Meaningless Words

In Lent 23 by Bruce LogueLeave a Comment

When you pray, don’t babble on and on as the Gentiles do. They think their prayers are answered merely by repeating their words again and again. Don’t be like them, for your Father knows exactly what you need even before you ask him!

Matthew 6:7-8, NLT

When I was a kid, the church I went to said that Jesus’ prohibition of “empty phrases” or “babbling on,” as the NLT translates it, meant not using prayer books or writing out your prayers beforehand. I’ve since come to believe differently.

Prayer books are immensely useful for the way they teach you new ways to approach God and focus your attention. My teachers thought that preparedness was wrong and total spontaneity was right. In the church I grew up in I still remember the men who only had about two or three prayers memorized, and you could count on them to bring them out when asked to lead a prayer for the church.

And those guys that needed a calendar to measure the length of their wordy and chaotic prayers. O brother!

How could Jesus have thought that those off-the-cuff prayers were more righteous than one that was carefully composed and focused? I don’t think he did. So what was Jesus thinking when he told us not to babble on?

Jesus wanted us to think about what is most important when we pray. A look at Jesus’ prayers is a good hint at what he was concerned about: the spiritual wellbeing of his disciples, the trial he was about to suffer, the coming of the Spirit, and the progress of the Kingdom.

Clearly not about buying stuff and human success. Meaningless words in the work of Christ. A life in which the work of God is foremost has different vocabulary with which to come before God.

Vocabulary like what you find in the Lord’s Prayer. The model that Jesus gave them and us.

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