The danger always exists in our lives of allowing otherwise special things to become common or routine. There are things we do every day like eat lunch, watch the news, and drink coffee. There are things we do weekly like go to church and shop for groceries. There are things we do yearly like celebrate Thanksgiving, Mother’s Day, and our birthday. There are, however a limited number of both seldom and rare events which take place in our lives such as a wedding day, the birth of a child, a 20 year high school reunion, or the death of a parent. The more rare an event, the more special we tend to treat it.
One of the biggest challenges in our lives is to take something we do often and keep it special as though it were rare. Marriage, for instance, frequently becomes a victim of familiarity and two people who once considered the other as extremely special are now taking one another for granted. Our prayer lives, just like other areas, can become stale, haphazard, and even sloppy if we do not work hard at keeping it fresh and sincere. In our relationship with God there is an ongoing tendency to get worse and not better, that is unless we work hard at not letting the relationship slip and deteriorate. The most common symptom this is happening is that prayers become recitations of a few familiar phrases with no real meaning attached. Jesus knew this would be a problem so He warns His disciples about the tendencies and dangers concerning prayer.
Jesus taught the disciples not to use what He called “vain” or “meaningless” repetition (Mat. 6:7-8). The phrase “Use meaningless repetition” is one word in the Greek and refers to idle, thoughtless chatter. The Scribes and Pharisees used repetitious prayers; in fact, it had become their tradition to do so. Other Jews may have prayed that way simply because that is how they had been taught. Others, however, resorted to repetition because it was easy and demanded little concentration or effort. The proud hypocrites were trying to use God to glorify themselves when it came to prayer. The Jews had picked up the practice of “receptiveness,” in prayer largely from the Gentiles, who believed that the value of prayer was significantly tied to quantity. The longer the better was their way of thinking. They truly believed they would be heard for their many words! Jesus explained that those who prayed to these pagan gods thought their deities first had to be aroused, then cajoled, intimidated, badgered into listening, and finally answering as a sort of concession to the one making the request. There is an example of this in 1 Kings 18:26-29 where we read of the Prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel carrying on and on thinking that finally their god(s) would hear their prayers and answer them.
Jesus never forbade the repetition of genuine requests, in fact several passages point to the importance of persistence (asking, seeking, knocking). Even Jesus, in what is known as His High Priestly Prayer in John 17, knowing His fate, prayed vehemently that “This cup might pass from Him.” What Jesus condemns is the mindless, thoughtless, heartless, indifferent recitals of what sounds like prayer but is not.
True prayer is offering sincere requests to God. God knows our every need before we even ask because He is omniscient (all knowing). Martin Luther said “By praying . . . we are instructing ourselves more than we are Him.” The purpose of prayer then is not to inform or persuade God but to come before him sincerely, purposefully, consciously, and devotedly.
Prayer is sharing the needs, burdens, and the hungers of the heart with our Heavenly Father, who already knows what we really need. God’s love for us is exponentially greater than our love for Him. Prayer is, in many ways, stepping back and giving God the opportunity/place to manifest His power, majesty, love, and guidance in our lives or in particular situations. John 14:13 says, “And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” To pray rightly is to pray with a devout heart and with pure motives. It is to pray with single attention to God rather than to other men.
When one thinks of prayer, perhaps the name of St. Francis of Assisi comes to mind. It is said that he was so close to Christ that he even bore on his body the marks of the cross. St. Francis knew so much about prayer that he prayed one of the greatest prayers that has ever been recorded on this earth. “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace; where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; and where there is sadness, joy. O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood, as to understand; to be loved, as to love; for it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying we are born to eternal life. Amen” (St. Francis of Assisi) God always repays our sincere devotion with a gracious response. Every indication is that God is ready to pour out His blessings on His people. He is ready to give. Are you really ready to receive?
Dr. Allen Raynor, Pastor