Jesus, in a response to some people who evidently pray with a lot of words, Jesus encourages them, “Do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do…pray then in this way:
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And do not bring us to the time of trial,
but rescue us from the evil one.”
It sounds dangerously close to a recommendation for contemplative prayer! It is easy to forget the context – that of using fewer words. There are also Old Testament critiques of long-winded prayer, and Jesus goes on record against them too.
I’m sure you have heard prayers from people who are not quite confident to pray – the dull repetition of “And Lord, we just….we just….” It is enough to drive me batty. So uncomfortable with silence the speaker fills time with a distracting and almost stuttering mantra to God. Often the Thunder pre-game “invocations” are this way – rambly prayers that wander from thanks to intercession back to thanks to just, just, just Lord we thank the troops to just, Lord we know that, you know, you are a great God.” Come on, this is a Thunder game, not preschool. Thankfully last night’s Invocation at the Thunder/Mavs playoff game was done by Rabbi Vered Harris and was extraordinary. To those not so gifted, Jesus gives a gift of a non-rambly prayer to help, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.”
The goal isn’t to have a short prayer, but one that is not a show, or distracting. Also, fewer words from our lips often allow silence and listening to enhance God’s words to us – for prayer is more about listening than it is talking.
Often I encounter folks who are having trouble with prayer. They almost ashamedly admit they don’t know what to say to God. I try to remind those timid folk that prayer doesn’t need words to be valid! (GASP! What did Matt just say?) It’s OK to listen for God’s words instead! That is prayer too. Or pick up scripture and let God’s words guide you deeper into prayer. Eventually your own words will take over. Just relax.
This passage is a good place to start with God guiding us into a deeper prayer life, for what could be more appropriate than Jesus’ own words to the Father.