In the gospel reading for today, Matthew 6:7-15 Jesus is instructing his disciples about the language they should use when they pray. We say these words every Sunday, or a slight derivation of them, at any rate…The Lord’s Prayer. But at the start of this pericope there are two very, very important sentences that I’m sure get rather ignored as people read on to the Lord’s Prayer part. Please hear me on this: Yes, the Lord’s Prayer is a fundamental part of our faith and is very, very important. However, for my money the two verses that come right before it in our passage for today are as foundational and instructive as the Lord’s Prayer.
“‘When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” (Mat. 6:7-8)
In other words, BE REAL. Be real with God. Don’t heap up lots of words that don’t mean anything. Don’t say what you think God wants to hear (P.S. we have no ability to even begin to imagine the mind of God…so don’t even try. P.P.S. I get itchy when anyone in the public eye says that they “know the will of God” when disasters or famines, or other cataclysmic events happen–imagine the arrogance of that. But THAT is another post for another time. Pardon my digression here, back to the topic at hand…).
What Jesus is saying is this: Don’t think that you have to pray for hours, using thousands of words with flowery language. God is not impressed with quantity. God is longing for us to be real with Him in our prayers. Be honest. Be upset. Be angry. Be thankful. Be joyful. Be sarcastic. Question things. BE REAL.
It is OK to yell at God. Trust me, God can take whatever it is that you can dish out.
When I think about the fact that God, the creator of the universe, the One from whom all light and life flow…the one who knows all the hairs of our heads, THAT God, just wants us to be in honest relationship–to tell it how it is for us–I am struck by the truly radical nature of that thought. God is not some deity that demands us to constantly pray thousands of words, or say some secret combination of the “right” words, or even to make sacrifices (as if there was some magical number of offerings that once we had made them, THEN God would listen). God simply wants us to say the things that are on our hearts and in our minds.
And here’s the best part–here’s the part that is going to rock your world: God already KNOWS what is in our hearts and on our minds. God already knows our fears, hopes, dreams, desires, longings, questions, the things that really tick us off….God already knows. Jesus is saying that God doesn’t want us to candy coat things. Why put a gloss on things when God already knows what we have weighing on us and what we are exuberant about in our lives?
The beauty of the fact that God knows all about us is that it frees us to be on a new level of relationship with God. That God already knows what we want, what we need, what we have on our plates frees us to talk with God, in prayer, openly and honestly. With that in mind, how we approach God in prayer changes to allow us to come to God with our hearts and lives laid bare. That complete honesty with the creator of all that is gives us the loving gift of an incredibly deep and personal relationship with God–if we allow that to happen. The burden is on us. God is there, waiting, knowing, listening and loving.