“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. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matthew 6:7-8).
People speak about “the power of prayer.” But prayer by itself does not have any power. The One to whom we pray has unlimited power. No magic words can be sprinkled into our prayers to force him to do what we want. God wants us to pray, but he does not want us to trust in the power of our payers. He prefers that we put all our trust in him.
The Gentile approach to prayer treats the words of prayers as if they have magical powers. Repetition is important for such prayers and incantations to work. In the Gentile world, special times are set aside for prayer and meditation, because those activities are seen as a source of power for the faithful Gentile.
Jesus denies to us these forms of babbling. He gives us no special words to use and no special times to pray. He places no value in the repetition of prayers. Rather, Jesus wants us to treat prayer as conversation with God. Talk to God in a way you would speak to anyone you respect. Have your mind on him as you pray, not on the mechanics of your prayer. Treat God as a Father who can be trusted to love you, to understand you, and to want what is best for you.
Failing to pray is a sin. The person who refuses to pray reveals that God does not matter to him or her. Misusing prayer is also a sin. Prayer itself can become an idol, something worshiped in the place of the true God.
Jesus makes genuine prayer possible for us. Our sins had come between us and God—including our sins of neglecting God and our sins of replacing God. Jesus cancels our sins by his sacrifice. His forgiveness opens channels of communication between us and God. Because the only Son of God sacrificed himself for our adoption, we now are children of God and are invited to call him “Father.”
Genuine natural prayer requires some effort on our part. Such prayer includes struggle, and often our prayers fall short of the ideal. The more we think about prayer, the more likely we are to change prayer into something God never intended it to be. Instead of thinking about prayer when we pray, we think about Jesus. We lift our prayers to the Father “in Jesus’ name,” but not because that name is a magic formula which guarantees that we will be heard and answered. We pray “in Jesus’ name” because the life of Jesus, his death on the cross, and his resurrection have made prayer possible for us. We pray because of Jesus. We pray with our minds and hearts set upon him. J.