“And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like the pagans” (Matthew 6:7)
Just as the point of prayer is not to impress others, so, too, the point of prayer is not to simply get God to do what we want. As Jesus continues to teach on prayer in the Sermon on the Mount, He points out a second error in our approach to prayer.
“And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like the pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.” (Matthew 6:7)
I had a friend who worked in Asia after college. When he traveled to a Buddhist temple, he saw a variety of beautiful architecture and colors throughout the place. Yet one thing that he found most striking was the number of people muttering endless prayers while turning prayer wheels or tying prayer ribbons around the temple. Their hope was that somehow by mindlessly muttering prayer while turning the wheels or having the wind blow the ribbons they would influence the spirits for their personal gain.
Jesus says that biblical prayer to Father God is not like this. It is not mindless muttering or babbling in an effort to manipulate God to give us something. Real prayer is, as we have said before, built upon relationship with our God who invites us to know Him, who hears us, and who responds to us.
Now, let’s be clear about a few things here. The “babbling” Jesus criticizes is not to be confused with appropriate perseverance in prayer about specific things. Neither is He condemning use of the same words in a meaningful way in prayer. The “babbling” prayer of pagans describes using words without thinking about them or truly meaning the words one is speaking. Babbling prayer happens when we just repeat a prayer without really directing it to God relationally, or when we mumble incessant words or flippant prayers without engaging God through those words.
This is how pagans pray, like spinning a wheel or tying a ribbon to manipulate the gods or spirits. Jesus saves us from misdirected prayer like that, helping us to understand the underlying reality of prayer: “Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Luke 11:8).
Prayer has power and meaning because of our relationship with Our Father God.
Father, thank You that
You are my Father.
Thank You that You know me
and relate to me.
Thank You that through Jesus
I have access to You,
and that You know what I need
even before I utter a word.