“When you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites who love to pray publicly on street corners and in the synagogues where everyone can see them. I tell you the truth, that is all the reward they will ever get. But when you pray, go away by yourself, shut the door behind you, and pray to your Father in private.
Then your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.
“When you pray, don’t babble on and on as the Gentiles do. They think their prayers are answered merely by repeating their words again and again.
Don’t be like them,
for your Father knows exactly what you need even before you ask him!
My grandpa is known for praying long prayers before a family meal. They can be meandering, half giving thanks, half sermon-like. One Thanksgiving in particular, probably twenty-five years ago, he was really on a roll. I peeked open my eyes and saw most of my aunts and uncles eyeballing each other. Some of us were gazing longingly at the food on our plates. And my little cousin, Seth, whispered what the rest of us only dared to think. “Amen, Papa. Say Amen.”
Quiet over Loud
Jesus tells us, “Don’t be like the hypocrites.” It seems that they are only praying to get attention. They’re like a bunch of holier-than-thou Kardashians…seeking fame for the sake of being famous. Somehow, they have come to hold this belief that praying – like, I’m sure, so much in their lives – is a formality to prove to God and to others that they’ve got it all figured out.
INSTEAD, Jesus says you can pray when you’re alone. In fact, you are invited to do just that. Your prayers don’t have to be grandiose or impressive in order for God to hear them. Prayer isn’t about proving your worthiness. It’s about communion with the Father. And what’s this about a reward? Maybe, just perhaps, the reward is experiencing the very goodness of God in an intimate way that can only happen in private prayer.
Honesty over Formulas
Jesus tells us, “Don’t babble on and on.” In other words, there isn’t a formula. This isn’t about saying the right words in the right order to get the right response. God is – in no way whatsoever – waiting on you to pray the perfect prayer.
INSTEAD, Jesus tells us that He already knows what we need. It’s like this. Parents know the difference between the “I’m hungry” cry and the “change my diaper” cry of their baby. We don’t wait for our kids to use complete sentences and please and thank you before we give them food or comfort. God is the same.
Sometimes, “Help” is the only prayer you know to pray. Sometimes, you don’t have any words at all. And yet, God hears you. He knows what you want. He knows what you need. Even when you don’t have a clue yourself.
So what about my grandpa? Yes, his prayers were long. But they were also real and raw and sincere. He prayed what he wanted to pray, pure and simple. And I think that’s it…that’s the invitation. You don’t have to wait for the right place or the right words. We can trust that God is waiting – always – to hear what we have to say.
As we enter this season of Lent, teach us to pray.
Help us to let go of the expectations we put on ourselves.
Help us to pray the prayers that we want to pray
Instead of the prayers we think we’re supposed to pray.
And help us to trust you,
To trust that you will listen,
To trust that you care for us,
And to trust that you know exactly what we need
Long before we even ask.
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