We’ve all seen it. Sometimes when a person is nearing their physical death, there are several fairly predictable things that will happen. Their speech often gets quieter and somewhat more difficult to understand; there is no life, excitement, or enthusiasm left in their voices; and they might even sometimes mumble the same phrases and/or semi-sentences over, and over, and over again – often without much conscious thought as to those phrases’ meaning or the impact they might have on those whom they love who might hear them – simply because these oft-used phrases are so familiar to them, and their repetitive but thoughtless familiarity brings some false sense or semblance of security. But sadly, similar can be said to be true in the spiritual world at times as well.
We are all probably pretty familiar with the fact that in the “sermon on the mount” Jesus said, “And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words” (Matthew 6:7). The Greek word translated for the “vain repetitions” which the Son of God said we are not to use in prayer if we want our prayers to possess the power to truly reach our heavenly Father’s ears, only occurs once in the entire New Testament, and means “to repeat the same things over and over,” or “to use many idle words.” Our Lord and Savior’s instruction is translated in other versions as, “do not heap up empty phrases” (ESV); “do not use meaningless repetition” (NASV); and “use not vain repetitions” (KJV).
Jesus then went on to give a very precise, word-efficient but effective example of what humble, sincere, and heart-felt prayer should be like. Incredibly, and in complete contradiction to the very instruction of Jesus in uttering it, some religious groups today will still thoughtlessly, ignorantly, and automatically repeat the same, surface, automatic and meaningless words and phrases in prayer, over and over… and over again. For most of us, probably the “Hail Mary’s” of corrupt Catholicism come to mind as the inevitable crescendo of this complete contradiction of divinely-inspired and delivered instruction.
But let us consider our Lord and Savior’s teaching from a slightly different angle and application when it comes to praying with “meaningless repetition,” or, with repeating the same things over and over and over. Who says it all has to be at the same time? When one seeks to lead the Lord’s saints into the very awesome presence and throne room of the grace of almighty God (Revelation 5), and utters pretty much the same, exact, word for word, mechanical and memorized, automated and uninspiring words and prayer phrases that they have every time they’ve led prayer for the past weeks, months, years and/or decades in order to just simply “do their duty” by leading a prayer someone assigned them to, doesn’t that, too, fall under the “don’t use meaningless repetition” instruction of our Lord and Savior? Shouldn’t we, instead, be leading grateful, thoughtful, meaningful and insightful, significant and heart-felt, specific and humble, reverent and exuberant, ‘new every morning like the Lord’s tender mercies’ (Lam. 3:22-24) prayer?
I mean, how does it make us feel when we receive some automated, mechanical, repetitiously and mass-produced message from someone? Like the company or contingent contacting us loves us deeply and has some great personal love, respect, gratitude or loyalty for our benevolent efforts on their behalf? Hardly! What about when the bored to tears cashier at the local grocery store counter voices the obligatory “Did you find everything okay?” or, “How are you tonight?” when you know down deep inside that they’re only mouthing those words and saying those sentences because they have to, and that they really couldn’t care less whether you did or did not “find everything,” and/or what you may or may not be struggling with. They’re just “putting in their time.”
And after all God has done for us, He certainly deserves far better that that in all of our communication with Him! We are to pray constantly and continually (1 Thess. 5:17; Lk. 6:12; Acts 2:42), in order that we might lose heart (Lk. 18:1). We are to pray for our enemies and so that we do not fall into temptation (Lk. 6:28; 22:40-46). We are to pray with the proper spirit and understanding (1 Cor. 14:15). We are to pray for others personally and specifically, bringing them up before the throne of God for individual strengthening (Ro. 15:30; Phm. 1:22). Prayer is serious! And it should be taken thus!
Let us always be a grateful people who challenge ourselves to give God our absolute best in all things, just as He gave Heaven’s best to secure our eternal salvation. Brothers, let us never settle for taking the lead in leading God’s people in prayer into His very and most awesome and awe-inspiring presence, with anything less than our absolutely most heartfelt, humble, sincere, and well-thought out and prepared prayers and petitions. While it’s true that long, lengthy, hypocritical and pride-filled prayers just to impress people are not honored by God whatsoever (Matt. 23:14), neither are those prayers which feature the same, automated, mechanical and mumbled “meaningless repetition.” Let us remember that those often indicate dying bodies – whether physical or spiritual!