In Matthew 6, Jesus gives us two pitfalls to avoid when praying:
- Don’t pray to impress the people around you (Matthew 6:5)
- Don’t use meaningless repetition (Matthew 6:7)
I thought it would be helpful to look at these two in greater detail.
Praying to impress
I assume that anyone who has ever attended a prayer meeting or small group has been intimidated by that person who seems to always pray in a beautiful and articulate way. I certainly have been intimidated over the years. My capabilities don’t run toward flowery language at any time and certainly not in an off-the-cuff situation like spontaneous prayer. It is easy to let the “professionals” handle the praying duties in such situations.
I am not saying that everyone who has that “knack” for praying articulately has the motive of impressing the people around him. My point is not to judge their motives, my point is that I should not be intimidated by this nor should I hold back in praying.
When I hold back for this reason, I have fallen into the first pitfall. When I hold back, I am being more concerned about impressing the people around me than I am about communicating with God.
The antidote to this is given in the example prayer that comes later in Matthew 6. Jesus’ example prayer is not flowery, nor does it contain lots of words. It is simple, honest and to the point. The Lord’s Prayer is a prayer that a child can recite but one that adult can meditate on for countess hours and find new levels of meaning and application.
Don’t pray to impress other people, pray to communicate with the God who cares.
Using meaningless repetition
Notice that Jesus qualifies this as meaningless repetition. From this I conclude that no-one gets extra points for the number of words used or how often the prayer is offered.
On the other hand, In Luke 18:1-8, Jesus recites a parable that illustrates the need to be persistent in prayer.
There is nothing wrong with coming back to God repeatedly with a concern. Paul prayed repeatedly for his “thorn” to be removed. Paul tells us in Ephesians 1:6 that he “did not cease” giving thanks and mentioning the Ephesian believers in his prayers. Paul told the believers in Colossae that he was “praying always for them” (Colossians 1:3). Repetition is not the problem. There is nothing wrong with repetition as long as it is honest and heartfelt.
There are things in our lives that God allows to linger, which cause us to frequently come to him in prayer. Rogue children, health issues, family tension, persecution, job instability, etc. are all things that persist in disrupting our lives but should also cause us to seek God for sustenance and relief. And we should seeking God for that relief until it comes.
In a public setting like a prayer meeting, pray as if you are in your house and all alone with God. Pray in whatever style of language you normally use. Pray with the intensity that you feel while you are praying. Pray with your mind and heart fully engaged. Pray with tears. Pray with laughter, Pray with humor. Pray with sadness. Just pray.