Do you ever wonder if your prayers are too short? If you don’t pray enough? Do you especially wonder that when you are asked to pray out loud? Do you try to add some extra words, or particular words, so you sound more righteous or more devoted? Last week we talked about praying in solitude, but also that God is not against public prayer. There are times when it is necessary and beneficial. But the good motives we need for praying in solitude should not change when we are called on to pray in public. We should still be focused on God, and not on how good we sound to our audience. We should think of God as our audience even if many others can hear us.
The verses immediately following last week’s passage (Matthew 6:7-8) tell us not to babble repetitiously. Some have taken this to mean that we should only pray for something once, but that would contradict other scripture such as the parable of the persistent widow. (Luke 18:1-8) Others wonder why we should pray at all. Doesn’t God know everything we need before we need it? Yes, but it is important to understand the purpose of prayer. Prayer gives God permission to act in our lives. Choosing to follow God is a matter of our free will; He will not force Himself on us. By praying, we acknowledge that He is all-powerful and that we are placing our trust in Him, rather than depending on our own strength. God does not mind if we do that more than once. I Thessalonians 5:17 suggests that we should do it constantly.
So what does Jesus mean when he tells His disciples, and by extension us, not to babble repetitiously? I think that the word to focus on here is “babble” rather than “repetitiously”. Babble is onomatopoeic. Onomatiopoeia is the use of words that sound like what they mean. Babble is repetitive sounds that are incomprehensible; they have very little, if any, meaning. The King James Version says, “use not vain repetitions”. Purposeful repetitions are a different matter. Repetitions that focus on God, His glory and power, rather than whether we sound righteous and devoted, will not be objectionable. God invites us to come boldly when we need grace or mercy. (Hebrews 4:16) Speak to Him honestly and forthrightly, and do not be afraid to do so often.
Most Christians, whether they actually practise it or not, would tell you that we are supposed to give 10% of our money, a tithe, to God. We think of it as our money, and by giving 10% we are either fulfilling an obligation (like paying a tax) or we are being generous and giving to charity. Financial expert and author Michel Bell would tell you that it is all God’s money, and we are just managing it while we are here on this earth.
The Clever Steward in Luke 16:1-9 was doing something very similar. He was the manager of his master’s household and was in charge of managing his master’s finances. But the manager started acting as if he were the owner and used the money for his own benefit. The master found out and fired him. What was that manager going to do now? Who would hire him? He was used to having a desk job, so he didn’t think that his back could take doing manual labour, and he certainly didn’t want people to think he was poor, so he didn’t want to beg. He had to come up with an idea fast, and so he did. He went to the people who owed his master money, and made deals with them. He cut one person’s debt in half, and another’s by 20%. I can’t imagine that the master was going to settle for a lower amount, so I believe that the manager paid the difference. This accomplished two things. He arranged for the master to get his money back more quickly, and he also won some friends by charging them less. That meant that when he was jobless there would be people willing to help him out. His master commended him for shrewd actions. His master certainly wasn’t commending him for his dishonesty. That is why he fired him in the first place.
What does Jesus want us to learn from this? I’m sure He doesn’t want us to imitate the manager’s bad qualities—dishonesty, selfishness and pride. But the manager had some good qualities too. He was quick-thinking, decisive and focused on his future; he knew that he could make use of his money to win friends. If we were to focus on our future, it would include eternity. Jesus is telling us that we need to use our wealth in ways that will reach people for Him. Instead of spending it on things that have no eternal value, we could buy Bibles, take missions trips, or support organizations that are already working to further the Kingdom. The more people who are saved because of our use of money, the more friends we will have in our eternal home.
Sometimes we do things we regret. That was certainly the case for David before he wrote Psalm 86. In II Samuel 11 we read about David’s regrets…mistakes…sins—adultery, deception and conspiracy to murder. That’s a lot to feel bad about. So, when in Psalm 86:11 David prays that the Lord would teach him how to live, it is an earnest prayer. He wants to be wholeheartedly committed to God. The King James Version uses the term “unite my heart”. In the New International Version, David prays for an “undivided heart”. He realizes that if his heart isn’t entirely focused on God, he will go down the wrong path, but he also sees that he needs God’s help to do it. He knows that what is impossible for humans is possible for God. (Luke 18:27)
His vow, in Psalm 86:12, to praise God forevermore, is also sincere. His reason is shown in Psalm 86:13. David knows that what he has done is deserving of death, but God in His great mercy has forgiven him. God is deserving of our praise simply because He is God, but His love and mercy toward David provided so much more motivation. David vowed not only to praise God, but to do it with enthusiasm, and to do it forever.
It is likely that most of the people reading this have not sinned to the same degree that David did in the case of Bathsheba and Uriah. But even the most noble among us are dependent on God’s grace to save us. We cannot save ourselves. (Ephesians 2:4-9) God wants us all to be completely devoted to Him. He wants us to ask for His help to live the way we should. He is ready and willing to give it, along with His grace, mercy, love and forgiveness. He has provided His Word so that we can learn more about His ways, but it takes commitment. We need to choose each day to put Him first, to praise Him and to give Him the glory.