Never Mind the Words!
Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few. (Ecclesiastes 5:2)
When it comes to prayer, as we have seen, the place and time are unimportant. But what about the words? Surely some special vocabulary must be needed? Amazingly, the Bible says that God desires no special language from us at all!
All the major terms used for "prayer" in the Bible are words drawn from everyday life, just like those used between family and friends. They are ordinary words, as people "say," "speak," "ask," "request," "enquire of" or "call to" God. Unlike other religions, both ancient and modern, there is no "technical vocabulary" to be mastered, no "insider jargon" to be initiated into, no language that is different from that of everyday life. Christian prayer is simply conversation with God our Father. Because He is our Father, He wants us simply to express what is in our hearts – and we can’t do that if we feel we have to constantly search for the right words, as though we might offend the dignity of His majesty if we get them wrong.
The two key things that the Bible stresses when it comes to prayer are that, first, the heart is more important than the words. Through Isaiah, God challenged His people: "These people come near to me with their mouth and honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men"(Isaiah 29:13).
Second, reality is more important than ritual. In both Old and New Testaments, empty ritual is exposed as valueless. As Jesus told his disciples, "When you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him"(Matthew 6:7-8).
The right heart is more important than the right words; integrity is more important than impressiveness; reality is more important than ritual. God is your Father, so go on, just talk to him!
Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your hearts to him … (Psalm 62:8)
Copyright © 2017 Martin Manser and Mike Beaumont
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