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.