May 26, 2017

Rattling off those prayers?

God knows my heart when I am send up prayers that sounds like every other prayer, that ask for the same things without thinking about what I am saying. These are usually prayers of duty and not a matter of genuine appeal to God. People who pray regularly know what I mean.

Sometimes people pray with flowery language, hoping to impress others, wanting to be seen and admired for being pious. Jesus spoke against both kinds of praying . . .  

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them . . . . And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”

He followed this admonition with, “Pray then like this: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:1–15)

Jesus warned His disciples not to fall into prayer as a repetitive duty or as a means of impressing those who heard them pray. Instead, He told them to come before God in secret if need be. Their praying was a conversation with God, not a performance.

He warned about repetition, yet did not forbid repeatedly praying the same request. On another occasion, He illustrated prayer with a story of a man who went to a friend late at night because he needed to borrow bread. The friend replied: ‘Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything’?

Jesus said, “I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his impudence (persistence) he will rise and give him whatever he needs. And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.” (Luke 11:5–10)

This kind of persistent prayer comes from a burdened heart and a sincere need, not from repeating meaningless or silly words. For instance, I’ve heard prayers that repeat the Lord’s name in every sentence. While the praying person means well, we don’t normally talk like this . . .  George, will you hear me, George? I have this burden in my heart, George, and know that you, George, are the only one who can take it away. George, please hear me out, George . . .

I don’t talk to others without thinking about my words — why then do it in prayer? Jesus said that unbelievers did it to impress others. That is shameful. I don’t pray to people but to Almighty God. He is worthy of my full attention.

The prayer Jesus taught His disciples is really an outline for prayer, an example of the content that should be included and the attitude I should have while I pray. I’m to honor His name, desire the fullness of His Kingdom and that His will is done. I acknowledge that He rules and am in submission to His will. I also ask for daily needs, forgiveness of sin, protection, and so on, praying with reverence and thinking about His glory.

Sadly, the ‘Lord’s prayer’ is often prayed with mindless repetition, just as Jesus warned. We prayed it in school (back in the days before prayer was illegal), at weddings, at funerals, even in the morning and at bedtime, but often without thinking what we were saying, or that we are talking to God, our Creator and heavenly Father.

Jesus, I’ve often prayed because I knew I should, talking to You from a list of requests and usually saying, “God bless so-and-so . . .” without thought of what that person needed, or what You might want for them. Thank You for putting up with that bad habit, and for helping me learn to sincerely converse with You — fully engaged and aware of who I am talking to — and that You are not only listening but sharing Your thoughts with me.

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