What am I saying?
Matthew 6:7-8 When you pray, don’t babble like the idolaters, since they imagine they’ll be heard for their many words. Don’t be like them, because your Father knows the things you need before you ask Him.
The Greeks and Romans of Jesus’ day believed that in order to get their god to pay attention to them, they must repeat their requests many times over. They assumed that the more their prayer was repeated, the better the chance that the god would hear them accurately and being repetitive would also give them a better chance at getting exactly what they wanted. A modern example of this babbling practice happens when someone advocates saying multiple “Our Fathers” or multiple Novenas to ensure that God gives us the answer we want.
While the pagans (and a few of us modern folks) may think we can arm-twist God based upon long, eloquent, repetitive, formal prayers…it seems that most of the prayers coming from the average Christian tend to babble, but in a slightly different manner. Have you ever noticed that when some people pray, almost every other word is “God” or “Lord God”?
“God, well, Lord God…we thank you God for the things that you, Lord God, have given us. And, God, we ask you, God, to help our friend, dear God, who’s really sick right now, Lord God”
In cases like these, God’s name has become a filler-word in their prayer, similar to the word “um” when we don’t know what to say next. When we find ourselves stumbling around in our prayers like this, it’s usually an indication that we’re more worried about what the others around us think of our praying skills than we are thinking about actually talking with God. If you remove every time God is named…the prayer is small, yes…but it is down to the essential issues of our hearts – and that’s where God wants to engage us in our prayers.
However, if verse 8 is correct, and your Father knows the things you need before you ask Him…why should we bother to pray? I mean, what’s the point of telling him something he’s already well aware of?
Since God approaches us using a Father-to-child model for our relationship with him, it can be instructive for us to think about our relationship with our own children. Since I am more experienced in life, as well as more mature and observant, than either of my boys…I know what they need before they even ask. In fact, most of the time, I am keenly aware of their needs before they even recognize them as actual needs.
While I could just fulfill every need as it comes up, doing so would actually hinder their growth toward adulthood. The recognition of the need, the struggle to handle the need, and the decision to ask for help with the need are all steps toward maturity. And all the while, I am ready, willing, and able to help…but my primary aim is not to fulfill all their needs, rather my goal is to shepherd them into maturity. There have also been multiple occasions where what my son thinks he needs is not necessarily what he truly needs in that moment.
When my boys approach me, I’m not looking for long-winded arguments to convince me, they’re not going to get anywhere repeating “Dad, Dad, Dad” multiple times during our discussion, and yes, I know what they truly need in that moment. Ultimately though, I love partnering with them as they grow up.
Based upon what Jesus has taught us about prayer, I’m certain that our Father in heaven feels the same way. We don’t have to dress up our words, and we can trust he knows what’s best for us. What he’s most interested in is relationship with us.