Matthew 6:7-8 (NIV) “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.”
In addition to the error of the Pharisees, publicly speaking beautiful prayers that never reached God’s ears because their goal was to impress the people around them, Jesus addressed another error that was common: praying long and repetitive prayers that were designed to persuade God to meet the needs of His people.
As Jesus pointed out, many of those who worshiped idols prayed this way. And they found that their prayers were ineffective. What they refused to acknowledge was that the ineffectiveness of their prayers did not stem from a problem with the style or volume of their words; it was a problem with their audience. Gods of wood and stone, even those carved in a very lifelike manner and covered with silver or gold, cannot hear, and have no power to answer. But this admission would strike at the very heart of their whole belief system, so instead of recognizing the root of their problem, they multiplied their words, hoping to strike on just the right combination that would work. (If you want to see a good example of this, see 2 Kings 18:25-29.)
But God’s people don’t have to pray like that, because God does hear, and He can answer. He doesn’t hear better or answer more quickly in response to a higher volume of words. And there is no magical combination of words or phrases that will move Him to act more quickly, or with more power.
Instead, God already knows what His people need before we even ask, and bestows many blessings on us that we never even think to ask for unless their provision is interrupted somehow. (Also, because God provides these as unasked-for blessings and not in response to a request, most of these provisions go unrecognized as blessings, so we don’t usually think to thank Him!)
When God’s people pray to Him, we can and should keep our prayers short and simple, with a focus on Him instead of on our needs. There is no need to try to pry blessings and answers out of His hands that He is already eager to bestow on those who love and obey Him. And it is no use to try to persuade Him to do things that are against His character, or that will do harm to the one asking, or that don’t serve to provide legitimate needs or to advance the kingdom of God. He won’t answer those prayers, no matter how many words we throw at Him, or how pretty those words are.
Father, we do have a tendency to run on in our prayers, or to try to make a strong case for what we are asking for. If only we would pay attention to what Jesus is saying here, I think our prayers would be more successful in what You designed prayer to be: not for trying to persuade You to give us what we want, but to help us to align ourselves with You and Your will, and to help us to recognize more readily where our provisions and blessing so come from, so that You don’t go unappreciated and un-thanked. Amen.