Matthew 6:7-8 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.
Living in Japan, I have always associated the sort of prayer that Jesus said not to imitate with the Buddhist practice of repeating set phrases again and again. It certainly applies to that, but just now I realized that even in some Christian circles, repeating certain rote prayers a given number of times is considered good practice. That’s rather sad, really, in light of what Jesus says here. I do not doubt such people’s sincerity, but their faith seems somewhat misplaced at best. As Paul said about the Jews of his day, “I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge.” (Romans 10:2) Sincerity needs to be coupled with knowledge of the truth. Much of our religious practice is based on our projecting our qualities on God, rather than seeking to know Him through His Word and understanding that to whatever degree we are like Him, it is because He has created us that way (Genesis 1:27) and He works to transform us into the image of His Son. (2 Corinthians 3:18) Jesus certainly taught persistent prayer, (Luke 18:1-8) but that’s not at all the same as repeating rote prayers. Written prayers can be powerful at times, if they are appropriated fully by the one praying, and they can certainly be a good “kick starter” for when we don’t know how to pray, but too often they are no more than sounds with essentially no meaning because they have become too familiar. From the Buddhist side, I have a friend whose father and brothers are all Buddhist priests. She has quite a few sutras memorized, but she will confess freely she doesn’t really know what they mean; they are simply sounds to be repeated. (They are in Sanskrit.)
I personally pray the Lord’s Prayer regularly, but I rarely just say it as it is printed. Rather, I use it as a pattern, and flesh it out with details from my own circumstances. (Larry Lee did a very good exposition/expansion of the Lord’s prayer quite a few years ago, which with his permission I annotated with relevant Scriptures and put on our church website.) I find that I am praying the first part of the Lord’s prayer quite often, because with everything going on in the world, praying that He would be recognized as holy and that His kingdom would come as His will is done is about all I can do. I link that in my mind and heart with Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane, because as much as I might want things to be a certain way, I know that God’s will being done is absolutely the best that could happen. As a pastor, my highest desire is that each person in my care develop a strong, intimate relationship with their heavenly Father, and I know that will not happen without prayer. That’s why it’s so distressing to me that so few seem to care about gaining a habit of prayer. The daily Bible readings from today on are on the theme of prayer, and I will be preaching/teaching on the subject as well, but I’ve got to back that up with my own prayers that the Holy Spirit would open their eyes and give them a hunger for more intimacy with Him.
Father, thank You for the home in which I was raised, in which prayer was as natural as breathing. Hardly anyone I minister to was raised in such a home. Help me understand where they are coming from so I won’t assume too much, but rather take them by the hand and walk them into Your presence, not lecturing but guiding, so that they may come into the relationship with You for which they were created, for their incalculable blessing and Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!