One of the delights of motherhood is watching your kids learn and apply things you’ve taught them. It’s really the only version of a trophy us moms get, right?
My husband and I always pray before meals, and since that’s something we want our kids to do, we give them opportunities to practice. At first, their prayers are really simple. But how precious is it to hear your three year old say, “Dear God, Thank you for our food, and my toys, and cookies, and drinks. Amen.” When those funny prayer moments occur, my hubby and I will glance up at each other across the table and stifle our giggles.
I realize that not every one grew up with praying parents. My parents prayed with us before meals, but we did the traditional and repetitive, “God is great. God is good. Let us thank Him for our food. By His hands, we all are fed. Give us Lord our daily bread. Amen.” There is nothing wrong with rote prayers; they do serve a purpose in teaching the idea of praying. But praying in your own words, that’s where it’s at.
Unfortunately, that’s also where it gets complicated for some of us.
First of all, there is relief and reassurance for those of us who think we don’t know how to pray or we are embarrassed to pray. Our God is not concerned with your command of the English language. “The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7, NIV).
God is always first concerned with what is going on in our hearts. When we talk to Him, are we sincere? Do we believe that He can and will answer?
Jesus addressed prayer quite a bit, and He was also an expert at it. Many passages of the New Testament reveal that Jesus often went away to a private place to pray. He knew the importance of it. This always inspires me. If Jesus, God’s son, needed to pray often, how much more do I? If Jesus, who was perfect in all ways, needed to pray, how much more do I, the one who fails a lot?
In Matthew 6:5-8, Jesus taught about prayer. Let’s read what He said:
“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! (NLT)
Let’s break this passage down, shall we?
We are encouraged to pray privately and without theatrics.
The hypocrites Jesus was referring to loved to pray loudly and piously. Their goal was not to talk to God but to show those around them that they were awesome and holy and all out better. God doesn’t care about theatrics; again, He cares about your heart. When we go somewhere private to pray, our focus can be on God alone. Without external distractions, we can converse with God, both by speaking and listening.
So what about when we or other people do pray out loud or in public? Like in a church or Bible Study? First of all, God is always judging our hearts and theirs, so we don’t need to question their motives. But praying out loud in a group is encouraged if we are sincere. Jesus also said this in Matthew 18. “I also tell you this: if two of you agree here on earth concerning anything you ask, my Father in heaven will do it for you. For where two or three gather together as my followers, I am there among them” (19-20, NLT). Praying together packs a punch, and Jesus promises to be with us when we gather together to pray.
We don’t need to worry about our words.
In Matt. 6:7, Jesus tells us not to babble. It’s kind of a funny description of prayer, and you’ve probably heard someone pray like this. People who “think their prayers are answered merely by repeating their words again and again.” Again, God looks at the heart (Broken record, I know). He is not concerned with how elevated our word choice is. He doesn’t care if we use correct grammar. He’s heard you talk, so He knows what He’s in for! And He knows each of us better than we know ourselves. He wants authentic intimacy with each one of us, and we are all His masterpieces (See. Eph. 2:10).
Prayer is simply talking and listening to God. It sounds easy because it is. We are the ones who make it complicated by believing lies from our enemy. Trust me, he does not want you to pray. He knows that prayer leads to joy and peace, wisdom and guidance, and deeper trust in God. These are the things he wants to rob you of.
When you pray, just speak in your own words. God already knows what you need before you ask for it. He even knows what you want before you ask. God simply wants you to talk to Him because He longs for a growing relationship with you. That’s it.
There is no magic formula for praying. If we pray the perfect prayer, complete with beautifully descriptive adjectives, deep, meaningful scripture references, and even throw in some well-timed gestures, it doesn’t make our prayer any more powerful. The power comes from the One we pray to.
It’s amazing to think about this: our prayers affect the future. Our prayers are timeless because God is timeless. Please don’t be afraid to offer up your prayers. God already knows it all. He just wants to hear it from you.