And When You Pray
The full passage for today’s devotional reflection is, “And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.”
What is prayer? It is a vital necessity for all who wish to live the Christian life. If we do not keep God uppermost in our minds and hearts, we can all too easily become enamored with all the lesser things that the world puts before us. St. John Chrysostom said of prayer: “Nothing is equal to prayer; for what is impossible, it makes possible, what is difficult, easy…for it is impossible, utterly impossible, for the man who prays eagerly and invokes God ceaselessly ever to sin.” For the Christian, prayer and a life lived in Christ are inseparable. Prayer is the language of love, it is the dialogue of love and grace between God and man.
There are many ways to pray, of course. Prayer, in the final analysis, is the conversation of an intimate one-on-one relationship. But, as our scripture passage from Matthew’s Gospel says, prayer is not a matter of “many words,” but of the attitude within one’s heart and soul. There are three movements that our prayer can take. Each can be prayed separately, or all three can be a part of our prayer at all times. They are: adoration, thanksgiving, and petition.
The fact is that most of the time we are importuning God to do something for us. We are petitioning him for the help we need in our daily lives, for healing, for help in times of crisis, or doubt, even for things as worldly as a job, or more money. It is not that these prayers are illegitimate, but they are self-focused. We will always be in need of God’s help and grace. He knows that better than we do ourselves. And he will always be willing to answer the believer’s prayers, according to his will and according to our truest needs.
But what would happen if we ordered our prayer differently, beginning with our humble awe of God, in recognition of his great love for us, that love made manifest in Jesus? In other words, what if we spent the beginning of our prayers in quiet (even silent) adoration of the One who is, was, and always will be? This would be the proper attitude to bring to all of our prayer. It would condition our minds to believe ever more deeply in the power of God, and in his unconditional, loving desire to answer those prayers that we cry out to him in our moments of need.
When we rise up each morning from our beds, do we not have cause to give thanks to God? When, at the end our days we look back at the events that occurred, even on the difficult days, are there not often some surprises that we know were pure gift, that came to us unbidden, for which we could give thanks to God?
Let us learn, then, to pray first out of awe (adoration), then out of gratitude (thanksgiving), so that when we pray in our need (petition) we can do so out of confidence (faith) not just in God’s willingness to answer us, but in the strength of our complete relationship with Him. Let us adore him humbly. Let us give thanks to him for all that is good, for all that we have been given, for all that we have learned, and for the capacity to know these things. When we have established the habits of adoration and thanksgiving, our petitions will be prayed with utter confidence. For, as we know, “Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” (Matthew 6:8)