Vain repetitions or heartfelt prayer?
[Darris McNeely] Is it the amount of words that we pray or is it the quality of the words that we pray? We’re going through a series on prayer here on BT Dailies . We’re going through Christ’s instructions to pray to His disciples in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew chapter 6. And we’ve come to the point where Christ warned them against vain repetitions and just babbling on incessantly with words that had no meaning.
[Steve Myers] Christ actually gave a lot of instruction on how to pray. It must’ve been at the forefront of the disciples' mind at least at one point where they asked Him, "How should we pray?" and He went through quite a bit of instruction about how to pray. And when you get to Matthew 6:7 Matthew 6:7But when you pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.
American King James Version×, here’s what He told them. He said, "When you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think they will be heard for their many words." So He gets pretty specific there that it really does come down to what we say and not how long we have to say it.
[Darris McNeely] I think Christ is really saying, put your heart into the prayer. To do so means we have to think about it. It’s not just a matter of giving a prescribed prayer that has been written out by someone else or going through a repetitive exercise of prayer, which some faiths have with beads or with prayer wheels that just, you know, send off prayers out of a memorized un-heartfelt position. That’s not what He was talking about. He says it’s not the many words really when it comes down to it; it’s the heart and the value that we put into those words that we are understanding.
[Steve Myers] Saying the same things over and over without any thinking behind it is not helpful. It’s not helpful at all. In fact, that word for repetitions is only used right there in the New Testament. That’s the only time the word is used and it really gets down to saying the same things, babbling on without really having your mind engaged. And so God wants a relationship with us. He doesn’t want to just hear empty words.
[Darris McNeely] You can imagine some of Christ’s hearers probably thinking about the story from the Old Testament of Elijah confronting the prophets of Baal, where they just went on and on and on with many, many words for hours on end in their prayers to Baal. And Elijah said, "Look, it’s not doing you any good." And in a very brief prayer he brought down fire from heaven to not only consume the offering, but the priests themselves (1 Kings 18:25-40 1 Kings 18:25-40 25 And Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, Choose you one bullock for yourselves, and dress it first; for you are many; and call on the name of your gods, but put no fire under.
26 And they took the bullock which was given them, and they dressed it, and called on the name of Baal from morning even until noon, saying, O Baal, hear us. But there was no voice, nor any that answered. And they leaped on the altar which was made.
27 And it came to pass at noon, that Elijah mocked them, and said, Cry aloud: for he is a god; either he is talking, or he is pursuing, or he is in a journey, or peradventure he sleeps, and must be awaked.
28 And they cried aloud, and cut themselves after their manner with knives and lancets, till the blood gushed out on them.
29 And it came to pass, when midday was past, and they prophesied until the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, that there was neither voice, nor any to answer, nor any that regarded.
30 And Elijah said to all the people, Come near to me. And all the people came near to him. And he repaired the altar of the LORD that was broken down.
31 And Elijah took twelve stones, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, to whom the word of the LORD came, saying, Israel shall be your name:
32 And with the stones he built an altar in the name of the LORD: and he made a trench about the altar, as great as would contain two measures of seed.
33 And he put the wood in order, and cut the bullock in pieces, and laid him on the wood, and said, Fill four barrels with water, and pour it on the burnt sacrifice, and on the wood.
34 And he said, Do it the second time. And they did it the second time. And he said, Do it the third time. And they did it the third time.
35 And the water ran round about the altar; and he filled the trench also with water.
36 And it came to pass at the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, that Elijah the prophet came near, and said, LORD God of Abraham, Isaac, and of Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, and that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your word.
37 Hear me, O LORD, hear me, that this people may know that you are the LORD God, and that you have turned their heart back again.
38 Then the fire of the LORD fell, and consumed the burnt sacrifice, and the wood, and the stones, and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench.
39 And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces: and they said, The LORD, he is the God; the LORD, he is the God.
40 And Elijah said to them, Take the prophets of Baal; let not one of them escape. And they took them: and Elijah brought them down to the brook Kishon, and slew them there.
American King James Version×). I can well imagine the disciples thinking about that and realizing that it’s the quality, not the quantity.
[Steve Myers] And so be specific with your prayers, not just vain repetitions, useless words that go on and on. Make contact with your heavenly Father and draw close to Him.
[Darris McNeely] Put your heart into it.