“Prayer is the guide to perfection and the sovereign good; it delivers us from every vice and obtains us every virtue.”
— Madame Guyon
“The fewer the words, the better the prayer.”
— Martin Luther
The Lord Jesus counselled us to pray with reverent brevity. He says, “When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases...” (Matthew 6:7a).
Yet, it’s clear by reflection over most prayers, especially corporately, that longer prayers are given in a sense to appease God. It’s a common temptation. Who, for instance, hasn’t felt self-conscious about their prayer language? Ever felt you’ve performed poorly in prayer, or can’t pray well?
That’s an accusation from the father of lies. So often our overblown prayers are motivated in this spirit far from God. Satan loves it when our prayers are lost for meaning in many words and fake, manufactured emotion.
The Lord’s Prayer
The essence of a simple, yet powerful prayer is the Lord’s Prayer.
Jesus must have despised sermonising through prayer; an insult to the Father by showering a sacrifice of words to impress God rather than simply love him by true worship.
The version of the Bible I normally read, the New Revised Standard Version, has the Lord’s Prayer running 57 words in Matthew’s gospel. That’s a 25-second prayer!
Yet, such a concise prayer encapsulates so much meaning, and as we pray each of those lines, a richness of meaning is exigent enough upon our consciousness; we human beings think in simplicity; complex prayers defeat the purpose.
More and more as we think on the topic of prayer are we to pray short prayers. In such a way we can pray unceasingly (1 Thessalonians 5:17) connecting our prayers in series. Our days are sprinkled with thought for our need of God, and others’ need as we’re led. Such thought converts into spoken and unspoken prayer, and God knows what we need, and wish to intercede for, even before we think of the words (Matthew 6:8).
Still Not Dissuaded By Long Periods of Prayer
We are still afforded the licence of long periods of prayer, often combined with meditation and fasting.
The truth is we need prayer to serve us, sending us toward our needs of God. Whilst there is no sense in verbose prayers just for the sake of them, long and detailed prayers are appropriate as we press in on the Lord privately. We don’t pray long for legalistic reasons, we pray long because of our need of God.
Prayer is divine privilege. It is communication direct with God. We don’t cheapen it by our own efforts; by the sound of our own knowledge-scented words or by pretence of emotion. We pray in the effortlessness of the Spirit. Then, our prayers are beautiful.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.