Read Matthew 6:5–15
And 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
When I was living with a performance-oriented mindset nothing was more contaminated than my prayer life. I figured if I prayed longer, earlier, more earnestly, with more spiritual words, then I’d please God more and get more positive answers! On my knees? Even better. Flat on my face? How spiritual of me!
Reminds me of the old joke: Two boys staying with their grandma kneel beside their beds one night to pray. First the older son prays briefly about how much he’d enjoyed the day. Then the younger son starts, but he prays much louder than his brother, practically screaming as he requests a long list of bikes and toys. When he’s finally finished the older brother asks him, “Why were you praying so loud? God’s not deaf!” and the younger one answers, “Yeah, but grandma is!”
Well, I was praying as if I had to break through God’s deafness or inattention.
I honestly think I got this idea from the parable of the unjust judge in Luke 18:2–5. The Bible says Jesus told this story so His disciples would “pray and not give up” (v. 1). But I wrongly interpreted it to mean that God is like the judge: not really interested in my problems, but if I pester Him enough He’ll hear me. So I spent hours on my knees. I thought I might, as Bill Hybels puts it, “wear Him down and wrench a blessing from His tightly closed fist.”
But a parable is not an allegory, where every single element means something else. Instead it’s more like a joke — a story with a punch line, only in the case of the parables it’s a punchy truth. The truth here is that if even an unjust judge will respond to a politically unimportant person’s repeated request, then how much more does your loving Heavenly Father hear you.
But you are not like the widow, and God is not like the judge. First of all, you are not poor and abandoned like the widow — you are the beloved child of God and a co-heir with Christ! Second, God is not like the judge at all — He’s not crooked or uncaring or indisposed, but righteous and loving and always available.
This is the misconception behind legalistic prayer that Jesus corrects in Matthew 6. You are not heard “because of your many words.”
So how should you pray? The Lord’s Prayer that follows is a great model of prayer that really is saying grace.
First, it’s short. About 50 words. That implies total confidence that God is listening. No babbling to impress God here.
Second, it starts with the words Our Father. Never forget you’re a child praying to a Father who couldn’t love you more than He does right now.
Third, it’s a prayer of surrender. Thy will be done. It’s not all about you.
Fourth, your needs are expressed simply: Give us this day our daily bread. No begging or bargaining. Why do that with a gracious God?
And fifth, it reminds you to give grace like you desire grace: Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.
Nothing will revitalize and relax your prayer life more than really saying grace! And in prayer and meditation, instead of endless requests, you’ll spend more time in contemplation of the really moving wonder of God’s grace! That starts tomorrow!
How would you summarize what Jesus teaches about prayer in Matthew 6?
How can you avoid the trap of performance-oriented prayers?
Try the Lord’s Prayer model today: First pray the very words of that prayer, with meaning. Then use it as a pattern for a prayer in your own words — express adoration, surrender, gratitude for grace, and request strength to be gracious to others.