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CHURCH CORNER: The content is key, not the word count
Jesus set you free to pray; that is what I’m discovering as I preach through the Lord’s Prayer this summer. Although when thinking of prayer, words like “should,” “ought” and “not enough” may come to mind before “freedom,” it ought not be so. Freedom and prayer belong in the same sentence together.
To begin with, there is not a linear relationship between quantity of words and quality of prayer; “more is better” is not necessarily true in prayer. Jesus said to his disciples, “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” (Mt 6:7). After all, when Jesus’ disciples asked him how to pray, Jesus offered a mere 57 words (in Matthew’s Greek) in the Lord’s Prayer. Fifty-seven words! This article has almost 10 times as many.
We are heard not because of our many words but because the Father is listening. In other words, Jesus extends an invitation into a conversation rather than introducing prayer regulations; interestingly enough, there are no prayer times, postures or minimums mandated in the New Testament.
Jesus continues, “Your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (v. 8). As one Bible scholar astutely commented, prayer is not an intelligence briefing for God. Yet how many of us approach prayer in this way: “Father, let me fill you in on the details, so you will understand my plight.” Your Father already knows. Freedom! Jesus sets us free from the amount of information we think we need to provide the Father in order for him to understand.
Finally, have you ever noticed the father is the activator of every petition in the Lord’s Prayer? Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name – who reveals the Father’s holy name but the Father himself? Your kingdom come – who brings the kingdom but the Father? Your will be done – who accomplishes his will but the Father? Give us our daily bread – who are we asking? Forgive our debts – who has the power to cancel debts? Deliver us from the evil one – again, who does it? Jesus teaches us to pray that the Father will do what only the Father can do, and because our Father is both good and God, he will do it! Freedom again! Jesus sets us free to pray boldly and confidently.
Jesus’ invitation into a relationally intimate conversation with the Father sets us free from the notion that increasing the quantity of our words will finally earn a hearing with the Father. He sets us free from the myth that we need to inform the Father so he can understand. And he sets us free to pray boldly and confidently. Feel free to pray.
Community Presbyterian Church