Every so often you’ll hear people get into a discussion on the “shortest ____ in the Bible”. The blank can be a lot of things. The shortest verse (John 11:35), the shortest parable (Matthew 13:44), the shortest presentation of the Gospel (most would say John 3:16, though I think I’d tend to argue Romans 5:8) etc.
Tonight, as I was washing dishes (of all things), I think I realized what the shortest prayer is. Let me take you to the account in which it is found: Matthew 14:22-33.
Immediately [Jesus] made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them. And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”
And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
Did you see it? There, on Peter’s lips, as he is overtaken by waves… “Kyrie, soson me”… “Lord, save me!”
Three words, but it’s all there.
First, you have Peter addressing Him to whom he is praying. “Lord” he says. This is not some pagan prayer to Poseidon. It is not some pantheistic prayer to the waves themselves to spare him. Rather, it’s a prayer to the one sovereign creator, much as the Psalmist in Psalm 18:4-6.
The cords of death encompassed me;
the torrents of destruction assailed me;
the cords of Sheol entangled me;
the snares of death confronted me.
In my distress I called upon the LORD;
to my God I cried for help.
From his temple he heard my voice,
and my cry to him reached his ears.
Second, you have the lone petition: save me! What could be a more basic, and indeed more necessary request? What could be more vitally important to ask for, when speaking to the Lord? This is the crux of everything for us as sinners in need of grace.
Third, I just have to note this. Notice what is missing here. Peter does not bargain with or wheedle Jesus. He does not try to “make Him an offer He can’t refuse”. There are no promises (“Hey, get me out of this and I’ll help you feed more people; I’ll be a good boy; I’ll not deny you three times…”) or “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” overtures. Rather, Peter, being in mortal terror as he sees death lunging out of the deep waters to drag him to the pit, recognizes that his only hope is in the mercy of his Lord. Peter sees that when the chips are down, he has nothing to offer in exchange for his life, to save it from certain destruction; all he has is a prayer for grace.
So there you have it, I’m calling this the shortest complete prayer in the Bible. It’s got everything: it identifies Who it is to, and what it is for.
This Advent season, let us with joy follow Peter’s example and remember Who has come to us, and what He came for. That is, Jesus, Kyrios, the Lord has come, to save, soson, me and you.
He sent from on high, he took me;
he drew me out of many waters.
– Psalm 18:16