“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. (Matthew 6:7 ESV)
I have to admit, sometimes (maybe a lot of the time) I can be a prayer critic. I try to start well. I close my eyes and think about what’s being said while trying to replicate the prayer and offer it to God. Shortly after that, though, something often happens.
Sometimes the person praying is talking so low that literally only he and God can hear what’s being said. Sometimes the person praying goes on and on and on and my simple mind simply can’t follow what’s being said. Sometimes the person preaching or teaching tries to repeat his entire sermon or lesson in the closing prayer.
But here’s the thing. In each of those cases, though I may not be able to follow along, God can. He doesn’t have trouble ciphering through whatever we utter.
And here’s another thing. I believe God hears every prayer that’s ever been made. Some may argue that “God only hears the prayers of His saints,” but I don’t think that’s technically right. God is everywhere and He is all-knowing, so He has to know what’s being said, right? But that doesn’t mean that God likes all of what He hears or is obligated to respond or act based on everything He hears in the entire world.
If we are in Jesus Christ, boldly approach or draw near to the throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16). If we are in Jesus Christ, we have a relationship with Him and we should want to grow and nurture that relationship. One way to not do that is to “heap up empty phrases” when we pray. The ESV Study Bible notes that the Gentiles would call out the names of their gods over and over hoping and expecting a response.
If we are in a relationship with God through Jesus Christ, we don’t have to offer a code word or catch phrase hoping for a response. We can simply call on our heavenly Father. If we are in Jesus, our prayers are not heard or judged based on the quantity of our words, they are based on us already being called into a relationship with Him.
In the previous verses of Matthew 6, Jesus is warning against practicing righteousness as the hypocrites do. The hypocrites were primarily the Pharisees, the folks in that society who were seen as the most religious. The Gentiles, as mentioned in this verse, would be seen as the least religious. Notice how Jesus covers both ends of the spectrum when warning us about prayer?
God wants us to call on Him. He wants us to pray to Him. But He wants us to pray to Him via the faith He has already provided. There’s no need to get fancy in front of others just so they can see us pray. There’s also no need to throw words into the air and hope something sticks. No, we have an Advocate who is interceding on our behalf so that we can approach the Father. And when our hearts are too heavy to even force out the words, we have the Holy Spirit who can interpret our groanings and offer them to God.
Lord, I don’t always pray as I should. Sometimes I’m just checking the box to get it done for the day. Other times, I don’t take it for the privilege it is. Sometimes I don’t even utilize the privilege. Lord, forgive me for this I pray. Help me to boldly approach the throne of grace and to utilize the gift of prayer You have given to me through Jesus Christ. In His name I pray, amen.