give much time to prayer for them. 1975 Bryant The Morningside Man: A Biography of James Pickett Wesberry 150 : “I am looking forward to this as one of the most thrilling and interesting experiences of my life,” Jim told his congregation, “and I covet your prayers daily.” 1980 Coleman “The Language of ‘Born-Again’ Christianity” in Proceedings of the Annual Meeting of the Berkeley Linguistics Society vol. 6 139 : Unique evangelical terms: … “covet” (in “I/We covet your prayers”) counts as a request for prayer. 2011 Crosmun Legacy of Faith 161 : We earnestly covet your prayers, both for the place to which we are going, and for the work we are leaving behind.
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