“When you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matthew 6:7-8)
HAVE YOU EVER BEEN AT a social gathering and you jumped in and joined a conversation because people were talking something that interested you? Have you ever tried so hard to impress people in a conversation by how much you knew about a particular topic? Have you ever felt like patting yourself in the back for capturing the audience and nailing your points with your impressive words and tear jerking humor?
Only to be interrupted by one person who looked straight in my eye and with a genuine concern say, “I have no idea what you are talking about.” I can still remember that conversation so vividly as if it were yesterday. I can recall how I used words thoughtlessly and carelessly in my big spiel to get attention. Desperate to impress others I succumbed to ramblings and repetitions. And just when I thought I was doing a great job, my friend who was bold and wise, confronted me with the truth that – even though my words were many, they were pointless and unclear. Many years have passed since.
Today, I am continuing to learn what it means to use words thoughtfully and clearly with no ulterior motives, but for the sake of the good of the relationship itself.
SIMILARLY, PRAYER FOR US INVOLVES words, feelings, attitudes, motives, and actions and is fundamentally about relationship. Prayer is not talking about GOD or impressing GOD or manipulating GOD but communing with GOD Himself. We pray not with ulterior motives but for the sake of the relationship itself.
In Matthew 6:7-8, Jesus is saying that “babbling” in prayer is wrong. To babble is to talk rapidly and thoughtlessly in a foolish, repetitive, excited, or incomprehensible way. People who worship other gods babble in their prayers. We can see that in the story of Elijah when the priests prayed to their god Baal. They called on Baal “from morning till noon,” calling louder and louder and even “slashed themselves with swords and spears” (1 Kings 18:25–29).
Jesus is saying when you pray, don’t do what the priests did to their god Baal. Don’t put on an act or try to manipulate GOD with your loudness, impressive words or crazy stunts. In other words, using prayer to put on a show of vain words/ actions, with an intention to impress or gain approval is WRONG. GOD knows your true intentions and knows what you need even before you ask Him. So quit beating around the bush and playing games with GOD in the name of prayer.
FRIENDS, PRAYER IS FIRST AND FOREMOST about our relationship with GOD. May we not get fixated on whether our prayers are short or long or if they are eloquent or inarticulate. When we run out of words, let us not feel compelled to fill the silence with vain repetitions or meaningless words. Jesus is not saying that short prayers are better than long prayers as He himself spent long nights and many hours in prayer. Sometimes your prayer may be long because there are a lot of things on your mind and you have a lot of things going on in your life, in your church or around the world. But sometimes there is not much on your mind and a simple prayer or silence can be just as effective. One is not better than the other.
What is important is that you don’t use prayer to impress or manipulate GOD or people. May we pray openly, intimately and genuinely with no ulterior motives, but for the sake of our relationship with GOD.
Samuel Williams is co-founder & content director at Fluid. He is also the teaching pastor at Avenue Community Church in Toronto, Canada.