2006-06-27 - Summer Questions
2006 #5 - Prayer Life
Matthew 6:7, "And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition, as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words."
"YOUR RECENT QUESTION MADE ME THINK ABOUT MY PRAYER LIFE, WHETHER I AM OBSESSIVELY JUST REPETITIVELY PRAYING ROTE WORD PRAYERS SANS PURPOSE OR INTENT OR ACTUALLY UNDERSTANDING THAT SPONTANEUITY. INVOLVES THE ENTIRE MIND, HEART AND SOUL 24/7 WHEN OFFERED ANY WHERE, ANY TIME OF THE DAY, WHERE EVER I AM."
Someday, I hope to meet someone, who, with a straight face, can say to me that they are happy with their prayer life and feel that it is what God would have it to be. If I live to be as old as Methuselah (Gen. 5:27), I don't think I will meet such a person. We all wish we had better prayer lives. We all wish we felt more comfortable in our prayers, prayed more, and really, I think, all the desires we have for a better prayer life center in a desire to have better and deeper communion with God. We know that the Lord hears when we come before Him in prayer. Numerous examples could be given here, but "The Lord hears when I call to Him," (Ps. 4:3) can suffice. Your question here respects repetitive prayers, and rote formal prayers, if I read it rightly - and to a large extent, I think you have ended up answering your own question.
Two things could be in mind here when we speak of repetitive prayers. The first is the practice of besieging the throne of grace with our petitions concerning a particular issue. We see this when Abraham prayed several times concerning the Lord destroying Sodom and Gomorrah. In that passage, there is no evidence that if he had not stopped his requests at ten, as he did, the Lord might have granted that had one righteous person been found in the cities, He would not have destroyed them. But alas, Abraham went from 50 to 10, and stopped there. (Genesis 18:16-33).
There is nothing wrong with coming before the Lord with our concerns, desires, hopes, and fears, and coming often with them. The only exception I can think of is when Paul says that he came before the Lord three times with his request, and the Lord said to him, "My grace is sufficient for you," (2 Corinthians 12:7-10). This form of repetitive praying is natural for the child of God. It is natural for those who rest in the mercy of Christ to come before the Lord in prayer several times a day, thus repetitively, with the same requests.
Another form of repetitive prayer that seems less helpful are those that simply repeat some phrase, or series of phrases over and over again. This is often done out of duty. "Before you go to bed, make sure you say, 'now I lay me down to sleep...'" A decent prayer, but when the same words are repeated over and over, night after night, is there any thought or real prayer involved? I doubt it. It becomes a ritual, a performance, and can hardly qualify as prayer. To repeat the same prayer over and over again is to perform a duty. The old Puritans would call it "superstitious." It is an outward sign that some feel satisfies a religious requirement.
However, the thing that is meant, prayer, is absent from such practices. Prayer is something that flows from the heart. It is worthy of attention and care on behalf of the person offering it. I don't think it can be put any better than you did in your question. As you say, prayer "involves the entire mind, heart, and soul." Prayer involves our whole person, and set, form prayers hardly reach that level.
Real prayer brings us into real communion with God. Evangelicals have tagged prayer "talking with God," and there is some truth to that concept, but the concept of simply having a conversation with God defining our prayer life seems a little irreverent. Prayer is a holy activity, and we come to God as those who need His sustaining mercy and grace. We come seeking that from Him. It is not quite a conversation, but rather, we approach the King of Kings in prayer, and come as beggars, knowing full well that He will hear us, and that he is pleased when we approach Him and seek His favor.
Thomas Watson says, "Prayer is the soul's breathing itself into the bosom of its heavenly father." What Watson highlights in this short quotation is the real intimacy that exists in prayer, when it involves our heart, mind and soul. It is "talking with God," but prayer is so much deeper than that phrase would lend us to foolishly settle our understandings upon.
"Lord, teach us to pray..." (Luke 11:1)
Soli Deo Gloria,