No Magic Formula
“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And 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. “This, then, is how you should pray: “‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one,'" (Matthew 6:5-13).
Lately, I have been ending my prayers with things other than in Jesus’ name. For example, I might say: give me today my daily bread (all that I need for today, energy, patience etc) and forgive my debts as I forgive my debtors, or lead me not into temptation, but deliver me from evil, or thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. The reason I have to do that is because the Lord has cautioned me not to let my prayers become formulaic as He speaks of in verse 7 where He says, "do not babble like the pagans who think they will be heard because of their many words".
I think we sometimes grow stale in our prayers, especially "in public" because we attempt to use what we consider the "right" words, and those words will vary depending on your church and what you are exposed to. We must always be on guard against what Jesus called "the yeast of the Pharisees" and not allow meaningless religion to creep into our Christian lives. Jesus said that the people that do what they do to be seen by men have received their full reward. We are not to think like the pagans but to think like Jesus, who often went away to pray alone. I cannot think of one instance where the Bible records what He said in His prayers, only His prayer in the Garden and this example of how to pray. There might be others I am missing but my point is that it might be that God did not desire us to know the words Jesus used, lest we be tempted to use them ourselves like a "prayer formula," even if our intentions are not to impress God with our words.
Even the Lord's Prayer itself could become formulaic should we simply recite the words with no conscious thought to the meaning. We need to remember that the power is not in our words, but in the One hearing our words. I believe even with the Lord’s Prayer Jesus is giving the example of how to pray, not what. In Matthew 6:9-13, Matthew records Jesus’ words as, “This, then, is how you should pray: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.'” Yet Luke records this teaching in an abbreviated version. “When you pray, say: 'Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation.’”
Let us not fall into the temptation of relying on what we say rather than on what God's response to our words will be. Keep it fresh. Keep it real. You don't need to mince words with God. He is not interested in the size of your vocabulary. He is interested in the sincerity of your heart.
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