Prayers God Will Not Hear: Repetitions part 2
The goal of this series is to examine the many different categories of prayer which cause God to turn a deaf ear. This installation in our prayer series focuses on identifying and avoiding what Jesus called vain repetitions. Read Matthew 6:5-15 to see if God is listening to your prayer.
In Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount teaching about prayer, the Savior gives several core ingredients for God approved prayer, and who better to lecture about prayer than God in the flesh? In Matthew 6:5-15, the Lord emphasizes that prayer should magnify God rather than man. Prayer should be intentional. Prayer should be sincere. Prayer should leave man feeling dependent on God, his provider and sustainer. These four points crudely summarize the fundamentals of Jesus’ teaching here.
One key feature of Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 6 begs our attention. “And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathens do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words,” (Matt. 6:7). The idea of repeating the same words over and over in rhythmic fashion may incur thoughts of ancient monks. But do not be mistaken, monks are not the only culprits. Clearly there was widespread practice of recited prayer in Jesus’ day, but this practice lives still. Think about what has been dubbed the Model Prayer from v. 9-13 of this same chapter. What prayer has been recited with more frequency than the very prayer that followed Jesus’ statement, “Do not use vain repetitions?” In my own experience, every pre-game huddle in middle school and high school baseball concluded with the team repeating the Model Prayer in unison. Perhaps such vain repetition is the reason we always lost. On an individual level, many people vainly repeat the same prayers over and over and over. Stop and think about prayers spoken at church. Some are predictable. Some include archaic phrases that no 21st century human uses except in Wednesday night prayer. Words, phrases, and entire prayers can quickly and innocently evolve into vain repetitions.
Prayer should be intentional and sincere: this is central to avoiding vain repetitions. Growing up, I was always getting in trouble for talking without first thinking. In Matthew 6:7, Jesus is essentially saying, “Think before you speak!” If we would practice this childhood rule when praying, we could quickly transform our prayers from recited repetitions into intentional, sincere praise and petition to God. Think before you pray.