“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.” Matthew 6:7-8
Do you ever feel like you don’t know what to pray? That other people pray “better” than you? I know in different seasons of my life, I’ve been both very moved by how powerfully other people pray and frustrated with myself that my prayers don’t seem as good as theirs.
Yet Jesus is not bothered by what my prayers sound like: He’s concerned about my heart!
As Jesus talks to his disciples in the Sermon on the Mount, He talks about the difference in people’s prayers. Jesus is quick to point out that we should not pray like “hypocrites [who] love to stand and pray […] that they might be seen by others” (Mt. 6:5). Jesus says that people who make a big show of praying for attention have already gotten what they wanted (attention from others).
Instead, Jesus tells his disciples that they should pray to God in a quiet, secluded place. It can feel humbling (and maybe even a little scary) to come by ourselves to God with simple words and seemingly trivial requests, but what Jesus says next in verse 8 brings me the assurance that simply showing up and talking to God is what matters: “Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”
How loving is our God that even though He already knows our thoughts and desires, that He wants to have our participation in the relationship. He wants to hear our hearts, in our own words, and meet with us there. We don’t have to be concerned about “getting it right” because we are already cared for and loved just as we are.
On the subject of how we should pray, Rob White, author of Teach Us to Pray, says this: “Praying for a long time, using many words or repetition doesn’t mean we are more likely to get God’s attention. I don’t really know why we feel that God will hear us more clearly like that. This Scripture makes clear that it’s not about words, length, or repetition, because God knows anyway. It’s about quality–the right heart attitude, concentrating on what we’re doing, trying to live a life that doesn’t contradict our prayer life–not quantity.”
I encourage you today to set aside your ideas about what you think prayer “should” sound like, and instead focus on sharing your heart with God. Be yourself and trust that He loves you, listens to you, and understands your weakness, joys, and needs. Our communication with God is one of the most important things about our spiritual lives, and the more time we spend praying with Him, the sweeter and easier it gets.