Learn to Babble

“Prayer is not simply a most important activity – it is the most important” writes Derek Prime.  “There is no other similar activity upon which every other activity in the Christian life depends.”[1]

But that doesn’t necessarily mean that it is complex.  Sometimes the most foundational things are the most simple.

But when it comes to prayer, christians are often inclined to think that longer prayers are better than shorter ones.  Human nature tells us that surely God would be more pleased with a longer string of words than a short string.  Much like the child who is upset when he gets left with the smallest slice of pizza—of course God would rather have the biggest slice with the most pepperoni’s on it, right?

The irony of eating a lot of big, greasy, pepperoni pizza is that it often leaves you with an unhappy tummy and can make the thought of more pizza in the coming weeks repulsive.   In a similar manner, longer prayers might not be the most appealing daily offering for our Heavenly Father.

Jesus addressed this in the Sermon on the Mount when he told his listeners not to ramble on and on like the Gentiles who think they will be heard for the many words (Matt. 6:7).  Of course, Gentiles were not the only ones guilty of doing this, Jews too had a knack for long prayers.  The Talmud speaks of pious Jewish men who prayed for nine hours a day![2]  Such practices were not inherently wrong (Jesus himself prayed all night at times, see Luke 6:12), but were misguided because they were motivated by the incorrect notion that God would listen to them because of their great length.  Jesus wants to teach us that length is irrelevant when it comes to prayer.

Martin Luther, in his famous little booklet on prayer A Simple Way to Pray which he wrote to his barber over 400 years ago, writes: “The number of words you use depend on what you need to say; to fill the words with sincere heart devotion is the challenge.”  He then quotes the Proverb: “When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise (Prov. 10:19, NIV).”

I don’t think Luther, or the writer of the Proverb, intend to tell people that their prayers must be ordered, neat, and only filled with theologically robust, well-thought-out content.  I think it simply means, pray sincerely—pray what’s on your heart and not meaningless chatter.

“We should never make prayer too complicated… Jesus taught us to come like children to a father.”[3]

So what’s the point?

In his fantastic book A Praying Life, Paul Miller helpfully writes: “When your mind starts wandering in prayer, be like a little child.  Don’t’ worry about being organized or staying on task.  Paul certainly wasn’t!  Remember you are in conversation with a person.  Instead of beating yourself up, learn to play again.”  He goes on in the next section titled “Learn to Babble Again,” to say, “When it comes to prayer, we, too [like children], just need to get the words out…”[4]

But there’s a massive chasm between the babbling that Miller speaks of here and “babble” Jesus referred to in the Sermon on the Mount.  One is the babble of a child seeking the blessing of their Father, the other, of a worker seeking his wage.  The two are hardly compatible.

Calvin remarks that Christians pray “to alert themselves to seek Him, to exercise their faith by meditation on His promises, unburdening their cares by lifting themselves into His bosom, and finally to testify that from Him alone, all good for themselves and for others is hoped and asked.”[5]

In a brief but profound little entry on Prayer titled “Can Shorter Prayers Be Better?” the author closes the entry by saying: “As we prepare to lead our people in prayer this Sunday, let’s not heap up empty Christian phrases for the sake of sounding spiritual or extending the length of our prayer. Instead, offer rich prayers and ‘let your words be few’ (Ecclesiastes 5:2).”

So when you come to pray today, keep it simple; don’t pray long prayers to try and win God’s ear.  Those of us in Christ already have all the Father’s love and care:

Just get the words out.

Be disorganized.

Babble like a child.

Be needy like a child.

Give God your cares and burdens.

Remind yourself that all our good comes from Him.

____________

[1] Prime, Practical Prayer (Scotland: Christian Focus, 2007), 11.

[2] As quoted in Leon Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew. PNTC (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1992), 141.

[3] Richard Baxter, Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth, Rev. ed. (New York: Harper Collins, 1998), 40.

[4] Paul Miller, A Praying Life: Connecting With God in a Distracting World (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2009), 41.

[5] As quoted in Morris, Matthew, 142.

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