Matt. 6:7-8 “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”
Jesus says “when you pray,” not “if you pray.” Prayer is assumed for those who live as citizens of the kingdom of God under his reign. And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases, do not be like them. These people think that the more words they use, or the more times they repeat a prayer like a mantra, the more likely they are to be heard. We all know people like this, right?
Is This a Prayer to Be Recited?
So he tells them what not to do, and next he instructs them in how to pray. In Matt. 6:9-13 he instructs them to pray like this:
“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 lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.”
Jesus earlier speaks against “vain repetitions” and “empty phrases” – in other words, God is interested in the heart’s cry, not the “right” words said many times, as if they had some magic power. He’s warning against saying the same words over and over again until they are nearly meaningless. Ironically, anyone around my age who grew up in Canada and went to public school will attest to the fact that saying this prayer every morning got a little bit repetitious. In doing so we kind of missed the point that Jesus is teaching us how to pray, not teaching us a prayer to recite word for word.
And even though this is not so much a prayer to be recited as a prayer that models how to pray, it is not wrong to recite it. It is a good prayer obviously and no one should forbid you from saying it, but if we only ever recite it and never allow it to shape the rest of our prayers then we’ve missed the point.
The disciples say, “Teach us to pray” not “Teach us a prayer.”
This post is part a series on forgiveness, based on a sermon called “Forgive and Be Forgiven”. You can listen to the sermon audio here (or right-click and “Save As…” to download)
Other posts in this series:
Part 1 – Don’t Be a Hypocrite
Part 2 – A Prayer to Be Recited?
Part 3 – Giving Up the Desire to Punish
Part 4 – Don’t Be Like the Unforgiving Servant
Part 5 – The Older Brother Syndrome
Part 6 – Living the Forgiving (and Forgiven) Life
Part 7 – What Forgiveness Isn’t…