Repetitive Prayers Don’t Impress God

I really desire to improve my prayer life.  I hope you do.  No matter where you are, there is always room for improvement.

Something that makes our prayers ineffective is praying repetitive, empty words. To understand what this means, read Matthew 6:7-8.

7 When you pray, don’t babble like the idolaters, since they imagine they’ll be heard for their many words.  8 Don’t be like them, because your Father knows the things you need before you ask Him.

Jesus assumes that his followers will pray. He doesn’t start this passage by saying, “If you pray,” or “If you ever get around to praying.” He starts by saying, “When you are praying.” He assumes it. He expects it, but he also expects the prayers to be quality and not mindless ritual.

What do you think Jesus means when he says: “Don’t babble like the idolaters?” What would that look like today?  What would be the danger in praying “many words?”  It means going through a ritual and taking our heart out of it.  It means offering up words that we think need to be there because people have always had those types of words in there.

One indicator of our prayer life could be to listen to the way our children pray. Most likely, they learned from us. Do they repeat a simple rhyme over a meal (not that that is bad, but it could get them and you in a rut)? Could you finish their sentences while they pray?  Is there any variety?

Decide today that you will change the way your family prays. Get intentional. Get creative. Add some variety and passion to your family’s prayer life. Maybe you could begin by selecting different prayer points for every day of the week (ex. Sunday – church staff, Monday – family, etc.). You could take Christmas cards the family has received, put them in a box, and pull out one every morning to pray for a different family. There are so many ways you can make prayers more engaging and less babble.

How do you plan to change your own and your family’s prayer life starting today?

Travis Agnew is a Christian, husband, father, pastor, author, blogger, and religion instructor.

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2 Comments

  1. My context is, of course, different from yours, but I would like to offer a different perspective of repetitive prayer. I agree that offering rote or repetitive prayers in an attempt to gain merit with God is wrong and contrary to scripture. I know that for those not in liturgical traditions, liturgical prayer may seem rote and offered ‘without feeling.’ Liturgy, meaning ‘work,’ creates an atmosphere of discipline that connects me with the prayer of the Church even when I’m not feeling it. Our catechism defines prayer as “responding to God, by thought and by deeds, with or without words.” Praying the Daily Office (Morning Prayer, Noonday Prayer, Evening Prayer, and Compline) brings focus and a discipline of being bodily present in prayer trusting that the Spirit is praying in me even when I’m not motivated. In my parish, we publicly prayer Morning and Evening Prayer (with a daily mass). Most of the prayers are the same every day. But these prayers, like the Lord’s Prayer, form us and condition us spiritually in profound ways. If we pray them thinking God is impressed, yes, we’ve missed it. If we pray them out of desire and obedience, we discover more is being prayed than what is actually said.

    • Totally agree, Steve. I think Jesus was warning from mindlessly mouthing prayers (including the Lord’s Prayer which was meant more as a guide than a recitation) so that while we maintain a corporate communication with God, we do not lose the personal.

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